A few hours ago I had it mind to note that one of the distinctions of the attack on Libya was that even after it had begun, it had yet to receive a name. The fact that French jets were screeching across the sky above Benghazi, yet TV commentators could not with gravitas preface the announcement of their presence with a suitably grandiose title, did actually underline the fact that warfare is and should be a last resort — not something that can be carefully premeditated and branded as though it was a product for sale.
I guess I should have realized that the naming ceremony was being reserved for the Pentagon, with its compulsion to announce the unleashing of any fusillade of cruise missiles with the title of a summertime Hollywood blockbuster.
Perhaps the strangest and yet most telling piece of messaging is that the US attack would be launched while the commander in chief is on an overseas jaunt.
The message being? That it underlines that the United States is playing a strictly supporting role in this operation? That this is business as usual for America and if the president can enjoy a trip to Brazil while the bombs drop then so should the rest of the country continue with its own distractions? Or, that Obama is so ambivalent about his role that he is much more comfortable simply delegating responsibility to the next man in the chain of command, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — who happened to make his objections to this operation quite transparent? And if the latter is the case, perhaps this does in a somewhat regal fashion underline that ultimately Obama is the decision maker, not just the deliberator.
Meanwhile, to those who remain spellbound by memories of 2003 I would suggest imagining this:
It’s March 2003, a month after the beginning of the spectacular Iraqi uprising that had begun once again in Basra. Caught by surprise, Saddam loyalists had been pushed back all the way to Baghdad and for a brief period it looked like the regime might collapse. Iraqis across the country were eager to claim their democratic rights, deeply inspired by the fact that to their west, the Saudi royal family had unceremoniously be evicted and to their east, a peaceful democracy movement had led Ayatollah Khamenei to rescind the ideology of vilayat-e faqih and transfer full constitutional power to an elected assembly. Yet although the uprising had swept the length and breadth of Iraq, the enthusiasm of ordinary people could not withstand Saddam’s brutality and his willingness to use all necessary means to reassert control over the country. For a few weeks, irregular forces had fought bravely to defend their gains, but now the Iraqi army was in the process of reclaiming territory, city by city.
George Bush, at that time a president who had not actually launched a war, suggested that America could at least provide a supporting role as, much to everyone’s surprise, Europe formed a coalition including Arab nations intent on preventing Saddam from strangling Iraqi democracy at its birth. Would there have been strong objections in the Middle East or the West?