Obama’s “Military-First” Libya strategy another costly mistake

In 1849 French journalist Alphonse Karr first penned the words well-known to 21st-Century Americans – “The more things change, the more they are the same.”  This adage likely has crossed the minds of many voters who supported Barack Obama in 2008 in the hope he would chart a course different from the bellicose national security policies pursued by George W. Bush.  In its Arabic translation, Karr’s words may very well have come to the mind of Libyan Col. Muammar Qaddafi earlier this month, as U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles laid waste to much of his country’s military infrastructure.

It appears President Obama has resigned himself to supporting the same, “military-first” foreign policy as pursued by his three predecessors.  The on-going military operation in Libya illustrates clearly the dramatic shift in how the United States chooses to respond to events in countries far from our shores or interests.

For half a century after WWII, and especially since the creation of the CIA in 1947,  presidents of both major political parties turned to covert actions as the option of choice to achieve political goals in and through other countries.  With a few notable exceptions — such as the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 and Vietnam later that same tumultuous decade — this was the course pursued whenever Washington decided to effect a “regime change” (or less lofty goals) somewhere in the world.

Using the covert capabilities of our government offered presidents flexibility, defined goals, cost-effective options, and, most important, “plausible deniability.”  This strategy was designed also to minimize possible confrontation with the Soviet Union.  There was no need to secure permission from other governments (unless we wanted to and there was an important strategic or tactical reason to do so); or from some international bureaucracy such as the United Nations.

Peaceniks and so-called foreign-policy “doves,” of course, took great exception to the manner in which various presidents employed this covert strategy.  But the success of such a strategy – as measured by goals achieved – is hard to criticize legitimately.  From Iran and Guatemala in the early 1950s to Nicaragua in the 1980s, carefully planned and secretly executed operations resulted in decisive foreign policy objectives being achieved, at relatively small cost and without long-term American involvement.  No longer.

Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Washington appears to have permanently foresworn use of covert, paramilitary capabilities as a desired means of achieving foreign policy objectives.  The first option has now become the military option — action not undertaken for clearly defined goals designed explicitly to achieve something of clear benefit to the United States; but goals fashioned to meet the broad, vague desires of many nations and governments.  These are operations doomed to be extremely expensive, almost always longer-term than planned, and which rarely accomplish something of tangible and articulable value to the American people.

This military-first strategy has taken hold of America’s foreign policy establishment since 9-11, but its roots go back to the post-Vietnam era, when Dick Cheney and other so-called “Neo-cons” determined that never again would the United States suffer an experience as humiliating as Vietnam.  Its initial advocate was the first President Bush, who dramatically altered President Reagan’s policy pitting Iraq and Iran against each other, and opted instead to employ the “shock and awe” of U.S. military might to oust Saddam Hussein.  We’re still heavily involved inside Iraq 20 years later.

For all his campaign criticism of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, Obama is seamlessly continuing the goals of neo-conservatives to permanently reshape the American definition of “national security.”  He may take comfort in the fact his actions are based on lofty goals shared by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other “coalition” members.  However, this strategy constitutes a disservice to American taxpayers and to our military, whose resources and manpower are being squandered on ill-defined and costly adventures.

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3/28/2011 News Update « PresObama

March 28th, 2011
6:20 am

[...] Obama’s Military-First Libya strategy another costly mistake – Atlanta Journal Constitut… [...]

[...] an answer to the burning question: What's next? His speech, set for 7:30 pm EDT Monday, …Obama's “Military-First” Libya strategy another costly mistakeAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The Caucus: Opportunities and Perils for Obama in Military Action [...]

[...] an answer to the burning question: What's next? His speech, set for 7:30 pm EDT Monday, …Obama's “Military-First” Libya strategy another costly mistakeAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The Caucus: Opportunities and Perils for Obama in Military Action [...]

[...] to NationABC NewsObama Confronts Congressional Questions, Public Skepticism in Libya SpeechBloombergObama's “Military-First” Libya strategy another costly mistakeAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)New York Times (blog) -9&10 News -WNCTall 5,543 [...]

