A game of Clue: The Obama Doctrine and Libya

posted at 10:29 pm on March 29, 2011 by J.E. Dyer

President Obama seemed, in his speech on Libya Monday night, to have to back himself by process of elimination into the one particular solution he has chosen. He accomplished this through navigating between a series of arguments against implied strawmen, and a set of positive statements.  The reasoning seems to have gone something like this:

We Americans don’t want to regime-change evil dictators, because that’s not the kind of exceptional nation we are.  (Strawman argument)  We are an exceptional nation, of course.  (Positive statement)  Our exceptionalness drives us to protect innocent civilians from harm.  (Positive statement)  But our exceptionalness can’t be acted on at our discretion (strawman argument); it must be given the cover of an international coalition of unexceptional nations (positive statement).  Nor is it allowable for our exceptionalness to put us in a leadership role (strawman argument); we must participate as just one nation among many (positive statement).

Military force, meanwhile, is not the right way to persuade a brutal dictator to depart his office.  (Strawman argument)  Military force is appropriate for the purpose of preventing harm to civilians. (Positive statement) When we are using military force against a dictator, therefore, we are not trying to regime-change him (strawman argument); we are merely trying to protect civilians (positive statement).

As for the principle of protecting civilians, it is effectively contingent.  Obama’s outline of the brief against Qaddafi was perhaps the most interesting part of the speech, in that it seemed to qualify and quantify what constitutes an actionable threat to civilians.  Other autocrats elsewhere may be killing their defenseless civilians, but none of them is the solution to the Clue: The Air Strike Version conundrum.

– The mullahs in Iran may have been beating their people to death and imprisoning and torturing them, but they haven’t been bombing them from the air.

– Assad in Syria may be shooting his people in the street, but he isn’t firing on them with main battle tanks.

– The emir of Bahrain may have deployed tanks against his people, but he hasn’t killed 1000 of them in a day.

– Yemen’s old dictator may be engaged in an armored-force duel with his opposition in the streets of the nation’s capital, but he’s in Yemen, and the stand-off there isn’t a countrywide civil war in which a rebel-held city the size of Benghazi is about to fall to Saleh’s forces.

Adducing all these very specific clues, Obama at length comes up with the winning solution: “Muammar Qaddafi, in Libya, in March 2011.”

A key problem with this quasi-Socratic approach to policy discovery is that it does come off so much like a game (or a seminar exercise).  That in itself sends an unfortunate signal.  But Obama’s earnest, comprehensively explanatory polemic last night created another, very specific one.  If Obama wants Qaddafi out – as he said he did in the speech – then by any sensible analysis, the one audience that ought to be convinced of the coalition’s threat to the Qaddafi regime is Qaddafi. Why make the point to him that it would be wrong for the force being used against him to dislodge him from power? – and that the force in question is most certainly not intended to?

Perhaps, in the end, because Obama rarely makes any kind of positive, declaratory policy statement about foreign affairs or national security.  He gives explanations, and constructs arguments against whole brigades of strawmen.  He identifies pretty clearly which of the world’s conditions he will routinely decry.  We have a fair idea what he’s against.  But as far as we know, in the realm of foreign policy, there is hardly anything he’s so much in favor of that he would adjust his freshman-seminar rhetoric to effectively promote it – or to avoid undermining its prospects.

J.E. Dyer blogs at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions” and as The Optimistic Conservative.  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.

This post was promoted from GreenRoom to HotAir.com.
To see the comments on the original post, look here.


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Comments

How can POTUS play Clue when he’s clueless?

Khun Joe on March 29, 2011 at 10:37 PM

It was PBHO, in the Oval Office, with a Waffle.

I rock at Clue.

Bishop on March 29, 2011 at 10:42 PM

Perhaps The Won will tell us how an entrenched dictator gets thrown out – when said dictator resists WITH FORCE?

Or does Barry hope that he doesn’t have to go down that road?

GarandFan on March 29, 2011 at 10:45 PM

Perhaps, in the end, because Obama rarely makes any kind of positive, declaratory policy statement about foreign affairs or national security. He gives explanations, and constructs arguments against whole brigades of strawmen.

