Obama’s JFK move

I strongly support the decision by President Obama to approve the U.S. joining multilateral military action in Libya and believe it might be Obama’s first moment of historical greatness, comparable in some ways to Kennedy blockading Cuba in 1962.

Had the president not acted at the exact moment he did, the murderous dictator of Libya would almost certainly have executed a mass slaughter that could have killed 50,000 Libyans at Benghazi. This would have signaled that the world was impotent in the face of such evil and encouraged bad actors everywhere to escalate mass murder of civilians and democracy advocates, gravely damaging American credibility and security.

I agree with Republicans who were making this point. Shame on those who did but reverted to political attacks against actions they had previously called for, once the president took them.

I believe it would have been better for the president to have made his Libya decision sooner, had more time to expand consultations with Congress and been more forceful explaining it, which he is now doing. His senior advisers were divided, but presidents should hear strong arguments from powerful voices about the pros and cons of military decisions. In the end the president made the right call, just in time.

I don’t want to over- or understate my analogy of Obama and Libya with JFK and Cuba. The missile crisis involved the ultimate danger of nuclear war. But both cases required the president to make a hard call, in difficult circumstances, with limited time, high stakes and divided advisers.

On the day the president made his decision Gadhafi was lying, claiming to be pursuing a cease-fire, while beginning to execute a mass murder. Had Gadhafi succeeded, many Republicans who now attack the president for what he did would be attacking the president for what he did not do.

Had Gadhafi successfully executed his greatest mass murder while the world watched silently, it would have emboldened bad actors considering mass slaughters of democracy advocates throughout the Middle East.

The president and our allies, with rapid-fire success, achieved a strong U.N. resolution. Answered a request from the Arab League. Organized a NATO mission. Established NATO command under a Canadian general. Initiated aggressive economic sanctions and seizure of Gadhafi assets.

The president, our allies and multilateral forces achieved a brilliant military performance that destroyed Gadhafi’s air defenses. Eroded Gadhafi’s ground capability to inflict mass murder. Successfully put in place the forces for a no-fly zone. Prevented a mass slaughter. And did so with lightning speed and minimal casualties, involving forces from diverse nations where burdens are shared in a mission the president promises will be limited.

We live at an epochal moment in Middle East history following generations of policies that tolerated poverty, death, corruption and injustice because of our endless thirst for oil. Now a younger generation of men and women in the region is teaching their elders, and ours, about freedom.

It is time for new thinking that brings hard choices, great risks — and contradictions, whatever we do. The voice of the future asked the president of the United States to join other nations to prevent slaughter, and the president said yes. While the decision was hard, I believe the president’s move was clear, courageous and right.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.