October 28, 2011 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Obama's International Military Policy--Revolutions "R" U.S.?

Is President Barack Obama a global revolutionary?
Was his use of our forces in the Libya war just cheap political opportunism, or an emerging policy of aiding revolutionaries who seek to depose dictators?
Such a policy might be summed up as Revolutions "R" U.S.  The premise seems to be that it’s cheaper and easier to let rebels fight civil wars on the ground while America provides air support, and perhaps covert assistance.
The possible results are speculative at best.  The death of Muammar Gaddafi provides an opportunity for democracy in Libya—but no guarantee.  It also provides a chance for Sharia law governance in Libya.
Gaddhfi was definitely a threat to his own people, but well past his prime as a threat to America. 
Six days after Saddam Hussein’s capture in 2003, Gaddafi renounced his weapons of mass destruction program, and cooperated with international inspectors who confirmed it.  As analyst Clifford May recently concluded, “So he [Gaddafi] gave up his drive to develop nuclear weapons and coughed up useful intelligence on how that project had been organized.  He stopped financing terrorism—as far as we’re aware.  He did continue oppressing his own people.”
Perhaps Gaddafi still aided terrorists on the sly, but President Obama’s approach seems indifferent to whether a tyrant is a threat to America, focusing instead on whether he’s a threat to his own citizens.
Vice President Joe Biden bragged that it cost the U.S. “only $2 billion” to oust Gaddafi.  The notion seems to be that the U.S. won’t do wars anymore, but will do revolutions because they’re cheaper.  “In this case, America spent $2 billion total and didn’t lose a single life.  This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past,” Biden said.
There is speculation that this pattern might be repeated in Syria.  White House spokesman Jay Carney has reaffirmed President Obama’s position that Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad “has lost his legitimacy to rule."  Yes, Assad assists Hezbollah, but Obama’s stated rationale is based on something different, namely the thousands of Syrian protesters that have been killed by Assad’s forces.
If halting injustice is Obama’s basis for America to intervene in revolutions, then where does it start and stop?  And will those dictators seek to retaliate by backing covert or terrorist acts against America?
According to CBS News, there are at least 29 “enduring dictators” comparable to Gaddafi and Assad, including Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Yemen, Iran, Ethiopia and the Sudan.  CBS notes, “Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, in power since 1989, actually has an international arrest warrant outstanding against him for war crimes committed in Darfur.  As many as 400,000 people, mostly civilians, have perished in that conflict.”
Yet we’ve not intervened where the most lives were at risk.  Decisions to intervene have become arbitrary and perhaps political.  That matches President Obama’s domestic philosophy—he wants Chicago-style discretion to give billions in subsidies, loans and grants to a favored few, to reward friends with indulgences from ObamaCare, and to do special favors for organized labor.
The White House suggests that we’re paying the price of creating democracies.  That sounds noble in theory, but it is suspect in practice.
The ousting of Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s president has not yet produced democratic elections, but instead created an environment that has caused the deaths of 26 Coptic Christians by a military regime's overreaction.  In Libya, it’s unknown whether the Muslim Brotherhood or Islamic jihadists may become the successors to Gaddafi.
As The Heritage Foundation’s Dr. James Carafano notes, “Perils in Libya may be far from over.  The nation is awash with weapons not controlled by the government.  Remnants of the old regime may continue to go on fighting.  Extremists may yet make their presence felt.”
Regime change decisions should not be made by the President alone.  They should involve the Congress too.
Nor is economizing a sound reason to back a revolution.  Carafano notes, “Leading from behind might be all very well if U.S. vital interests are not on the line.  The U.S. must, however, have both the capacity and the will to safeguard its interests when threats significantly endanger the safety, freedom and prosperity of Americans.  . . . The U.S. cannot defend itself on the cheap.”
Obama’s approach seems to be support for inexpensive (to us) revolutions against tyrants, even when there is no American security interest.  And even when we’re unsure who and what the insurgents will put in the deposed tyrant's place.  And where we don’t know what backlash we are risking.
By injecting the U.S. into civil wars, Obama risks more than making Uncle Sam the world’s policeman.  He’s also making us the world’s community reorganizer.

Ernest Istook is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ernest Istook Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

First appeared in Human Events