The Long Term Consequences Of Bombing Libya For Obama: The Perception Trap


One of the problems with getting involved in a country militarily is that the whole business has a tendency to take on a life of its own, one that you don’t always expect, particularly if it’s not clearly defined. Welcome to mission creep, boys and girls.

For example, when Reagan bombed Libya, we knew exactly what we were doing and why we were there. Libyan agents bombed a night club in Berlin frequented by American soldiers. Reagan hit Libya as payback. We knew exactly why we hit Libya and there was no confusion about what came next.

This time around, Obama has bungled the whole thing worse than most people realize by having such an open-ended mission. Not even the people in the coalition, which is already fracturing, seem to be agreed on why we’re there. Are we there to protect civilians? Are we there to get rid of Gaddafi? Are we there to institute democracy? No one seems to know for sure — even in the White House.

Worse yet, nobody knows who’s doing what. Supposedly, we’re going to be out of there in a few days — which begs the question, “Why were we there in the first place?” If this is all we’re going to do, why didn’t Britain and France do it? They’re part of the coalition. They seem capable. Could it be that Obama bombed Libya without thinking about what was next, didn’t like the flack he caught for it, and decided to walk away for political reasons? That seems plausible.

But here’s what he may not have taken into consideration: The perception trap.

We’re involved in Libya and Obama will ultimately be judged not just around the world, but here in the United States, on how it turns out.

So, despite the fact that the best thing Obama could do at this point would be to just get the hell out of there, it won’t be so easy. That’s because if let’s say, the coalition falls apart, Obama will be blamed. If Gadaffi stays in power, Obama will be blamed. If Gadaffi slaughters the rebels, Obama will be blamed. If Gadaffi is overthrown and the country becomes an Islamic Republic or splits into squabbling parts, Obama will be blamed. That’s the price you pay for being the biggest dog in the pack. You can tell everybody you’re just another poodle, but everybody knows better.

That’s why sadly, tragically, Obama is about to get an education in that line from the Godfather, “I try to get out and they keep pulling me back in.” Let’s hope that Obama has gotten enough on-the-job training at this point to keep our troops home and just take any PR hits that may come.

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