Bush Versus Obama

Can anybody explain to me why so many people opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq “to remove a bloody dictator” and simultaneously support Obama’s bombings of Libya “aimed at removing a bloody dictator”? Is messing in other countries’ affairs a good thing when it is carried out by a politician you support?

I just don’t get the logic here. If you were anti-Iraq war, how can you be cheering on what’s happening in Libya?

And please don’t tell me “there is a huge difference between an intervention “that helps forces that want to be helped” and invading a country to “liberate” it, ready or not.” Bush supporters also told us stories about the people of Iraq who were desperate for their country to be invaded and liberated.

27 thoughts on “Bush Versus Obama”

  1. A couple of differences I see is that there was already a rebel force in Libya, who had taken action, and is/was being supported by the NATO forces. Secondly, NATO supports the actions in Libya – the US went into Iraq essentially on their own (minimal UK support). NATO did not support the actions.

    Does it make either action right or wrong? I’m not qualified to say. We’ll have to the historians of the future judge our actions of today.


  2. “Bush supporters also told us stories about the people of Iraq who were desperate for their country to be invaded and liberated.”

    Yes, Bush supporters told us that, because that’s what they wanted to believe, because that justified something they wanted to do, invade Iraq. But they LIED. There was no armed rebellion against Saddam Hussein going on in Iraq at the time. The excuses — from WMDs to alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda — were fabricated. And then after we invaded Iraq, we attempted to impose on Iraq our ideas of what Iraq should be like while rebuilding contracts were handed out like candy to Bush supporters.

    The rebellion in Libya was initiated by Libyans, and NATO came in to support it, after it had already begun. In fact, other NATO nations, not the U.S. actually took the lead in making that decision. And it is anticipated that the U.S. will not interfere with however Libyans decide to organize their government.

    That said, I am not without ambivalence about Libya, but the situation in Libya is entirely unlike Iraq.

    If you don’t believe me, at least believe Professor Juan Cole, starting with “Top Ten Myths About the Libya War.” See also Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Libya Skeptics Were Proved Badly Wrong,” for an argument why assisting the rebels was better than not assisting them.

    If you read with an open mind, you ought to be able to see that the situation in Libya is considerably different from Iraq. However, if your mind is made up that they are just alike, I suppose reading won’t do any good.

    I am 60 years old. In the 1960s and 1970s I was protesting the Vietnam War, which I still believe was a stupid war. But through the years I have noticed a knee-jerk tendency for people to assume that a new war is just like the last one all over again. That’s rarely the case. My father used to defend the Vietnam War by bringing up Pearl Harbor, for example. People of my generation tend to start screaming about Vietnam whenever the U.S. takes military action anywhere. And notice that many of the people pushing the Iraq invasion had been involved in the Gulf War, and they wanted a do-over.

    The truth is, every situation is different, and you have to judge it on its own merits. And it’s also the case that decisions to take military action are never clear. Intelligent people can have differences of opinion. Sometimes you don’t know if it was better to fight than not until years later. So you can disagree with the merits of NATO support in Libya. But you can’t argue that Libya is Iraq all over again.


    1. I think that irrespective of each specific situation, time has come for the US to recognize that it has very significant and threatening internal issues. This is why I think the country should concentrate on solving its own pressing issues and keep away from the internal conflicts of others, at least for the moment. Driving yourself in a financial hole to go mess with other nations is a very Soviet way of being. And I cannot possibly support that.


    2. Dear Barbara,

      You make your points well. Might I add, however, that from a non-American South Asian point of view, it is quite terrifying that the point of debate — from Patrick’s comment and yours — hinges merely on whether unasked-for US military intervention could be justified… to Americans.

      As a foreign national and resident who lives in a violent zone, where wars, terrorist attacks and political bloodshed are the norm, allow me to tell you that no matter how badly Americans feel ‘rebels’ in another country need their ‘rescuing’ intervention, this charitable busybodying is not welcome, unless it is explicitly asked for. It’s astonishing — and terrifying — that a land where it is legally defensible to kill an intruder in one’s home, citizens see nothing wrong with breezing in and slaughtering foreign thousands to scratch their moral itch.

      On the other hand, had this been merely a god-delusion on part of the US administration it would have been more… humane, somehow. More understandable. But, as you point out re. Iraq, war is merely business, and as a means of accruing private wealth via the lives of one’s poorer fellow-citizens. Since you do understand this, I fail to see how you think the Libya intervention was in any way humanitarian. Had the US’ relationship with the regime in Libya been different, I hope you realise, the military intervention would have been used to crush the ‘domestic terrorists’.

      As someone my parents’ age, and who has also lived through bloody times, although far less than they have, I do hope you re-examine your stance on the justification of uninvited murder sprees in sovereign nations.



      1. This is exactly how I feel. But you expressed it a lot better.

        This is a very dangerous path this country has taken in its foreign relations and it will not take the planet to a good place. People all over the world are expected to just sit there wondering if the Americans decide they are justified in messing with them? How does that make sense?
        Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


      2. I think it’s unfair to expect North American actions to be justified to anyone but North Americans. The people of Libya don’t elect the American congress – American’s do. Therefore, the justification for action or inaction must be made to those people.

