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Obama takes heat as attacks ramp up in Libya


Libya Credit: Getty Images

As missiles pummeled key targets in Libya over the weekend, President Barack Obama suffered his own barrage of criticism Sunday for not taking action sooner and allowing the raging conflict to fester.

His timing was called into question again as he began a pre-planned, five-day trade mission to Latin America during the air offensive. The U.S. joined a coalition of allied forces in order to enforce a U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya and curtail Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s violence against civilian uprisings.

A defiant Gadhafi reportedly promised “a long, drawn-out war.”

With so much at stake, Obama’s critics say he is taking too much of a back seat in operations.

We break down the central concerns:

Is this a long-term commitment?

Obama has said he wants the operation to take days and not drag on for weeks. Some are worried, however, about a much longer and more complicated involvement.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on “Meet the Press” that he expects Obama will get his wish. He anticipates “strong bipartisan support” in Congress for the president’s decision because “it is a limited mission, no boots on the ground and because he has done this with great caution.”

What is the end game for the U.S.?

Jean-Marc Oppenheim, a lecturer at Columbia University’s Middle East Institute, said the U.S. needs to ensure that Libya does not become a failed state once Gadhafi is sent packing.

There also is concern that al-Qaida could gain a strong foothold in the country.

“There will have to be something in that country to establish a civil society there,” Oppenheim said.

Is Obama’s leadership strong enough?

Obama has been chastised as being too professorial and hesitant in his decision-making, and in this case, waited on the United Nations and Arab leaders to come to a consensus on how to deal with Libya.

New Yorker Alex Posner, 57, criticized the president’s trip to Latin America.

“When the world is on fire, he should be at home taking care of business here,” said Posner, of Fresh Meadows.

However, Helen Desfosses, a public policy professor at SUNY Albany, said in this case, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is “extremely qualified” in her role, so it’s not surprising that Obama would be off handling other issues, too.

(With Theresa Juva)

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The good and bad of the U.S. conflict in Libya:

— Defeat a hated dictator. Since his reign started in 1969, the 59-year-old Moammar Gadhafi has condoned the assassination and quashing of opposition groups as well as state-sponsored terrorism. “One of things that makes this situation so unique is the monstrous quality of the Tripoli regime,” Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said Sunday.
— Protect civilians. More than 8,000 Libyans with the opposition movement so far have been killed in the revolt against Gadhafi, a rebel leader said Sunday.
— Promote democracy: “The long-term goal is to help establish a democratic system in which governance is determined by free and fair elections,” said Fordham University political science professor Costas Panagopoulos.
— Stablize oil prices: With the mounting conflict in Libya, crude oil prices have topped $100 this month. The last time prices reached that high was in October 2008.

— Threat of retaliation. Even though the aim is to create a democracy, “there is bound to be some group of people that believe that the U.S. is imposing its principles in parts of the world that it shouldn’t be involved in — and that has potential to have some backlash,” Panagopoulos said.
— Uncertain future. “I can’t quite see where we are heading,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said Sunday. “I can’t see exactly where the endgame is, I do think that it is a very troubling situation.”
— Civilian deaths. There were varying reports yesterday on whether civilians had been killed as part of the weekend’s joint U.S.-European attacks. While some said there were no civilian deaths, the Libyan military claims that 48 were killed, according to the Guardian newspaper.
— Stretched U.S. resources. The United States military is already involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention relief efforts in Japan. “This is a zero sum game militarily,” former California Congresswoman Jane Harman said Sunday. “We are stretched to the limit, and the assets we put into Libya we are taking away from somewhere else.”

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