The most important content of Presidential speeches is often what they don't say. Here are some things that President Obama didn't say about Libya in his speech last night.
The President did not answer his critics who asked why he took America into war without authorization by Congress. This question was made sharper on Sunday when Jake Tapper of ABC asked Defense Secretary Gates,
"Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?"
"No, no," was Gates' reply. "It was not - it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about."
The significance of Tapper's question was that Tapper used the exact language that Obama used as a candidate for President in describing the limits of the authority of the President under the Constitution to initiate hostilities without Congressional authorization:
"The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."
Apparently Defense Secretary Gates does not think that the situation in Libya met the standard that candidate Obama set in December 2007 for acting without Congressional authorization.
Secretary of State Clinton defended the State Department budget in Congress this week by pointing out that diplomatic interventions can prevent expensive wars. Now the State Department has a spectacular opportunity to demonstrate Secretary Clinton's argument by example. It can support robust diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya without a further escalation in violence.
Pipe dream? The Wall Street Journal reports today that the price of oil fell on world markets when Al Jazeera reported that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had accepted a plan proposed by Venezuela that called for a multinational commission to mediate the conflict with rebel groups; Reuters reports that Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the peace plan was "under consideration."
Of course, this doesn't mean that peace is about to break out. For example, a leader of the rebels has reportedly rejected the call for peace.
But here are some facts that should create an opening for diplomacy: the armed rebels seem to have very little military prospect of taking Tripoli. The Libyan government seems to have very little military prospect of retaking most rebel-held territory.
Recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been sounding the alarm about the fact that the burden of "our" wars is being disproportionately borne by a very small slice of the population: soldiers and their families.
Like, I am sure, many Americans, I have sharply conflicted feelings about this.
One the one hand: I strongly agree with Secretary Gates that the burden is disproportionately falling on a few, and that this is unjust, and I am glad that he is trying to use his position to call attention to this injustice and urge that it be remedied.
On the other hand: they are not my wars. I did not vote for them, I did not and I do not support them. I have worked with others to end them; obviously, my companions and I have not yet succeeded in this endeavor, but going forward, I am more seized with the urgency of ending the wars than with the urgency of spreading the pain more fairly while they continue.
Moreover, I am not a little irritated that my opinions, and those of my companions, are systematically marginalized when major decisions about the wars are made, but we are then urged to more fully share the sacrifices resulting from the decisions into which we were told that our input was not welcome.
Secretary Gates is surely aware of the paradox of his position: he bemoans the fact that the burden of the wars falls disproportionately on a few, but he is well aware that the fact that the burden falls disproportionately on a few is a policy choice that has been made by his colleagues with the goal of facilitating war politically.
If we allow ourselves to consider all possible remedies to the problem posed by Secretary Gates, including those that are politically absurd, an obvious solution presents itself: reinstate the military draft.
But this is a dead letter politically. The Pentagon doesn't want it; Congress will never approve it.
Blocking Doctors? Let the Aid to Haiti Go Through
The TV story seems to be that aid from America is pouring in to Haiti. But on the ground the US military is blocking doctors and American aid workers with longstanding relationships in Haiti from bringing in desperately needed aid, and the US is also being slow to expand airdrops of water, water purification tablets, and food. Where is the United States Congress? Because the US military is involved, does that mean no-one can say anything?
Yesterday, Doctors Without Borders reported that
A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there…Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies.
One of their staff members said,
"We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying…. Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations."
Groups ready to deliver aid to Jacmel - the fourth-largest city in Haiti - were told they would receive no clearance to land there from the U.S. military, even though they already had both aid supplies and the means for distributing them. This aid is only now being delivered - thanks to assistance from the Dominican Republic, not the U.S.