Perhaps, he is just an idiot who has a complicit MSM protecting his idiocy and insecurities, just my opinion though.

bluemarlin on March 29, 2011 at 10:46 PM

quasi-Socratic approach to policy discovery

LMAO

Absolutely perfectly put.

Tim_CA on March 29, 2011 at 10:48 PM

It was PBHO, in the Oval Office, with a Waffle.

I rock at Clue.

Bishop

What was your first clue?

JimK on March 29, 2011 at 10:49 PM

It was PBHO, in the Oval Office, with a Waffle.

I rock at Clue.

Bishop on March 29, 2011 at 10:42 PM

I was going to guess he fed them bad shrimp bt waffle works for me. Maybe to really piss off the base, he got them with secondary smoke.

bluemarlin on March 29, 2011 at 10:49 PM

It was PBHO, in the Oval Office, with a Waffle.

I rock at Clue.

Bishop on March 29, 2011 at 10:42 PM

Oh, so that’s how the Constitution was killed!

INC on March 29, 2011 at 10:52 PM

Where are the outraged screams of “No BLOOD for OIIIILLLLL”?

Things that make you go “Hmmm….”

Who is John Galt on March 29, 2011 at 10:55 PM

Where are the outraged screams of “No BLOOD for OIIIILLLLL”?

Things that make you go “Hmmm….”

Who is John Galt on March 29, 2011 at 10:55 PM

Well it is oil for their European Socialist Gods, they are ok with that.

bluemarlin on March 29, 2011 at 10:58 PM

It all boils down to authorization from the Arab League. Would the Arab League authorize Obama to go into Darfur where Arabs are killing blacks? No. The Arab League likes the guy in Syria and the guy in Bahrain. The guy in Iran isn’t Arab so the Arab League can’t authorize that one. K’daffy is a bad Arab Muslim who listens to music and acts daffy. He’s an embarrassment to Arabs and Islam. He has to go.

Buddahpundit on March 29, 2011 at 11:04 PM

Other autocrats elsewhere may be killing their defenseless civilians, but none of them is the solution to the Clue: The Air Strike Version conundrum.

…and just like the total 180 degree flip liberals have made in their “War is not the Answer” stance to…..
…… “bombing the sh!t out of oil rich countries without Congressional approval,that did not attack us,and posed no imminent threat” is now the answer…..

…..the next military strike they make…they will move the goal post accordingly to match that particular mission in attempting to justify their blatant hypocrisy and confabulated foreign policy.

There is no credible policy or initiatives that come from people who make up the rules as they go along.

Baxter Greene on March 29, 2011 at 11:06 PM

Col Qaddafi, in the Sandlot, with a JDAM.
=========================================

Now that sounds sexy!(sarc)

canopfor on March 29, 2011 at 11:08 PM

…… “bombing the sh!t out of oil rich countries without Congressional approval,that did not attack us,and posed no imminent threat” is now the answer…..

Baxter Greene on March 29, 2011 at 11:06 PM

Baxter Greene:Absolute LoonyVille,10 years of Bush Protests
and Demonization,

and the Libs,have the Unmittigated Gall,and
Nerve,to pull exactly the same thing,that they
railed about!!

Waiting for….Code Pinko’s to arrest HilRod
Gates,and Hopey!!!!!————–:)

canopfor on March 29, 2011 at 11:13 PM

J.E. – Do you take dramamine?

About half way down that page I was gettin’ dizzy from all the back and forth from Teh One.

How do you do it?

eeyore on March 29, 2011 at 11:34 PM

Waiting for….Code Pinko’s to arrest HilRod
Gates,and Hopey!!!!!————–:)

canopfor on March 29, 2011 at 11:13 PM

…yea
………nobody sells war better than anti-war liberals and their chicken hawk President Obama.

Baxter Greene on March 29, 2011 at 11:45 PM

No no no, we just don’t realize how much smarter Obama is than we are! That is the problem.

See how he slyly snuck in that he really does believe in American exceptionalism?