        History has already judged us harshly for inaction in Sudan, Rhwanda and the Congo, to name just a few. The cold, hard reality – action will be determined by a risk/reward analysis. Libya has been on the radar as a risk for 40yrs – an opportunity to mitigate that risk presented itself. If there is a political uprising in Mongolia, we very likely do nothing – Mongolia is not a risk to NA security, nor is there any benefit (oil/other resources) to intervention.


        1. While I agree with the overall direction of your comments, Patrick, I think you missed Biden’s recent trip to Mongolia and attempts to exert some influence there as a lever in Central Asia. From there we can bring to bear leverage on Russia, the Central Asian Republics, China and India. The German and Slavic migrations into western Europe started as a result of Turkic and Mongol pressure to the west from the Altai mountain regions. Later on we had Genghis Khan, Timur/Tamerlane, and Babur.


          1. I didn’t intend to be taken so literally – nor was I aware of Biden’s recent trip to Mongolia – my bad. Just insert some out of the way ‘insignificant’ country in my comments.


        2. “I think it’s unfair to expect North American actions to be justified to anyone but North Americans”.

          Aww. So twoo. And history is just sooo mean.

          But there’s just this tiny issue that this whole all-American justification fest is about justifying American killing sprees in other sovereign nations. Your arrogance and shamelessness in dismissing the bloody ravage wreaked by your tax-dollars — so long as your fellow citizens feel it’s cool to murder a few thousand foreigners and their own army-people for private profit — revolts me to the very core of my humanity and my intellect.

          The sheer, grotesque stupidity of a weak, powerless private citizen cheering madly from the sidelines as his own future and finances are drained, to maim and murder thousand he doesn’t know, only to accrue greater private wealth for a few people he also doesn’t know, is the most nauseating display of ignorance, idiocy and self-hatred I’ve ever witnessed.


          1. The American progressives support foreign invasions not because they think those will enrich them. They actually think they are benefiting the people who are being bombed. It honestly, truly makes them feel good and self-righteous. Telling them that their “charitable” actions are loathed is a waste of time.

            I honestly think that a person who supports invasions out of a personal desire to be enriched is preferable to such a mealy-mouthed progressive. At least, the former doesn’t expect gratitude as recognition as a savior.


            1. All I can do then is thank the powers that be for *my* American friends, who resemble these ‘progressives’ like pearls resemble swine.


            2. This is what many people in the world don’t understand about Americans, and Americans don’t understand about themselves. In the early 19th Century a Protestant Progressive political trend started that was oriented around the abolition of slavery. After the Civil War this socially progressive movement continued with labor issues and eventually evolved into the Populist and Progressive movements of the late 19th Century. Both William Jennings Bryan on the Democrat side and Theodore Roosevelt on the Republican side drew from this well of dedication for “doing good”. You can get a sense of the positive energy of this movement in the poem “Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan” that I mentioned. We expanded on this trend when we entered World War I “to save the world for Democracy”. According to this narrative the “white knight” Americans were unsuccessful due to the evil corrupt French and British who demanded outrageous concessions from the Germans. As a result we had to get involved in World War II to save the Europeans one more time. But thank God that we had the “Greatest Generation” who fought the “Good War”. Since then we have been trying to save the “poor benighted little brown and black people” of the world from the evils of Communism and for the Protestant God’s chosen way of living: free market capitalism. Every time you see an ad on tv for some charity to save starving children somewhere in the world, it is this same theme in the American psyche that is being appealed to.

              American progressives truly believe that they are doing good by killing others and forcing those they don’t kill to adopt our superior culture. Everyone we kill was evil (and Godless) and we will save and convert the rest. It doesn’t help that we are such a big country with such a long history of isolationism that most of us know next to nothing about non-US culture. Take Canada for instance. They are just like Americans, except they say “eh” at the end of their sentences. Australians, Kiwis and Brits are the same as Americans, except they talk even funnier.


              1. Well, clearly you are American, and clearly you do understand this about your own culture, and since my American friends do not share this populist Shining Knight vision of their nation, clearly they do too. And you can explain it to us, as perhaps we can explain our prejudices and biases towards the US to you.

                All is not lost yet.


              2. “American progressives truly believe that they are doing good by killing others and forcing those they don’t kill to adopt our superior culture. ”

                -Those are not the progressives. Those are the Conservatives. The progressives who are cheering on the events on Libya right now are the people who are enamored of the idea of a “revolution” and see the events there as such.


      3. Rimi — I am by no means condoning “uninvited murder sprees in sovereign nations.” It’s my understanding that NATO’s help was welcomed by the Libyan insurrection. This was not a military action imposed from without, but rather support for a military action initiated by Libyans that already was a murder spree, and promising to turn into a bigger murder spree, before NATO got involved in it.

