On Libya: From Preaching to Meddling (Radio Essay for March 26, 2011)

Like most of you, I am a Baby Boomer. My father and your fathers fought in the Big One, WWII, before we were born and came home to start a family and restore some normalcy to their lives; to reap the benefits of battles hard fought and hard won; to preside over a period of Pax Americana.

The Cold War brought us direct and indirect conflicts: long term deployments and battles without declaration of war. In Korea, the bad guys wore a uniform and fought under a single flag. That was less so in Vietnam but, still, it was a nationalistic struggle. The Cold War-era conflicts were compact and constrained within national borders. In the end, we could negotiate a settlement with our enemies.

Enter the Post- Cold War era and the Persian Gulf War in 1991, ostensibly fought to liberate Kuwait. The 100 Hours War. It featured a large coalition of forces and a negotiated peace. We were led to Afghanistan in a direct line of sight to 9/11 and Iraq by the clear and present danger of weapons of mass destruction. Although absent a declaration of war, Congress approved our intervention in each of these engagements. We are still deeply involved in both conflicts and the toll on human suffering and death, our national treasure, and our relationship with the rest of the world has been immense. Yet, we stood our ground because our national interests were at stake. One can argue to what degree but that is an argument for another day.

Enter us this month into a Libyan conflict. We are told that we are there not for oil, not for US national interest, not for regime change, not to support an endangered ally, but to protect civilian casualties at the hand of a despotic leader whom the West has coddled and tolerated for 42 years. Why now? Why there? These are questions that we have every right to ask and every right to have answered.

I don’t see it. I really don’t. Half of the world lives in fear of lives from their government, rival tribes, warlords and religious factions who are at odds with each other. People in distress do not constitute a national calamity unless they are Americans in distress. When this is the case, we must go to the ends of our resources to protect them. If it is not, then a simple question should serve as a litmus test in whether the United States should commit military forces into an engagement: Is the objective worth the sacrifice of a single American life?

I submit to you that many endeavors are worth such a sacrifice. The storied annals of American history are filled with examples of glorious sacrifice for noble causes. Is it so with this Libyan incursion? Speaking as a man who has worn the uniform of this country, were this mission laid at my feet, I would have great concern over its objectives.
I am not a young man anymore. I am no longer called to fight but my son will be. In a few short months, he will don the uniform of this great country, with all of its mighty traditions and valiant history and do his duty to country. For this, I am very, very proud. But my son, and your sons and daughters, too, are our most precious resources. For me, it is not an even trade, an American life for a Libyan life. The President must preserve American lives abroad.

This is where the President has gone from preachin’ to meddlin.’ We are now fighting our third war. I predict that none of them will end this year or even next year. Our mission will not end in Iraq, the surge in Afghanistan must yield lasting results and the Libyan excursion will grow. Already, we have expanded a no-fly zone into a no-drive zone. Missions will surely creep. We certainly have US forces on the ground in Libya today to guide the airborne missions. We speak of arming and training rebels as if that alone will make them a potent fighting force. It will not. It will take boots on the ground, once again, to attempt that transformation. We have not been successful in training police and self-defense forces in Afghanistan or Iraq, as yet.

So, I ask again, where is the clear and present danger to the United States in the continued reign of Colonel Khadafy? There is no blueprint for a quick and easy solution in Libya, only protracted warfare and a limitless flow of American blood and treasure.
Mr. President, leave my son alone.

Press on.

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