Now nobody can claim he doesn’t really believe it! It worked out so nicely, and nobody noticed anything off…

He sure tricked us.

petunia on March 30, 2011 at 12:06 AM

OT but too good to pass up…

Great “Faces Of Meth” parody, “Faces Of Liberalism”

trapeze on March 30, 2011 at 2:26 AM

Obama never wanted to do this, and would be far happier protesting his own action from a community activist standpoint. But Qadaffi’s flamboyance and longevity combined to make him basically the diva of Muslim nation dictators and too tempting a subject for the video cameras when the uprising really picked up steam.

The president can’t just say “Hillary, Sarkozy and Cameron forced me to do this,” because that would wimpify him even more in the eyes of the world. So he had to take some responsibility, but only the most minute, infinitesimal, atomic-level microscopic responsibility possible. Hence the two-week dithering, crafting a personal escape plan and putting off action from the moment where it might actually have done some good.

The goals of Monday’s speech were:
A.) Find someone to hand off eventual blame for Libya if things go wrong.
Hillary will get stabbed in the back by unnamed White House sources, of course, for getting us in this mess, and Cameron and Sarkozy will take their shots for forcing the issue, but Obama still needed an organization to dump off the actualy military responsibility onto. Enter NATO. Even though we are NATO. But Team Obama will hope to convince enough swing voters that we aren’t over the next 18 months (and this probably means the U.N. Security Council may avoid getting tossed under the bus by the president for OKing the air war in the first place).
B.) Try tp maintain some street cred with his longtime posse.
It is really, really really hurting Obama right now that all the Bill Ayers anti-war/anti-U.S. Military types think Obama’s sold them out. This is something he truly does care about, since these people have been his security blanket for the better part of the past three decades. So Monday’s convoluted, pretzel-logic statement was directed at them, and was Obama saying “Guys — I haven’t changed. This is just a one-time special situation. Bush stuck me with that Afghan thing, and I couldn’t get out of this one, but I’m not going to send American troops into Libya, and I’m certainly not going to try amd topple any of the dictators far more central to overall U.S. policy, like in Syria, Iran or Yemen.”

The strategic/simply power-hungry with no core principles left already is either saying nothing or actually supporting Obama on Libya because having power is better than letting the Republicans win the White House back, while the more nakedly anti-American left will grumble for a few months, but will come back into the fold as long as Obama lives up to the true promise to them in Monday’s statement that the military won’t be used in any area where U.S. interests actually are at stake.

jon1979 on March 30, 2011 at 6:36 AM

Obama, in the Briefing Room, with an empty suit.

This buffoon couldn’t find his own policy with Onstar. The month of waffling was clearly a reflection of his own thinking: I have to be against Qaddaffi because America and nearly everyone else hates the SOB, but he hates America so I really kinda like him, but any direct action I take will force me to accept the blame for the results, so if I start the fight but then hand off the command I can blame whoever takes over, so that’s what I’ll do, can I still play golf this weekend?

Adjoran on March 30, 2011 at 6:52 AM

Is it just me, or does anyone else have a problem with NATO (yeah, I know) using A-10 tankbusters and AC-130 Spectre gunships against the Libyan army? Isn’t that kinda out of the parameters of the UN Resolution of a “No Fly Zone”?

More troubling: Such “kinetic activity” requires on the ground spotters, whether ANGLICO or special ops, or Rangers, or Seals, or CIA types.

The coalition is authorized to “take all necessary measures … to protect civilians … under threat of attack … while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.

BigAlSouth on March 30, 2011 at 6:56 AM

BigAlSouth on March 30, 2011 at 6:56 AM

Thanks to the press, we know that SAS is/was roaming Tripoli doing spotter missions and (if they are doing their jobs…a few other missions) when threy waqved off the attack on Gadaffi’s compound last week at the last moment, and had a few SAS guys wrapped up in Benghazi by the “rebels” a couple weeks ago.

Do we have SpecOps types on the ground?

We’d be terribly remiss in our duties if we did not…so, your point in indeed well taken.

What happens when one or two or more (heaven forbid) get rounded up by the bad guys, or worse, rounded up by the “rebels” as they beat their hasty retreat and need negotiating chips with the Gadaffi regimie?

