Was Obama Stampeded Into War?

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“NATO is moving very slowly, allowing Gadhafi forces to advance,” said rebel leader Abdul Fattah Younis, as the Libyan army moved back to the outskirts of Ajdabiya, gateway city to Benghazi.

“NATO has become our problem.”

Younis is implying that if NATO does not stop Libyan soldiers from capturing Ajdabiya, the rebels may be defeated — and NATO will be responsible for that defeat.

And who is Abdul Fattah Younis?

Until six weeks ago, he held the rank of general and interior minister and was regarded as the No. 2 man in Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

Yet his military assessment does not appear too far off.

Last week, Gadhafi’s forces were again on the offensive, after having been driven by U.S. air and missile strikes all the way back to his hometown of Sirte.

What gave the Libyan army its new lease on life?

The Americans handed off the war to NATO and moved to the sidelines, restricting U.S. forces to supporting roles.

As of today, however, it appears that if the U.S. military does not re-engage deeply and actively in this war, the Libyan uprising could go down to defeat. And we will be blamed.

How did Barack Obama get us into this box?

Last week, Sen. Jim Webb questioned Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command.

As neither the United States, nor its citizens, nor any U.S. ally had been attacked or imperiled, Webb asked, what was the justification for the U.S. attack on Libya, whose government, Gadhafi’s government, the State Department still recognizes as the legitimate government of Libya?

“To protect lives,” was Ham’s response.

Yet, as last week brought news of the slaughter of 1,000 civilians by gunfire and machete by troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara, the man we recognize as the legitimate president of the Ivory Coast, a question arises: Why was a real massacre in West Africa less a casus belli for us than an imagined massacre in North Africa?

Was Obama stampeded into war by hysterical talk of impending atrocities that had no basis in fact?

That is the issue raised by columnist Steve Chapman, that ought to be raised by a Congress that was treated almost contemptuously, when Obama launched a war without seeking its authorization.

On March 26, over a week after he ordered the strikes on Libya, hitting tanks, anti-aircraft, radar sites, troops and Gadhafi’s own compound in Tripoli, 600 miles away from Benghazi, Obama told the nation he had acted to prevent a “bloodbath” in Benghazi.

“We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

White House Middle East expert Dennis Ross reportedly told foreign policy experts: “We were looking at ‘Srebrenica on steroids’ — the real or imminent possibility that up to 100,000 people could be massacred, and everyone would blame us for it.”

A hundred thousand massacred! And our fault? But that is seven times the body count of Katyn, one of the Stalinist horrors of World War II. Was Benghazi truly about to realize the fate that befell Carthage at the hands of Scipio Africanus, at the close of the Third Punic War?

How did the White House come to believe in such a scenario?

In this low-scale war, the cities of Zwara, Ras Lanuf, Brega, and Ajdabiya have changed hands, some several times. Misrata, the only rebel-held city in the west, has been under siege for seven weeks.

Yet in none of these towns has anything like the massacre in the Ivory Coast taken place, let alone Srebrenica. The Guardian’s Saturday report read, “Fierce fighting in Ajdabiya saw at least eight people killed.”

Yemeni President Saleh’s security forces killed six times that many civilians just to break up one rally in his central square.

True, on March 17, Gadhafi said he would show “no mercy.” But as Chapman notes, he was referring to “traitors” who resisted him to the end. And Gadhafi added, “We have left the way open to them.”

“Escape. Let those who escape go forever.” Gadhafi went on to pledge that “whoever hands over his weapons, stays at home without any weapons, whatever he did previously, he will be pardoned, protected.”

Perhaps Gadhafi is lying.

But there is, as yet, no evidence of any such slaughter in any town his forces have captured. Nor do the paltry forces Gadhafi has mustered to recapture the east — Ajdabiya was attacked by several dozen Toyota trucks — seem capable of putting a city of 700,000 to the sword.

With the Libyan war now seemingly a stalemate, and pressure building for the United States to renew air and missile strikes, and train and equip rebel forces, Congress needs to learn how we got into this mess.

Was Obama stampeded into this war by the panic and hysteria of his advisers? Because, quite clearly, he did not think this thing through.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. See his website.

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