Admiral and former Democrat Congressman Joe Sestak (D-Penn.) has been an outspoken critic of President Obama's attack on Libya since the operation began almost two weeks ago.
For some reason on MSNBC's "Ed Show" Thursday, Sestak radically changed his view (video follows with transcript and commentary):
ED SCHULTZ, HOST: Joining me now is former Pennsylvania Representative Admiral Joe Sestak. Joe, good to have you with us tonight. Put yourself, if we can hypothetically put yourself in the President's position. You've committed to getting rid of Gaddafi, saying he must go, the rebels are pretty much getting beaten back right now. You have the option of whether you're going to arm these folks or not. And a dictator is responsible for killing Americans. Mr. President, what do you do?
ADMIRAL JOE SESTAK, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-PENNSYLVANIA): Right. You know that Joe Sestak does not support giving arms to the rebels nor having intervened here. However, if I were President Obama at this moment, I would recognize that the success of the United States policy actually has come to be the removal of Gaddafi. It's how it is perceived and it is the reality. Therefore, I would recognize that unless you accept that we go to war for political objectives, and that objective must have military means matched to it, or you'll just eventually get mission creep. I think he has to admit that we've erred and say Gaddafi is going to be removed and our mission will be with military to remove him. Otherwise, Ed…
SCHULTZ: And that means?
SESTAK: And that means forces will be targeted military at Gaddafi as a command and control center and it might even mean some troops have to be used. The issue I have a lot of problems with is what appears to be we're in but we're not in. It's regime change or it's not regime change. We lead or we don't lead. And this country needs leadership right now on this issue, not to be crept into this, because if arms go ashore and there will be some advanced ones, they will need trainers. And then will those trainers teach them how to organize and do combined arms? And what happened if those trainers are then attacked?
If I were president now and, by the way, if somebody else became president for a moment, I think he should just not do this. But if I were the President, having led us this far, I would just say to the country, “Yes, it's been an error. We must match military to political objectives. It is regime change. Gaddafi has to go. That is what we're going to do.” And bear the political consequences of that. Otherwise, I fear it will be one step after another step after another step and we have abdicated our leverage to an alliance. We're almost hostage to it, to what they might do in putting troops ashore or others. And that's been my concern, Ed, and you've known that for a bit of time here.
SCHULTZ: Admiral, appreciate your comment tonight so much. Thanks for joining us. We wanted your expertise and you gave it to us.
For those that have missed it, Sestak for almost two weeks has been expressing another view, including on MSNBC.
As WITF.org reported on March 20:
Here's a bit of a surprise: since coalition attacks on Libya began yesterday, former Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak has emerged as a cable news skeptic of the Obama Administration, and what he argues is a lack of planning or mission direction. [...]
"I don't think we've weighed this out or defined what our national interest is," the Democrat, a retired Admiral, told Ed Schultz in one MSNBC hit. "We've dithered into this with the rest of the world bringing us in."
Sestak said, among other things, the end-goal and rationale for the attack haven't been spelled out to the public. "With all due respect to the president, as Commander in Chief he has not laid that out." He argued that's especially important, given the fact the United States has spent a near-decade in Afghanistan and Iraq. [...]
The president has made it clear "we will not -- I repeat -- we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground," but Sestak wondered whether that could change, as the conflict continues or escalates. "President Clinton said no ground troops in the former Yugloslavia....in order to win we had to put boots on the ground."
"I would have great caution. I do not think we're taking the right step."
Newsworks reported two days later:
"Are the costs worth our interest? Do we understand the risk we're assuming?" he asked during an interview. Sestak argued Obama's objectives seem cloudy, pointing out Obama has said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi needs to leave office, but has clarified that regime change isn't the goal of the NATO mission.
The Democrat also said Obama hasn't justified the attacks to Americans, and should have come back from his South American trip to do so.
"You know what? After two wars, almost a decade in each, I think it would have been worth the cancellation of the trip," he said. "At such a moment in time, [Obama] should have been laying it out on a consistent basis for the public. What is going to happen, what the end-games are, what's the risk environment we're entering."
Far-left blogger Taylor Marsh observed Sestak's opposition to this mission only a few days ago:
Former Congressman Joe Sestak has been on the Ed Show quite a bit on the issue of Libya. While Schultz is sold Sestak is not fully. As a military man I think he gets the quandary we are in. In tonight’s interview alone note how many questions he raises. He also mentions how he has been touring PA and the Libya issue is not something jump for joy about. He raises some very thought proking points I thought. Basically he says we are now hostages to the rebels and what they do or do not do. Schultz tries ot [...] cheerlead but the sober Sestak nixes such joy.
So what has changed since Tuesday? Well, the rebels are getting pushed back, and the chances of their success have diminished.
Despite what the President told the nation Tuesday, this mission is falling apart. In my view, Sestak has come to realize its failure jeopardizes Obama's reelection chances, and as a result, the politics of the incursion have taken a front seat to the soundness of the operation.
Let's review what he told Schultz: "If I were President Obama at this moment, I would recognize that the success of the United States policy actually has come to be the removal of Gaddafi. It's how it is perceived and it is the reality. Therefore, I would recognize that unless you accept that we go to war for political objectives, and that objective must have military means matched to it."
The success of U.S. policy is perceived as the removal of Gaddafi. That may not have been the original intent, but that's the reality now. Anything less, and Obama has failed. As such, in Sestak's view, the President needs to match his political objectives with military means.
The Admiral also tipped his hand by saying, "If I were president now and, by the way, if somebody else became president for a moment, I think he should just not do this. But if I were the President, having led us this far..."
What that means is that if an election was held today, and Obama lost, the new president shouldn't do what Sestak's recommending. However, because the current White House resident got us into this mess, he has to get us out or he indeed will lose in November 2012.
In order for Obama to prevent such an outcome, he must accomplish what is now perceived by the public as the goal of this operation - removing Gaddafi. And if that requires boots on the ground, so be it.
Scary stuff, for it appears that one mistake made roughly two weeks ago may end up being compounded all for political reasons.
If this is indeed the case, we will likely see other key Democrats support expanding this mission in the coming days and weeks, for their political future rests on Obama's reelection as well.
In the end, America may not have wanted a third war, but it suddenly seems apparent that's exactly what it's getting.