A Little History To Remember About The Libya Speech

Tonight, the President laid out why he used American military might in Libya, and in so doing, laid out what European commentators have been calling “The Obama Doctrine.”  It’s a deliberate and considered use of force, the minimum necessary, and in concert with allies, combined with that is a series of diplomatic steps.   Whether you like it or not – and people on both sides of the political spectrum have come up with various reasons why they don’t – it’s a very clear statement about what America is willing to do, and the limits.   It’s also been looked at, and despite various claims by some,  what he has done is in line with both treaties and US law.    Blue Wave News has the text of the speech, and I recommend reading it.   I’m going to highlight one part, and give a little history lesson.

The President said:

At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared that he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.

It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We struck regime forces approaching Benghazi to save that city and the people within it. We hit Gaddafi’s troops in neighboring Ajdabiya, allowing the opposition to drive them out. We hit his air defenses, which paved the way for a No Fly Zone. We targeted tanks and military assets that had been choking off towns and cities and we cut off much of their source of supply. And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Gaddafi’s deadly advance.

Anyone who has bothered to look at Gaddafi’s record since he took power should have no doubt of his intentions to conduct just such a massacre.   Besides his treatment of his own citizens and past dissidents, he’s supported and trained a number of genocidal leaders.   So yes, he would have done just that.  Reports from the region don’t show too many people in the region doubting it.   What he would have done would have been to follow the “Hama Rule.”  Never heard of it?  Most people haven’t.  Here’s what that means:

Besieged by 12,000 troops, the fighting in Hama lasted for three weeks – the first week “in regaining control of the town,” and the last two “in hunting down the insurgents.” Robert Fisk in his book Pity the Nation described how civilians were fleeing Hama while tanks and troops were moving towards the city’s outskirts to start the siege. He cites reports of high numbers of deaths and shortages of food and water from fleeing civilians and from soldiers.

According to Amnesty International, the Syrian military bombed the old city center from the air to facilitate the entry of infantry and tanks through the narrow streets; buildings were demolished by tanks during the first four days of fighting. Large parts of the old city were destroyed. There are also unsubstantiated reports of use of hydrogen cyanide by the government forces. After encountering fierce resistance, Rifaat’s forces ringed the city with artillery and shelled it for three weeks.

Afterwards, military and internal security personnel were dispatched to comb through the rubble for surviving Brothers and their sympathizers. Torture and mass executions of suspected rebel sympathizers ensued, killing many thousands over several weeks.

That’s the Hama Rule – show no mercy.  No, I don’t think Gaddafi was planning on being nice, he has made it very clear in his statements that he has no concern but to keep his power, no matter who – or how many – he has to kill to do so.  I’m not the only one:

In February 27 the International Federation for Human Rights concluded: “Gaddafi is implementing a strategy of scorched earth. It is reasonable to fear that he has, in fact, decided to largely eliminate, wherever he still can, Libyan citizens who stood up against his regime and furthermore, to systematically and indiscriminately repress civilians. These acts can be characterized as crimes against humanity, as defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

Do I wish that it hadn’t turned out this way?  Yes, I deeply wish that Gaddafi had followed Mubarak’s example and stepped down.   But he didn’t, and yes, I do remember history.   So, yes, I do support what the United States has done.  I do think we’ve prevented a far worse example of Hama.  Whether it will be effective, what the long-term outcome will be, I do not know, and I don’t think anyone does.  But we have done something.    I have no desire to remember another massacre, and listen to the hand wringing about “if only.”



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19 responses to “A Little History To Remember About The Libya Speech

  1. Bobfr

    President Obama declared Bush/Cheney/NEOCON American ‘exceptionalism’ was dead tonight – the whole world was watching and you better believe they get it.

    When he did the ‘been there, done that, 8 years, thousands of Americans and Iraqis dead, Trillion dollar debt ….’ he could not have been more blunt in how fundamentally different he is as President and CIC.

    Needed to be said. He did it. Few words, crystal clear message.

    From the paragraph beginning “In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice ….

    To the one ending in “I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.” …

    He dissected the foolishness of the PL with masterful intellectual surgery and laid open their willful hypocrisy.

    He then did the same to the NEOCONS, and in doing so, even more thoroughly exposed the malignancy that we call the PL.

    Everything the PL criticized and rightly demanded be punished with impeachment and tribunals about the reign of terror led by Bush and Cheney – the person who actually bluntly, tersely, decisively decimated as a valid American policy, is the person that same PL attacks everyday, President Obama.

    So, all the hypocrites got called out. All the exceptionalists were informed that their policy is ruinous to America and he, President and CIC Obama, will have none of it.

    The vast majority of Americans will get that message – loud and clear.

    I assure you our military gets the difference and many if not most of them are probably resting a bit more comfortably that cowboy confrontational endangerment of their lives is not what their current CIC will ever do to them.