No, the more I read into this, the more and more apparant it is that at some point between Rio and Santiago, Obama told the military to go and do it….and immediately…and gave them some sort of broad nebulous mission, hoping that everybody would cover his six.

We have been winging it from the first hour.

Humantiarian no-fly operation? With A-10′s? AC-130′s?

I do loathe that man.

coldwarrior on March 30, 2011 at 7:11 AM

Bishop on March 29, 2011 at 10:42 PM

heh :)

cmsinaz on March 30, 2011 at 8:05 AM

Is Odumbo-in-Chief taking lessons from the Kia hamster commericial:

“You can go with this, or you can deal with that.”

GrannyDee on March 30, 2011 at 8:16 AM

It was PBHO, in the Oval Office, with a Waffle.

I rock at Clue.

Bishop on March 29, 2011 at 10:42 PM

Yeah. I had him in a bunker with a sand wedge, but I think you’re right.

Scott P on March 30, 2011 at 8:22 AM

Congress should be jumping up and down at all of this. They took an oath when they got the job and have let ideology rule their actions. Reid was almost right when he stated this war is lost. He should now insert this country is lost. We’ll see how far the Won will go with this, my guess is as far as he needs to go and explain it with another presser.

Kissmygrits on March 30, 2011 at 8:59 AM

Another outstanding kenetic WTF by Der Leader.

percysunshine on March 30, 2011 at 9:53 AM

there is hardly anything he’s so much in favor of that he would adjust his freshman-seminar rhetoric to effectively promote it

This is Obama’s legacy and biography…in one simple statement.

Wait… a simple man…a simple statement. It checks.

A+

BobMbx on March 30, 2011 at 11:34 AM

Editor of the Harvard Law Review?

Harvard must truly suck during the last 25 years, if they could present no better example of skill in the literary, rhetorical, or logical categories. If this speaking ability were brought to a court of law, it would never win a case.

Freelancer on March 30, 2011 at 11:35 AM

J.E. – Do you take dramamine?

About half way down that page I was gettin’ dizzy from all the back and forth from Teh One.

How do you do it?

eeyore on March 29, 2011 at 11:34 PM

Don’t nothin’ make me seasick. I’m serious — and it’s a really convenient quality for a sailor, let me tell you.

On the other hand, my balance when standing still on dry land is terrible. I think that’s the tradeoff.

Being able to keep up with the Obamarama spinning policy top is a side benefit, I guess.

J.E. Dyer on March 30, 2011 at 11:36 AM

BigAlSouth on March 30, 2011 at 6:56 AM

coldwarrior on March 30, 2011 at 7:11 AM

Agreed: with AC-130s and A-10s weighing in, this ain’t no “no-fly zone enforcement.”

Team O will undoubtedly say that thumping Q’s ground forces with Warthogs and Spectres is a means of “protecting civilians.” By that definition, just about anything up to full-frontal invasion, a la Iraq 2003, can be mapped back to protecting civilians.

My theory, on hearing about the CAS specialty aircraft, was that they’ll be used to prevent the rubble from bouncing too high. So we could call that no-fly zone enforcement if we strained really hard.

J.E. Dyer on March 30, 2011 at 11:44 AM

I don’t understand why, when a green room post is promoted, it isn’t just a link to the post, so that Hot Air isn’t always abandoning the comments in the original post.

Count to 10 on March 30, 2011 at 11:46 AM

I don’t either, Count to 10, but as my final act on this drive-by, I’ll copy your comment from the original GR post:

You know the real reason it’s Libya but not the others?
It’s easy (totally coastal), and quite frankly nobody outside of Libya is willing to lose anything defending Qaddafi (though there are those who look to profit by pretending to defend him).

Count to 10 on March 29, 2011 at 1:46 PM

and my response:

Count to 10 — I think you are at least 90% right. Qaddafi is weakly defended, easily accessible, and has the wrong friends (e.g., Britain, Italy). For all the gassy rhetoric, the main reason for NOT going after the other civilian-slaughtering dictators is that their positions are less militarily assailable, and the cost to us would be much higher.

J.E. Dyer on March 29, 2011 at 1:52 PM

J.E. Dyer on March 30, 2011 at 12:06 PM