During President Obama's Libyan War address, I was listening for one thing. While most Americans were already aware of what a madman Gaddafi was as well as the evil he was committed to perpetrating against his own people, what we weren't clear on was how a man who persistently derided the Iraq War as "dumb" could justify intervention in a less dangerous state like Libya.
Like any good professor, President Obama didn't just come out and explain the distinction. He made us work to find it. And there, buried beneath a few extra helpings of his trademark verbosity, I heard eleven key statements that, when compared to former President Bush's justification for the invasion of Iraq, explain the conundrum "Iraq Bad, Libya Good" perfectly.
First, President Obama reminded us that America should always be hesitant to take up arms. He counseled, "Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act." Contrast that with Bush's 2003 address when he said, "This nation fights reluctantly, because we know the cost...we strive for peace. And sometimes peace must be defended." In the case of Gaddafi, Mr. Obama stressed that he is a "tyrant," and that "He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad, and terrorized innocent people around the world." Bush, meanwhile, only called Saddam Hussein a "dictator" who had, "already used [the world's most dangerous weapons] on whole villages, leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or disfigured." Obama reminded us that Gaddafi had been given, "a final chance to stop his campaign of killing, or face the consequences. Rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance." Bush merely said that Saddam had been given, "his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead utter contempt for the...opinion of the world." And while our current President was able to tout, "a strong and growing coalition" of support that included 11 countries, our former President could only point to, "more than 35 countries [that] are giving crucial support." Let's also not forget how inconsistent President Bush was during the Iraq War. Standing in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner, he declared that "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended." This just before adding that, "Our mission continues," and, "now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country." Obama had no such dissonance as he announced with finality that, "the United States of America has done what we said we would do," before immediately following up with, "That is not to say that our work is complete." And what work remains? President Obama carefully outlined, "The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task," promising that, "the United States will do our part to help." President Bush never gave such an up-front assessment, saying only, "We have difficult work to do in Iraq...The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but...our coalition will stay until our work is done." President Obama was careful to point out that our involvement in Libya was critical to protect, "the democratic impulses that are dawning across the region [that] would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship." This while President Bush had only suggested that our involvement in Iraq could help by, "inspiring [democratic] reforms throughout the Muslim world." What's more, President Obama wisely understood that without taking action against Gaddafi, "The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security." Bush, of course, was disinterested in UN integrity, challenging, "Iraq has answered a decade of UN demands with a decade of defiance...Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced or cast aside without consequence?" And while Bush offered an inconclusive, "We do not know the day of final victory," before patronizingly reassuring us that our enemy's "cause is lost," President Obama did nothing of the sort. He quite bluntly told us, "The day when Gaddafi leaves power...may not happen overnight," before promising us that, "history is not on his side." We all remember Bush's ignoble guarantee that we would be welcomed by the Iraqi people as heroes, even thanking Iraqis who, "welcomed our troops and joined the liberation of their own country." President Obama threw out no such jingoistic red meat as he recounted how our downed airman parachuting into Libya, "did not find enemies. Instead, he was met by people who embraced him." Finally, President Bush delivered a frighteningly open-ended promise to involve the United States in the internal affairs of sovereign nations around the world by suggesting, "American values, and American interests, lead in the same direction: We stand for human liberty." Thankfully, President Obama didn't do anything remotely similar when he declared, "Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States."
You see? Two diametrically different defenses of two remarkably dissimilar conflicts. One was dumb, the other is obviously brilliant. If, after reading those quotes, you're still perplexed by the Professor-in-Chief's logic, let me give you the CliffsNote version: military intervention is dumb only when it's started by a Republican.