Ragnar Danneskjöld

March 28th, 2011
7:33 am

Good morning all. While I disagree with the sentiment behind our host’s essay, I agree with the factual argument. Since the democrats (the “Church” committee, which had nothing to do with religion) outlawed political assassination by American operatives, “military first” is really the only option legally available to the chief executive. Chauncey has been dancing at the edge of the law with his drone attacks – not that I disagree with his strategy nor with his sentiment, but that would be an impeachable offense for a conservative president, as a violation of an inherently-silly law. The cure for our host’s distress over the “military first” option is to explicitly repeal all American laws restricting foreign activities. (Including anti-bribery laws – why punish American companies for doing as the Romans while in Rome?)


March 28th, 2011
7:38 am

Notice how Barr dares not venture into just what American interests are served by W’s invasion of Iraq, or this new Libyan adventure. That’s because he spends more time with a thesaurus than he does deducing the painful truth about the war lobby. Worse, “adage” was the wrong choice of words here. The more Barr writes, the more he remains a hack.

The more-apt word, “Bromide”, describes what overused, incorrect, never-proved, and only anecdotally-supported nonsense that platitudes are. They are annoying. Take any saying, and if you can envision the fat lady on the porch, drinking her diet pepsi, and engaged in gossip with her even-fatter and more obnoxious neighbor, who is picking her teeth with a length of straw then you have a bromide, not an adage.

Quick Quiz: Is this a bromide or an adage:

1). “What goes around comes around”

2). “Women: you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them”.

Adage has a notion of wisdom about it. “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” or “French women have that j’e nai ce quois”, or “Surround yourself with yes-men and you’ll be a no-where man.” (John Lennon); or, “Can you save 15% or more with Geiko? Does the Pope sheet in the woods?”

and so on. U C, peoples, Barr is skirting around classified info here. All he had to do was write one three-letter word and he would have blown our entire nation’s history wide open, and probably been JFK’d by our CIA. But I’m not afraid: The horrible truth about our government since it’s founding is……AURGHH!

THe AJC regrets to inform the reader that this whistle blower has been waxed by a ninja assassin. (or his girlfriend poisoned his cigars.)

or the ninja’s girlfriend did.

Anyhoo, Barr would have written a better article if he had simply inserted emoticons at strategic places around his piece, especially that one face that depicts a guy nursing a natural gas bubble.

[...] Starting A War In Libya, Obama Will Explain To America Why We're …The Business InsiderAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -New York Times (blog) -9&10 Newsall 5,564 news [...]

sean Yankee

March 28th, 2011
8:19 am

Bob, this guy has been around for 42 years. We have tried everything and it hasn’t worked. Like Castro Gadaffi is persistent, military removal is our only real alternative, or watch him slaughter thousands.

And I cant believe you brought up Iran as an example of successful covert op. We screwed that up and its still a mess.


March 28th, 2011
8:30 am

What this Libya strategy clearly shows more than anything else is the iron grip of the Military-Industrial Complex. While it is often true that “the more things change, the more they are the same”, in this case I beleive it is more accurate to say that “money talks and BS walks”.

[...] LibyaFox News (blog)Obama to Lay out His Case on Libya to NationABC NewsBloomberg -NPR -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 3,192 news [...]


March 28th, 2011
9:24 am

Bob writes “Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Washington appears to have permanently foresworn use of covert, paramilitary capabilities as a desired means of achieving foreign policy objectives.” Just maybe 9/11 occurred because of US covert activity. Examine that argument and see if you want to go back to that policy Bob.


March 28th, 2011
9:37 am

Maybe if the political opposition wouldn’t attack the president on everything he does or doesn’t do, we wouldn’t be a military first country. Look at the polls, the majority of Americans favor the no fly zone. If the president had not acted, the Republicans would have attacked Obama as weak and allowing freedom fighters to die at the hands of a merciless dictator. This isn’t Obama’s fault at all. It is the fault of voters and ex-politicians like you, Bob.


March 28th, 2011
9:39 am

How about staying out of the affairs of other nations period.


March 28th, 2011
9:43 am

We’re reaping what 200 years of meddling in the affairs of other nations has sown. Now what are the choices? The damage was done years ago.


March 28th, 2011
9:45 am

Right on, Mr. Barr! How would we like it if a foreign country came over here to settle the “water wars” between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama? Just doesn’t add up. I’m surprised Obama would allow this, since he was trying to restore the image of the U.S. as a moral country. Yet, we are again attacking without provocation. Very sad!