        I’m not necessarily even saying that NATO is doing the right thing. My point is that the Libyan military action was not initiated by the United States and is not being directed by the United States. It was initiated by Libyans. Even within NATO, according to Juan Cole (see link in my earlier comment), the direction of NATO’s support is mostly being directed by the French and British. Further, there are no plans for any kind of foreign occupation after military action ends. The Libyan rebels already have rejected having NATO bases within Libya.

        Yet we in America keep talking about this as if the United States had unilaterally invaded Libya, just like Iraq. And I’m saying that, right or wrong, this is not at all like Iraq.

        And I didn’t say anything about the NATO action being humanitarian. I don’t think it is. Please don’t assume I think something I didn’t write. There were larger issues here than just Libya, Please read the two articles I linked in my earlier comment for explanation.

        You write, “Had the US’ relationship with the regime in Libya been different, I hope you realise, the military intervention would have been used to crush the ‘domestic terrorists’.” Under the Bush Administration, possibly. Now, I don’t think so, but believe what you like.

        As I keep saying, my opinion on Libya actually is ambiguous. I have misgivings about a lot of it. I’m saying it’s not just like Iraq.

        Professor Cole was utterly opposed to the invasion of Iraq but supported the NATO support provided to Libya, and he’s one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet on this issue. So if Clarissa is still clueless about how someone could be opposed to Iraq but support Libya, I suggest she, and you, become familiar with Juan Cole’s “Informed Comment” blog and read it frequently. You may disagree with him, but he lays out very detailed reasons why one thing is not like the other.



        1. Barbara, are you, by any chance, the person who writes The Mahablog? If so, I wanted to tell you that it’s a brilliant blog and I love it.

          If not, never mind.

          “My point is that the Libyan military action was not initiated by the United States and is not being directed by the United States. ”

          -I find the idea that of NATO as anything other than a helpless puppet of the US to be kind of surprising. Does anybody still believe that the NATO has any decision power aside from what the US orders it to do?

          The same goes for the UN. Unfortunately.


        2. I’m glad and a little relieved you feel ambiguity, Barbara, but as I see Clarissa pointing out, there is a great deal of naivete and no accuracy at all in believing the UN Security Council, the World Bank, the NATO et al are sovereign bodies, and not just convenient blinds for the US federal administration.

          Secondly, I am aware — slightly — of Juan Cole, but perhaps I didn’t make my point clear enough. Prof. Cole and his opinions do not matter. The Libyan call for help does not matter. Because these interventions are not ‘help’ or aid, unconditionally provided. All instances of even ethnically justifiable ‘help’ comes with several hundred strings attached, almost all to the detriment of public good in the relevant countries.

          Finally, about the actual matter of asking for help. I am entirely unable to see these pleas outside their historical context. There seems to be a feeling in the west that these poor beleaguered nations ask for their intervention, as a damsel to a shining knight. This is patently untrue. Countries with interests in these nations make their conditional aid available, and people who will benefit from this conditional aid accept it. Reportage then spins it to make it sound like revolution against Gaddafi (or whoever) is synonymous with support for US/French/UK/NATO/what-have-you intervention. We can, of course, choose to believe this version if it makes our conscience comfortable, but I have personally always found it the cowardly, violence-enabling optional.

          But I do appreciate the way you have engaged with this conversation, Barbara, and not chosen to go the foot-stomping juvenile way some others might have taken.


  3. You are absolutely right. I’m sick of the hypocrisy and I couldn’t be more disappointed in President Obama.


  4. I find it ironic that Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize and proceeds to kill more people in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2 years than Bush did in 7 years. He has very successfully kept a low profile in Libya, but we are still there. I guess if he uses drones or surrogates from the Europe, Jordan or Qatar then we figure we are not responsible. This is sort of like all the proxy wars that the FSU and the US carried out for 40 years. And then there was the Nobel for Henry Kissinger. Strange that it goes to some people who make great strides for peace and others who make great strides for war. And look at our record in Latin America. Obama has been actively supporting or engendering conflicts in more Latin American countries than any administration since Reagan. His relish for arms length butchery is certainly not what I expected.


  5. There are certainly differences between the two situations, the question is simply whether those differences justify the intervention to a particular person (American or not). To me, they do not, because I agree that the U.S invading any country is bad for all involved (the country, the U.S., the rest of the world). At the same time, I can recognize that they are different situations as other commenters have explained. Finally, given the U.S’s history of invasion referred to by other commenters I think this has little to do with Obama v. Bush and more to do with one’s ideas about the role the U.S. should take in “liberating” people.


    1. ” I think this has little to do with Obama v. Bush and more to do with one’s ideas about the role the U.S. should take in “liberating” people”

      -I think you are right.


  6. There are of course, on the surface differences, but at heart, I can’t support U.S involvement in either conflict and find it a little weird that friends of mine who were, just four or five years ago, saying “Iraq never attacked us,” “The U.S military industrial complex is a burgeoning golem,” and “How about taking some of that missile money for schools instead”, now have no qualms about Libya.


  7. I agree it does little to do with Obama vs. Bush. The comparison should be between their double standards. So, Bush vs. Bush, or Obama vs. Obama. The most clear example now is the different treatment of the conflicts in Libya and Syria!


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