Complex Libya Offers No Simple Answers So Obama Has None

If Libya and its strongman Moammar Gadhafi were simple foreign policy problems, they would have been solved many presidents ago.

Unfortunately for President Obama the Libyan rebellion and Gadhafi's bloody reaction to it happened on his watch.

And, unlike most other presidents, he had to deal with it against the backdrop of Iraq and Afghanistan, and all the changes, real and perceived, those wars have created in the image of America abroad and the psyches of Americans at home.

So the president was faced with several bad choices in terms of using U.S. military power in Libya: do nothing, act unilaterally or intervene in concert with the international community.

The first two choices were untenable, he decided. So he landed on the third option, a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone, as well any additional means deemed necessary, to bring Ronald Reagan's "mad dog of the Middle East" to heel.

The president has promised that the U.S. role in direct military action will be measured in days and that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed to Libya.

Apparently, the American people so far are supporting him on this. A new CBS News poll found nearly 70 percent of those surveyed backing the U.S. military intervention to date.

That the president's stated reasons so far for taking military action have left many lawmakers and critics unsatisfied hasn't apparently yet turned off the majority of Americans to Obama's ordering of the U.S. military into action.

But as I said as the start, Libya is complicated. From all reports, Gadhafi's brutality and the spreading around his nation's oil wealth to buy complicity have been about the only things for decades keeping the country from flying apart.

Gadhafi liked it that way, keeping all institutions in the country so weak there'd be no rival power centers.

So what do you do in the case where the leader you want to get rid of is also the linchpin preventing chaos? That's the problem Obama is facing.

It's not a black and white or binary problem with a ready answer. It's the very definition of muddy. It's the epitome of complicated.

But that doesn't mean there's much of a mood to give Obama a pass. As Politico's Glenn Thrush reports:

Republicans, especially the neo-conservatives who gave enthusiastic support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have sought to paint Obama's nuanced approach as fundamentally weak. "We used to relish leading the free world. Now, it's almost like leading the free world is an inconvenience," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Fox News Sunday.

Obama's reluctance to embrace an easily definable approach to the world stands in stark contrast to many of his predecessors, such as Richard Nixon, who relied on regional surrogates, like the Shah-run Iran, and Ronald Reagan who was committed to anti-communist "freedom fighters" on several continents.

In a debate against Graham's good friend Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama declared he was "not going to be as doctrinaire as the Bush doctrine, because the world is complicated," and he's often railed against the oversimplified world view he believes led to the war in Iraq.

But on Libya, Obama's opacity is coming back to haunt him, as critics from both parties press him on his rationale for taking action and for a more specific articulation of his vision for American goals and aspirations in the Mideast and elsewhere.

In a similar vein, Sam Youngman of The Hill writes:

Nuance on foreign policy is a cancer on Democratic presidential campaigns.

With a sudden military intervention in Libya that has come under criticism from both parties, President Obama is experiencing the early stages of this potentially fatal campaign disease.

All of this would be great if Libya offered simple answers. But it doesn't. Which is probably why Obama doesn't have any.

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