Monday, March 28, 2011

Never Too Broke To Bomb

Due to technical difficulties, this Sunday post was delayed to Monday.

How long have we known that Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi is a nutcase? We recently heard from Libya’s ex-Minister of Justice Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil that Quaddafi himself ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. He has been a thorn in our side for decades. However, can we really dedicate our dwindling resources on yet another front? Now we find ourselves policing a no-fly zone over Libya while mired in a budget crisis here at home.

According to Glenn Thrush, senior White House reporter for, speaking on National Public Radio’s Madeleine Brand Show this week, the cost of our efforts in Libya amounts to $100 million per week. The Tomahawk missiles we lob into Qaddafi’s command and control installations run a half-million dollars a piece. Times that by the more than two hundred missiles fired so far, and the cost of this latest action becomes clear.

What is far from clear is the strategic importance of Libya to U.S. interests. The debate rages across the internet and on the news channels. Yes, Libya occupies several miles of Mediterranean coastline, and produces about two percent of the world’s oil, most of which goes to Europe, and, as Jason Pack points out in his article on the NPR website, “Libyan nationals have been prominent jihadists in Iraq.” Pack rails against Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations for describing U.S. interests in Libya as “less than vital” in a Wall Street Journal piece last week.

Putting aside the economic and political ramifications of the situation, do we not have a responsibility to defend human life? Yes, we do, and not only because we are Americans and Americans always come to the defense of the defenseless. We need to defend human rights because it is the moral and ethical thing to do. There is really no equivocating on this, but increasingly, we here in the U.S. are facing choices, and none of them are good.

We have high unemployment, bankrupt cities and states, a weak economy, and in many cases, a collapsing infrastructure, as is the case with our public school system. States are forced into dramatic cuts in services, and no help will be forthcoming from the federal government as President Obama fights with Republicans over spending cuts and tax breaks. Now, to add to the burden of Iraq and Afghanistan, we are fighting on a third front in Libya. We are sending our men and women in uniform into yet another desperate situation. The president said he would not put boots on the ground, but as we saw last week, things can go wrong quickly.  Two of our servicemen were lucky enough to be rescued after their fighter jet crashed in Libyan territory.

Muammar el-Qaddafi is certainly a problem that we might have handled years ago. He is a brutal, incoherent tyrant who has raped and pillaged his country for decades. We need to support people who wish to be free and have basic human rights. However, the degree of sacrifice in the U.S. for the Libyan people opposing Qaddafi is a topic that must be discussed. This is why I believe President Obama should have made his case to congress and the American people before launching the offensive. The strange thing about our president is that on several occasions, he has waited too long to take action. Often, it feels as if he wants to put a poll in the field before he decides what to do. When he does act, he tends to do so without consensus, and I have not been impressed with his choices. Increasingly, I am disturbed by his arrogant attitude and lack of explanation of his actions to the country. For a man who was considered an excellent communicator on the campaign trail, he has not been as good at getting his message out in office. We could blame his advisors and staff, but those faces were changed recently and the communication problem continues.

So, do we have an obligation to spend 100 million dollars a week to help a ragtag group of citizens rise up against a tyrannical dictator? We have an obligation to help, certainly. But at a time when nine percent of the people in this country are unemployed, many more are underemployed, where almost twenty-one percent of children and fourteen percent of all Americans live in poverty, where states are facing billions in deficits, and schools are struggling to offer a basic education, we need to think twice about trying to right all the wrongs in the world. We have a responsibility to take care of those who struggle against the tyranny of poverty and the lack of education right here, right now. For the moment, we have enough on our plate here at home.

Photo: Raytheon

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