Obama’s tough Libya decision

On balance, he did the right thing, but questions remain

We agree with those who criticize President Obama for launching air strikes on Libya without consulting Congress and explaining his actions to the American people sooner. And we wonder how NATO, which is taking over this week, is going to prevent Muammar Gaddafi’s superior ground forces from eventually defeating their ragtag opponents.

But we believe the president did the right thing, for the reasons he gave in his speech Monday evening (March 28). One of those reasons was humanitarian: Had Gaddafi taken the city of Benghazi, he would have ordered his troops to do just what he threatened to do: go from house to house killing defenseless civilians. The United States had a moral responsibility to “stop violence on a horrific scale,” the president said.

True, there are many places in the world where violence is horrific. The United States cannot intervene in all of them. Other factors figured into the president’s decision: the thumbs-up vote of the U.N. Security Council; the support of the Arab League; and the willingness of two Middle Eastern nations to join the military effort.

The president also wanted to prevent a refugee exodus that could have threatened the peaceful transitions in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, and to show other dictators in the region that violence was counter-productive. Finally, the intervention put the United States squarely behind the pro-democracy revolution now sweeping the Middle East.

Ultimately air power will not be sufficient to remove Gaddafi from office. As the president said, the United States and its allies will need to increase the diplomatic and economic pressure on Libya while helping the Libyan opposition develop the civil and military resources to create an alternative government. The president must continue to speak frankly to the American people.