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This Season, Libya Is the New Iraq

March 23, 2011

This spring on American fighter jet runways, Libya is the new Iraq. Even better, Libya goes with all the major pieces already in Uncle Sam’s closet—Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq again. Find a new way to wear old accessories like air strikes and sanctions, too!

If you missed Obama’s Saturday statement about running air strikes on Libya, you’ve probably just been too busy serving your country to notice or, more hopefully, donating to the Red Cross. Congress, the media (both kinds—liberal and conservative!), and just about everyone else has taken up metaphorical arms against the United States’ literal ones deployed over Libya.

The inevitable comparisons of Libya to Iraq have already started. But I offer two rhetorical strategies that Obama could have used that would have lessened the backlash.

So, with all due respect to you and your speechwriters, Mr. President, here are my suggestions:

First, remind us who our allies are. It’s not that you didn’t say on Friday that the UK, France, and the Arab League are involved. It’s not that we can’t or won’t hear from other sources which countries are involved. But we know there’s a lot we don’t know, and terms like “broad coalition,” “many of our European and Arab partners,” and “the international community” can be deliberately vague. You do get props for not mentioning a “coalition of the willing.” Still, avoiding a “Don’t forget Poland!” moment isn’t worth not giving shout-outs to other countries and reminding us that we aren’t in this alone.

Second, be careful with that royal “we.” We the public, who may or may not have voted for you, and who may or may not think we belong in Iraq and Afghanistan, need to get used to the idea of running air strikes in another country. We aren’t singing “We Are the World” with you just yet. But you keep saying “we” as if we are:

But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government.

So we must be clear: Actions have consequences, and the writ of the international community must be enforced. That is the cause of this coalition.

Today we are part of a broad coalition. We are answering the calls of a threatened people. And we are acting in the interests of the United States and the world.

Both of these strategies would help to assuage our overwhelming concern that the United States has just taken full responsibility for ousting Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his forces—no matter how many years, lives, and dollars it takes. In conclusion, Mr. President, please put your mouth where our military hopefully is—not alone.


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