Obama accused of both weakness and brilliance in response to Libya

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson talks with The Canadian Press about the competing views over how President Obama is handling the current crisis in the Middle East.

By Lee-Anne Goodman
The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama: dithering and weak in handling deadly uprisings in the Arab world? Or deliberate, sensible and in step with a war-fatigued American public as he weighs all options before committing U.S. troops to battle in the Muslim world?

Two competing views of the American president are playing out in the United States this week as U.S. forces, with their allies, launch air strikes against Libya in an ostensible bid to stop Moammar Ghadafi from slaughtering any more of his own people.

When he ran for president, Obama indicated an intent to extract America from its grinding overseas conflicts, particularly the unpopular and monstrously expensive war in Iraq.

And yet with military strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi, war-weary and recession-plagued Americans now find their country involved in three such conflicts: Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. . .

But one longtime political observer says the Obama administration has handled the Libyan crisis deftly.

"This is political genius — throw the Canadians and the French and the British at them first, and then see what remains," said Cal Jillson, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Canada has deployed six CF-18s to help enforce the no-fly zone over Libya and has sent a frigate to the Mediterranean Sea. There are already Canadian aircraft in the region helping to evacuate Canadians from Libya.

"He's going to be fine in this fight about whether we went in too late or shouldn't have gone in at all, because while partisans on both sides are critical, the American public is going to remember that John McCain, for example, was the guy who said we should stay in Iraq for 100 years," said Jillson, a politics professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"To have participated in a period of missile strikes and then have Canadian and British and French forces preparing to take the lead with U.S. support in terms of intelligence, I think, is going to strike the American public as an appropriate level of involvement that isn't likely to bog America down in another conflict."

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