House Speaker John Boehner, in his letter to President Barack Obama, brought to mind the character of Lieutenant Frank Columbo portrayed by actor Peter Faulk. The longevity of the episodes, that ran from 1968-2003, attested to the popularity of the character. Columbo, with his perennial rumpled appearance, always took on sophisticated and arrogant killers convinced that they had gotten away with the crime. As each episode progressed. he gradually wore them down. By feigning deference and belittling his own lack of comprehension. he drew out contradictions and damaging admissions that concluded in an arrest and an ironclad case.
The House Speaker respects the President as the Commander-in-Chief and supports the troops. Like Columbo, he is merely troubled by a few questions. Knowing that the Conservative camp is split between those backing the intervention wholeheartedly such as William Kristol of the Weekly Standard versus opponents such as Washington Post columnist George Will, Boehner concentrates on areas where an intra--Republican consensus exists. He does it so deftly that even Democratic senator Sharad Brown, a fellow Ohian who'll be up for reelection in 2012, concedes that the speaker asked the "right questions".
First, there is the United Nations Security Council resolution that is couched in terms of protecting civilians. Where does this leave Qaddafi inquires John Boehner: "You have stated that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi must go, consistent with U.S. policy goals. But the U.N. resolution the U.S. helped develop and signed onto makes clear that regime change is not part of this mission. In light of this contradiction, is it an acceptable outcome for Qaddafi to remain in power after the military effort concludes in Libya? If not, how will he be removed from power? Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests? "
The Obama administration has tried to fudge the issue, but the speaker is not about to let him off the hook. What will happen if Qaddafi remains in power will the administration having promised a short operation agreed to a prolonged no-fly zone? Alternatively will the administration broadly interpret the no-fly zone and attack "land-based battlefield activities? "
Like Detective Columbo Boehner claims that he and the American people are in the dark about administration policy. because it has been presented to them in contradictory terms. “At the same time, by contrast, it appears your Administration has consulted extensively on these same matters with foreign entities such as the United Nations and the Arab League.” Here the speaker gets in a double punch. not only has the administration failed to be on the level with the American people and the congressional leadership. but it is relegating them to second-class status as opposed to the United Nations and the Arab League, organizations that are not necessarily held in high regard by the American public. The speaker is driving home the image of a president who is ultra-deferential to foreign leaders and sometimes to parties considered inimical to US interests.
The administration and its defenders have taken pride in building a coalition. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin even compared the accomplishment to the First Gulf War and claims "this is a very wise course and is reminiscent of George Herbert Walker [Bush’s] effort before our involvement in Kuwait [in 1991], where he lined up support from across the board through the United Nations before any military action was commenced,”.
Coalitions are fine says Boehner but who is in the lead and what happens if other nations abandon the fight will the United States "take on an increased role." The UN resolution is well and good but it "does not substitute for a U.S. political and military strategy."
How much is the mission going to cost and when will the administration approach Congress for a supplementary budget to cover these costs, Boehner innocently inquires?
What is the Obama administration's policy towards the Libyan insurgents? Will it insist on standards by the new regime to qualify for US diplomatic recognition? This is a subtle way of hinting that throwing one's lot in with the insurgents is like buying a pig in a poke.
The administration does not have answers to these questions. or if it does. it prefers not to reveal them. Obama will not break down and confess this. as in the Columbo episodes. but then this operation in Libya will run for longer than an hour and a half TV installment.