His lines may be better delivered, but Barack Obama is sounding -- and acting -- more like the heir to George W. Bush than the change-maker sold to the public in his award-winning ad campaign. Indeed, when not sending billions of dollars to repressive governments across the globe, the great liberal hope is authorizing deadly drone strikes and military campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and now, in his most morally righteous war yet, Libya.
"As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe," the president declared, adopting his predecessor's favorite title for himself. "I've made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests."
Put another way, President Obama says he will only start a war -- without consulting Congress, much less the public -- when it is absolutely necessary for defending the "homeland" or for, you know, whatever he deems an "interest."
Enter Muammar Gaddafi, a caricature of a tyrant who the Obama administration just a matter of weeks ago was looking to sell $77 million in weapons, including more than 50 armored troop carriers. Back then -- mid-February -- Gaddafi was a thuggish but reliable client in his old age. And he happened to rule over a country that has the largest oil reserves in Africa.
But a few short weeks ago, Gaddafi became unreliable -- a public relations nightmare -- when he started using the weapons he purchased from his erstwhile allies against his own people. Like Saddam Hussein before him, he became a liability.
So now Obama believes Gaddafi to be a "tyrant" who has lost his "legitimacy" -- as if there were anything "legitimate" about his previous 42 years of dictatorial rule. On Monday, the president argued war was necessary to prevent Gaddafi from massacring rebel forces and their supporters in Benghazi. Such a massacre "would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world," said the war president. "I refused to let that happen."
I -- me -- the imperial president. Cue the commander-in-chief landing on an aircraft carrier.
But if the threat of a massacre is what spurs President Obama to action, what are we to make of his reaction to Israel's massacre of more than 1,400 Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, or what Amnesty International calls "22 days of death and destruction? Giving Israel an additional $30 billion in American weapons is a rather curious response, no?
And what about the hundreds of civilians killed by drone attacks in Pakistan since Obama took office -- as many as 1,850 according to the New America Foundation? In early March, the very administration cloaking its new war in moralizing rhetoric carried out a massacre of 40 Pakistani civilians -- a massacre the president who authorized the attack couldn't even be bothered to comment on.
Right now, the Obama administration is actively supporting brutal regimes in Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain -- to name a few -- where protest movements are being violently suppressed on the American taxpayers' dime. And the Obama administration is selling $60 billion in weapons to the Saudis, who not only oppress their own dissidents but recently occupied neighboring Bahrain and violently cracked down on peaceful protesters there with the U.S.'s stamp of approval.
Speaking to reporters this week, Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough conceded as much, saying that the White House doesn't "make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent." Rather, "We make them based on how we can best advance our interests in the region."
And as history professor and war supporter Juan Cole helpfully notes, the rebels control significant swaths of oil-rich territory and have taken "key oil towns" thanks to the U.S.-led bombing campaign -- of 200 cruise missiles fired so far, 193 have been fired from American warships. They are also on the verge of taking 80 percent of the Buraiqa Basin, writes Cole, which "contains much of Libya's oil wealth."