    • Nathan Katungi

      Bravo Bobfr! This is by far one of the best commentary I’ve read on the President’s speech.

  2. creolechild


    Would it be okay to submit positive critiques from other websites about the President’s speech?

  3. creolechild

    This is from Crooks and Liars (karoli — 3/28/11 6:22pm)
    “So starting from that square, the question is: Why even bother?”

    “I think he answered that question. I think it could have been a disaster for Egypt and Tunisia if Gaddafi had continued to strafe his own cities.”

    “I am not a fan of any action there, nor am I willing to send out a blanket condemnation or call him Bush lite. It’s been difficult for me to actually sort out how I do feel, but the one thing I will say is this: The idea of that batshit-crazy dictator strafing people in his own cities with his air force was absolutely repugnant and disgusting to me, and yes, I do think it should have been stopped if we had the ability to stop it.”


  4. creolechild

    This is from Prospect.org – Chris Cassidy:

    “President Barack Obama, in his address to the nation, tried to reassure an ambivalent, inattentive public and a skeptical press corps about American involvement in NATO’s no-fly zone over Libya. The president’s speech sought out a middle ground, couching his administration’s approach as measured but decisive in the campaign against loyalists to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi.”


    “The president[‘]s challenge was two-fold this evening. First, critics seemed almost desperate to ignore facts inconsistent with their criticisms, apparently either rejecting or ignoring recent event on the ground.”

    “And second, the president[‘]s disavowal of directly effecting regime change opened him up to questions about whether seeing Qaddafi deposed was consistent with his well-worn platform as the anti-Bush.The president faced a tough task tonight considering the arguments for the no-fly zone that had already been rejected or ignored by skeptics, even while acknowledging that our recent history has made Americans wary.”


    “There is no doubt in the mind of the president, nor in those of his critics, that enormous challenges lie ahead for Libya, both leading up to and in the wake of deposing Qaddafi. As was the case in Egypt and Tunisia, celebrating an all-out victory prematurely — before Qaddafi is removed from the power, the power-vacuum is filled, and reforms are implemented — would be to embrace false comfort.”

    “Gargantuan though these challenges may be, certainly some degree of solace can be taken in how effective, decisive and measured President Obama’s leadership has been in this international crisis.”


  5. creolechild

    This is from Mother Jones – David Corn:

    “In characterizing President Barack Obama’s message on Libya hours before his scheduled speech on the matter, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, essentially said this: it’s complicated.”


    “With that in mind, I asked Carney the following question:

    Critics on the left or right and voices in the media have talked about there being some confusion in the public over the President’s aims and the goals and intentions of this mission. Do you believe that from the very start the White House has communicated effectively with the public about what the President is thinking regards to the Libyan action?”


    “In other words, there has been some confusion—due to the complexity of the issue. Carney might have a point. The mission is not a simple one, as in, do everything possible to get Qaddafi. The mission is to do what is possible, in conjunction with NATO allies and a few Arab partners, to block Qaddafi from butchering Libyans opposed to his rule—hoping (or intending) to create a set of circumstances that just might lead to the dictator’s downfall. Tripoli or Bust this ain’t. This is a military action of nuance.”

    “I followed up Carney’s reply:

    Mitt Romney has attacked the President for being nuanced… Do you think that having a policy that has these different levels is just hard to explain in a hyper-media environment?”

    Carney answered, “we’ve tried to explain it and I think—when it’s explained well and clearly, that it is understandable. And the President has done that on a number of occasions, and again the American people will hear him speak to it tonight.”

    “With critics on the right and left assailing Obama and the media echoing trumped-up accusations of confusion, Obama might need more than a single speech to ensure his policy is understandable throughout the land.”


  6. creolechild

    This is from Bob Cesca’s Awesome Blog “The Plan to Pull Out” – JM Ashby

    “No, that’s not the title of a new Catholic romance novel, its the plan for Libya.”

    (Reuters) – The United States is planning to gradually remove some of the vessels it has in the Mediterranean now that NATO is taking command over the air strikes in Libya, a U.S. military official said on Monday.

    “There is planning out there to do that … it will be more gradual than sudden,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

    “Wait, weren’t we suppose to be stuck in Libya forever just like Iraq? Wasn’t this suppose to be the 3rd war? If you’ve been listening to the collective pants-shitters out there, you may have thought so.”

    “In reality — the U.S. Navy launched cruise missiles to take out the ground-based air defenses belonging to Gaddafi so the aircraft of other allies could immediately move in, and move in they did. Now the Navy is going to pull back and go about its business while other nations, including Arab nations, endure the burden of enforcing the no-fly-zone.”

    “Meanwhile, Republicans are still on a mission to literally suspend Democracy, so how about a little a focus from those out there on the Professional Left who chose to inflate Libya to heights that it was never going to be taken anyway just to further their own careers.”