Tigers Woody

March 28th, 2011
9:49 am

Quite frankly I am disappointed in the President. Based on his campaign platform of promising to negotiate with foreign despots before engaging them in a group hug, I fully expected him to solve this problem with Qaddafi by including him in his foursome and reaching accord after a quick 18 holes.


March 28th, 2011
9:58 am

the more OBAMA kills the more he will be liked…that says something about AMERICAN bloodlust…


March 28th, 2011
10:01 am

I suggest Ragnar send his loved one’s over seas to fight and be killed. He likes to play global stratego with other people’s kids and money yet proclaims himself as a conservative. Instead, he’s actually a Progressive. A nationalistic militaristic war-monger. A threat to freedom and liberty. Another statist cowering behind the “stars and stripes”. Can’t have it both ways bub. You either are or you aint. Ayn Rand would kick your butt out of her circle.


March 28th, 2011
10:04 am

Freedom Fighters my ass. Where have we heard that one before?


March 28th, 2011
10:14 am

Wasn’t Osama called a freedom fighter during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan?


March 28th, 2011
10:55 am

Far from burdening our military it does nothing but provide them with a live training exercise. That’s not to say I agree with it. And the Pentagon can find the money by cancelling some training that this can replace.


March 28th, 2011
11:14 am

Bob hit the nail on the head describe our covert policies regarding regime change and applaud him for mentioning our role in overthrowing the Shah of Iran because he dared to nationalize the oil industry in his country. There is no Soviet Union to counter-balance our military any longer and so off we go to effect the change that we wish to see. Political assassination is expressly forbidden though I would see the military first option is a result of deep distrust of any multilateral action. This is for good reasons. Again if Americans express support for this type of foreign policy, then so be it. Just don’t be surprised when we aren’t greeted as liberators, American flags are being burned or wars don’t pay for themselves with the resources that we could presumably plunder. The military industrial complex it appears has won out as has every other industry with significant lobbying power in Washington. But that is an entire other column to write about. This show can’t go on forever but until we transition to an energy policy that allows some independence from the foreign sphere every President will continue to practice these military interventions under the guise of humanitarian relief. If that were the case we’d be in many African countries today.

old shoes

March 28th, 2011
11:20 am

Here’s a new idea. It’s called revolution. We take the bankers, their enablers in the government, the tax cheating, earth raping industrialists, the milquetoast sell out Democrats and the fascist Republicans and throw them where they all belong: in jail. Then we proceed to re-establish a government of the people, by the people and for the people, not corporations and the parasites who run them.

Yes, its messy and its risky and there will be unpleasantness. But in America today, is there really any other choice?


March 28th, 2011
11:31 am

Col C “how about staying out of the affairs of other nations”

That makes a great deal of sense. Naturally, because of that, the Govt. will ignore it.


March 28th, 2011
11:47 am


Ask yourself if we have the oil resources of the Middle East, would any American able to locate Saudi Arabia on a map? Our foreign policy is built around securing resources and delivering them safely to American shores.


March 28th, 2011
11:48 am

Old Shoes

Good luck finding a coalition to go after all those disparate interests.

Political Mongrel

March 28th, 2011
11:57 am

Don’t forget that one of the US’s covert operatives was named Saddam Hussein. We propped him up as a tool to keep Iran in check, sent him weapons to fight a war against Iran, and sold him the materials used to attack the Kurds with nerve and other gases (and the US emissary in these sales was one Donald Rumsfeld). And when he became too dangerous even to us, we took him out.

Covert actions could save a lot of lives and prevent wars, but funding and cozying up to one dictator to spite another is a deadly game. Some things are better out in the open, some things aren’t.

And any one who thinks the Church commission stopped all political assassinations by the US abroad is at best naive.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 28th, 2011
12:01 pm

That objective that was achieved in Iran in the early 1950’s, at a small cost, turned out to have a large cost, long term.


March 28th, 2011
12:02 pm

A bunch of “commentators” commenting on something they know little to nothing about. The guy (Obama) gets paid just like his predecessor (Bush) to make decisions. Let him make them. If you don’t like it, tell him in Nov ‘12. Barr’s opinion isn’t worth the time it took him to write it. Similar to Gingrich’s.

Ron Slade Sr.

