The Mad Dog of the Near-East Falls

I wrote, then deleted, a triumphalist piece about Libya, which now that I think about it I never went on the record about in the first place.

Because, you know, everyone just needs to hear what I, of the chattering underclass, have to say about it.

I'm going to make a confession here. In my heart of hearts, I'm an interventionist.

When people are out of work, I want my tax dollars to put them back to work.  When they don't have health insurance, I want to give it to them. And when they're suffering under the yoke of a cruel and repressive dictator, I want to free them, whether they live overseas or in Michigan. Or at least, such is my aspiration. Some undertakings, however noble the intent, can be ignoble in any conceivable attempt at their execution. As such, I was against the war in Iraq, glad the United States didn't intervene in Egypt, and sadly cognizant of the fact that if any moment existed where a nation-building mission in Afghanistan could have worked, it ended when we became occupiers rather than liberators.

In Libya I was for intervention the moment it became clear that Moummar Ghatafi was going to slaughter all who opposed him otherwise. There is, as I see it, a moral imperative to act when one has a good-faith basis for believing that one can favorably influence the outcome. Going in with allies, not Americanizing the conflict, and waiting for a UN mandate for action were all evidence that this action would be the closest thing to a responsible use of military power in recent memory.

Which is why I was more than a little pissed to hear so many people on the left--some of whom I respect a great deal-- declare American participation in this conflict to be proof that Obama is no different from George W.Bush. And moreover, that those supporting action in Libya who opposed it in Iraq were fascinated solelt by the politics of personality. I'm reminded of a Yakov Smirnov joke: "In America, people are free to go to Washington and tell comrade citizens president of the USA is idiot. In Russia, people are free to go to Red Square in Moscow and tell comrade citizens president of USA is also idiot. Russia is just like America!"

I'm used to intellectually dishonest bullshit coming from the likes of Eric Cantor, Michelle Bachmann or  Max Baucus. Getting yourself elected to Congress diminishes one's ability to speak frankly. But to see the left-wing narrative that this President is insufficiently progressive (however true it may be in the general case) overwhelm honest reporting of the facts is infuriating. This wasn't another unwinnable war. It wasn't an enormous waste of resources. It wasn't the United States terrorizing the Middle East with its military might.

It was, of course, "hostilities," and while I agree that the Administration did something genuinely dishonest and unfortunate in skirting the War Powers Act without raising any of the very real questions as to its Constitutionality, I have a hard time believing that the people who wanted him to break the law in order to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling are seriously bothered by this. What, from a legal perspective, is the difference between saying that you're not following a law because it isn't Constitutional and saying that it doesn't apply? Anyone looking to challenge the decision would have to go through the same legal channels and the arguments would take the same shape.

I find it enormously regrettable, but it seems to me that Obama's motives are clear. He didn't want to deal with the whims of a Congress whose sole purpose for the past year has been to oppose him at every turn, regardless of the implications . He also didn't want to provoke a Constitutional crisis, which could well have ended in the evaporation of the War Powers Act. As it stands, he's merely weakened it by precedent, and not irreparably. Under his admittedly ludicrous interpretation, a President still wouldn't have the unilateral power to put boots on the ground, or to take military action without the support of the international community. And even that precedent may not hold.

It was, without a doubt, a weak move. It's not something I would have ever done if I was in charge. But I'm not certain that it wasn't for the best.

In any case, reasonable minds can disagree about the War Powers Act and the President's handling of it. As it stands, a dictator has fallen and there are no American flags burning in the streets of Tripoli. Those incapable of seeing the significance of that fact-- and the fact that the only NATO casualty of the struggle was a robotic helicopter-- ought to be looked at with skepticism when they comment on other political and geopolitical matters.

As for the ones spouting that BS from an elected office? I want to know if they've been lobbied by the Ghatafi regime.

I will say that I'm not impressed with a lot of the news coverage on the war. The press is dropping clear hints at the true nature of the rebel soldiers without connecting the dots. The rebels' premature victory celebrations that take place as soon as the loyalists and mercenaries are driven into retreat were described as being reminiscent of Bedouin tribal warfare. That this would suggest a brand of soldier prone do things more atrocious than fire their guns into the air inches away from their comrades' heads does not enter discussion, despite the near-certainty of severe abuses perpetrated by these undisciplined revolutionaries Possibly worse ones than have been reported. It's true that there would likely have been greater and worse under an unchecked Ghatafi reprisal, but if we're going to applaud the result of the conflict, we ought to be aware of the unintended consequences.

The events in Libya may yet have a profound positive impact on the Arab Spring, and how the nascent democracies arising from it view the United States. As such, I have been following them with cautious optimism. One can't help but be happy to see a scene like this:

Here's hoping that the most is made of this great opportunity.


  1. I can't say I have much to disagree with on this particular post. Too bad I'm feeling feisty this evening.

  2. hmm... we can find something to disagree about I'm sure.

  3. I'm not in an argument mode. And I think America belonged in Libya however I'm not in love with the American executive branch at all at this moment.

    When Obama pushed back his speech I felt that was a symbolic gesture of accepting defeat. Since then I have felt pissed at him.  I don't like the word "pissed" but it's the only one that truly fits

    I think he's very different than W and I respect both his intellect and his motives.  But his actions, no.

    I'm hoping that when he does unveil his jobs program I will change my mind big time but it will take a massive great program to do that. I studied the WPA in depth in grad school and understand that FDR didn't do it until his second term and that he had no red tape to snipe so he could do a lot more

    But damn if Obama had a great jobs program when the Dems were in power we could have gotten out of this mess.  Now we're prisoners of Eric Cantor and the radical right :)

  4. well, all i can say is that point well said.