  7. creolechild

    You can yell at me tomorrow…

    • I’d have preferred you did this over at BWN, but no, I’m not going to yell at you. 🙂 Thanks for the links, though. 😀

      As Corn relates, it’s a complicated situation. It’s not just “Oh, we don’t like this guy, let’s take him out,” or “it’s only an internal problem, let’s ignore them.” I think anyone with a brain knew that Gaddafi was going to kill anyone or anything in the way to crush the rebellion. We have two countries which have just conducted a regime change of their own, and are in a fragile state. A flood of refugees is not going to help them. There are other countries in the region which are experiencing similar unrest and changes.

      The worst choices were “do nothing” or “all out military attack to take him out.” What the President has done is to create a situation which basically says “you people can work out what you want for your country” and “no, you don’t get to commit mass murder to keep power.”

  8. Actually, thanks for the abstracts and links; I wouldn’t have had time to track them down myself. Much appreciated.

  9. janicket

    Also! This: Missed the speech because I was working, dammit; don’t have time to do more than skim the text here, but I’m impressed. But! I did skim around the Internet re: the speech before getting here, and at CNN came across this despicable tweet from Ed Henry:

    7:40 p.m. ET – @edhenrycnn: # counting 3 teleprompters in room http://twitpic.com/4eflkf

    WTF???????????????????? What a contemptible little man.

  10. I Love OCD

    I’m continually amazed that the deep thinkers in pundit land can’t understand what’s going on until it’s spelled out for them. Isn’t deep thinking required anymore? Obviously not – if it isn’t twittered it’s too hard to follow.

    Thanks for the history lesson. I knew a lot of this, but forgot the details, and it’s the details that matter, isn’t it?

    • I’m continually stunned by the so-called pundits who try to boil everything down to a quick sound bite and make it an either/or statement. It’s like the people who complain about “the cost” of the cruise missiles used and come up with how we could have better spent the money. Excuse me? It’s not a “pay to use” item. We already bought them. Now, you might plausibly complain about the replacement purchase, but to make it seem like if we hadn’t fired them, we’d have had the money for something else doesn’t make sense. 🙄

      Hama is one of those “forgotten atrocities.” Most people at the time didn’t know about it, or say much about it. Basically, what the Syrian government did was to surround the city, pound it into rubble, then go through and kill anyone left alive. Anyone who thinks that Gaddafi wouldn’t have done the same thing is fooling themselves.

  11. creolechild


    Thank you for the gracious response to my overzealous posting. It won’t happen again! (:

    • Not a problem, it’s just that I also write for BWN, and they had a very nice posting with the transcript and the video of the speech. Since BWN gets more traffic than this site does, the links would have been better (and seen by more) than here. 😀

  12. creolechild

    BTW, you helped me find a site that I’ve been trying to locate for the longest time, but I couldn’t remember the name.

    Will now add to my list and visit more often. I like the chi which emanates from there…

  13. Nathan Katungi

    I am now reading this a day late. All I can say is Wow! You said so well everything that was on my mind. I especially appreciated you highlighting of the “Hama Rule” and the lesson it teaches. What I still don’t understand is why all these purist progressives, who have been clamoring for the prosecution of President Bush and his cronies for violating international laws, are now attacking President Obama for trying to enforce international laws; especially laws that seek to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity? Is their hatred of President Obama so overpowering that it has blinded them so much that they would rather sacrifice the people of Libya rather support the President?

    Like you, and the President, I just don’t think that in the face of possible massacres of people we should sit around and do nothing, while at the same time claiming to be in favor of international laws against genocide and crimes against humanity.

  14. I hadn’t really heard of Hama, but I remember Lockerbie. Any head of state that could so coldly order such a thing is certainly heartless enough to try mass slaughter. What we failed to ask when Bush started up diplomatic relations was how he treated his own citizens, and why can’t he hand over the perpetrators who were still alive to American justice?

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind a visit from a few Navy Seals to snatch Ghadaffi’s curtain-wearing ass to face the same justice as Manuel Noriega or Milosevic.

  15. Thanks. 🙂 Unfortunately, the short answer to your question about their hatred of the President is – yes. They, and the conservatives, will come up with reasons to attack him regardless of what he does. They would have stood there watching a horrific attack, and attacked him for not intervening. Many of the conservatives that two weeks ago were screaming their heads off for him to take military action are now screaming at him for taking military action.

    I understand that there are people who are against any use of violence, and they’ve been consistent about that. That’s OK. From my perspective there are times when you do have to use it, and this is one of them. No one in the region doubted for a second that Qaddafi was going to conduct a scorched earth campaign against the uprising, and that he had no intention of listening to any external voices. He demonstrated that quite clearly. It’s why you hear crickets chirping when you look for criticism of what the US and other countries are doing from the countries surrounding Libya.