March 28th, 2011
12:03 pm

How can you be so critical of Obama’s Med-East strategy when everything we have done there has gone off swimmingly. Of, course I’m being sarcastic.

the watch dog

March 28th, 2011
12:14 pm

The no fly zone over Libya costs 30 to 100 million a week to enforce.

161 Tomahawk cruise missels 225 million.

1 downed Airforce F-15 jet 30 million

3 B2 stealth bombers flying from Missouri to Libya and back $80,000 an hour.
Nobody, Congress or anybody else was asked about where the money would come from, just add it to the 14 trillion dollar deficit.
the seizure of power by Muammar Qaddafi decades ago and turning it into a police state, why is the U.S. cocerned now? The answer is oil. Have to have stability in Libya at any cost, has nothing to do with international law . That is where the direction should be, international law and trying Mummar Qaddafi by international tribunal.


March 28th, 2011
12:18 pm

How much have we spent on Bushwar in Iraq?


March 28th, 2011
12:40 pm

In spite of the “opposition” to the strategy… it seems to make sense that this problem could be simply solved efficiently and cost effectively with one supported soldier armed with one rifle and one bullet.

Marie Devine

March 28th, 2011
1:19 pm

We need leaders who know how to use the power of God’s word to bring peace with dignity for all sides. We have gone the wrong way so long, we thing military is our god of deliverance and provision.

If we had NOT supported the protesters in Egypt and helped force President Mubarak from office, the protesters would not be pushing for regime change throughout the Middle East and African nations. They would make their protests then disband as they should.

All holy books command us to respect our leaders; through that we can respectfully call for change. Riots and mobs that refuse to dismantle according to government orders are not using democracy; they are deceiving the public. Leaders of nations are to defend their government from overthrow. That is their job to protect the people. The goal is peace, to prevent future uprisings.

We need to examine who protesters are in Libya and elsewhere and why spreading is so fast. One comment and evidence is recorded at:

Governments are being toppled with leaders put in place with no authority from the citizens. This is not democracy; this is manipulation of and by student mobs for purpose of overthrowing governments to place unknown leaders in offices.

The AJC Stinks

March 28th, 2011
1:31 pm

We need to enforce the War Powers Act by impeaching Obama for launching a war without congressional authorization. Libya was not an immediate threat to America, so the President was required by the Act to seek Congressional approval for any military action. Impeach and remove him from office, it will send a clear message to future Presidents.

Marie Devine

March 28th, 2011
1:39 pm

The Word of God to all nations and prophets has our answers. We are going the wrong way, rejecting the proof that our employment lifestyle is causing our problems and polluting us to death; by rejecting the obvious solution to create a garden paradise that will solve the problems we created with the employment lifestyle, we seek to make jobs and promote buyers at home and abroad. That can never bring peace or good health.

“There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Proverbs 14:12

“When a man’s ways please Jehovah, it causes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7

In Leviticus 26, God promises rain in due season, healthy crops, animals and people and peace in the land for obedience to His word in truth. He promises terror and 4 x 7 curses for disobedience UNTIL, UNTIL, we turn to him. (Terror does not end UNTIL we turn to Him for real freedom.)

God is against nations joining together for protection, provision and control etc.
He frustrates, confuses and destroys their plans (G-20, UN, EU, NATO, Quartet)
(Psalm 1 and 2, II Chronicles 16:7-12; 19:2, 20:35-37; Leviticus 26, Isaiah 8:9-14; 30:1-7)

Qur’an First Chapter. 12 God commands, Do not create disorder in the land.
In Al-Maida 5.33, 34 God’s serious consequences for creating disorder in the land.
4.60 Obey those in authority.

Bible 1 James 2:13-20 says to respect all government and authority and masters, the good and the bad. (The goal is peace, not riches and opportunities.) When we respect our leaders, we can suggest change without danger.
2 Timothy 2:1 says to pray for kings and authorities for peaceful lifestyle.
Titus 3:1 “be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates.

No one can be blessed going against the word of God; the consequences are severe and lasting.


March 28th, 2011
2:00 pm

“We need to enforce the War Powers Act by impeaching Obama for launching a war without congressional authorization. Libya was not an immediate threat to America”

Wonder if you also wanted to impeach Bush because Iraq was also not an immediate threat to America…..somehow I doubt it.


March 28th, 2011
2:11 pm


We buy oil from a large number of Nations. That does not mean we have to impose our power into their internal affairs.


March 28th, 2011
2:15 pm

Marie Devine

There is no way to prove or disprove whether God does or does not exist. Until hard evidence is found, it does not make any sense for you to say that God says this or God says that. If you cannot prove God’s very existence, how can you possibly know his will?

[...] Obama’s “Military-First” Libya strategy another costly mistake | The Barr Code. This entry was posted in Opinion and tagged alphonse karr, Barack Obama, bay of pigs, bay of [...]


March 28th, 2011
4:11 pm

I believe every person who says “we should not have intervened in Libya” should also add the obvious: “I do not care if Gaddafi slaughters thousands of Libyans.” (He/she could add the corollary: “They are only Arabs.”

The AJC Stinks

March 28th, 2011
4:28 pm

Dear Partisay – Actually, I did want to impeach Bush over Iraq, I still want to hold all the neocons responsible for that pointless war. The neoclowns waved wmd’s as their justification for war, weapons that did not exist, other than some nerve agents WE had supplied during the Iran-Iraq war.

JF McNamara

March 28th, 2011
5:01 pm

Everybody knows everything these days. How do we know there haven’t been covert operations? How do we even know what strategy we are actually undertaking in Libya right now? The only people, rightly, who know what is going on reside in the Pentagon and the White House.

In a few weeks, when this emergency has gone the way of WikiLeaks, the oil spill, or every other disaster of the week, we’ll get the details we need to really comprehend what is going on now.

Obama has handled every other “crisis” pretty well, and he doesn’t appear to be doing poorly here. We have no casualties and a limited engagement. What else was he supposed to do? Let civilians get slaughtered while having discussions? Then you would’ve written an article about how he’s a soft ditherer.

The Republican press has one mantra, No matter what Obama does, he’s wrong.


March 28th, 2011
5:50 pm

Let’s face it, American foreign policy is, more often than not, not necessarily in the interests of the American people, but rather doing the bidding of American (and international) corporate interests. Behind this military action, as most of the others, lie corporate interests. The question we should be asking ourselves is when do corporate interests and the American people’s interests coincide? Not often enough one might conclude.

Dwayne Nelson

March 28th, 2011
10:10 pm

There are nearly 7 billion people on earth. It means absolutely nothing if half of Libya wants to exterminate the other half. There is no negative impact to anything. It’s not our responsibility to play God and save lives. To all the nuts above spewing the God stuff, if there really is a God then then why do people like Hitler, Ghadafi, and Bush even exist?


March 29th, 2011
3:05 am

Bob- Weren’t you Repubs complaining that Obama wasn’t doing anything while innocent people lost their lives?

There is one disagreement I have with Obama. If this was done to morally rescue thousands of people from massacre, then why didn’t you intervene in the Ivory Coast unrests? Or, another requirement is that the ’suffering’ country has to be an oil producer?



March 29th, 2011
9:01 am

What this Libya strategy clearly shows more than anything else is the iron grip of the Military-Industrial Complex

Yeah. What carlosgov said. No doubt.


March 29th, 2011
9:46 am

You know the repubs were screaming just a few months ago: “Help Iran!! Didn’t Obama see the signs printed in English? They want our help!!! Obama is SCARED to get involved!!” also “Help Egypt!! Didn’t Obama see the signs printed in English? They want our help!!! Obama is SCARED to get involved!!” one more (before Obama took action in Libya) “Help Libya!!! Didn’t Obama see the signs printed in English? They want our help!!! Obama is SCARED to get involved!!” Then Obama got involved and the tune from the right suddenly changed to “IMPEACH OBAMA!!! We shouldn’t have gotten involved!!!

So much hypocrisy from the right……..so little time……..


March 29th, 2011
10:40 am

I believe it was then senator Joe Biden who said on tape a few years ago that he would call for Bush’s impeachment if he did something similar to what Obama has done in Libya. Catch it on Fox news.

David Shivers

March 29th, 2011
3:09 pm

Sometimes Mr. Barr makes sense. Not this time, though! Diplomatic negotiations assume you’re dealing with a rational adversary. In case BB hasn’t noticed, Ghaddafy is now bombing and strafing his own people in a hopefully futile effort to hold onto power. BTW, MG has never been punished for his role in the Pan Am 103 bombing back in the 80s; helping enforce the no-fly zone seems little enough of the payback that’s owed him.