Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Libyan War is...

A. a bad idea.
B. a necessary evil. Innocent people are dying. U.S. intervention will keep Gaddafi from murdering his people.
C. not the outcome of constitutional deliberation and process.
D. a sign of Obama's weak leadership
E. a good idea.
F. What kind of phony discussion is this? The war in Libya is another undeclared war based on a (probably incorrect calculation of) national interests that will cost the United States much more than it delivers and will fall far short of any reasonable humanitarian goal.

There is a G, of course, namely that the whole idea of intervention in Libya is confusing and difficult to assess. The probabilities seem fairly high that, if Americans were to respond to a poll asking such a question and offering A through G as possible responses, a plurality would likely admit confusion and choose G. A good number might also support the idea that some sort of humanitarian intervention is necessary. A relative few would be likely to choose A, a bad idea.

On Tuesday, March 22, the Washington Post op-ed page featured five pieces offering some sort of counsel in regard to the choice. The five opinion writers, Anne Applebaum, George Will, Michael Gerson, Richard Cohen and Eugene Robinson, arguably came down on the side of B, C (with a leaning toward A), D & B, D & B, and F (or at least, A), respectively.

Only Applebaum, in "Aim low on Libya," expresses strong support for intervention and excuses the week-long delay in getting there, arguing that quicker or more enthusiastic intervention would have resulted in a widespread perception of American war-mongering. It made sense in this case, she says, to wait for the British and the French to take the lead.

Will doesn't believe that Obama's reasons for intervening were constitutional, persuasive or grounded in a reasonable grasp of history. He calls Obama's observation that Gaddafi has lost all credibility with the Libyan people "meretricious boilerplate [apparently] designed to anesthetize thought." Will helpfully brings history into the discussion, citing the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War as experiences that could teach valuable lessons. His use of history would be even more effective here had he previously bothered to vigorously play the unconstitutional card in regard to the two wars against Iraq launched by the Bushes, father and son.

Michael Gerson, a speech writer for Bush II before he got his job as a Post columnist, endorses the attacks on Libya upfront in "Obama's late arrival," but then spends an additional 800 or so words complaining that Senators Kerry, McClain and Lieberman were quicker to arrive at the public conclusion that intervention was necessary. This appears to be so, but significance ought to be a criterion for the Post's op-ed pages.

Bombing Gadaffi might get us to the end of the "old order in the Middle East" and lead to the "stability and prosperity [that] are powerful antitodes to the violent urges of nihlism and extremism," as Gerson writes. Then, again, maybe bombing, which the United States has engaged in from time to time these last many years, provides some sort of evidence that stability and prosperity are not always antidotes to violent urges.

Richard Cohen, who plays an establishment liberal to Gerson's establishment conservative in the pages of the Post, doesn't like the way Obama governs, either, but makes the case with a little bit more humor than Gerson. In "Uncle Miltie's plan," Cohen does make the helpful point that "the search for a Unified Theory of What Is Happening [in the Middle East] is futile" and details why. All the same, Cohen's chief criticism of Obama appears to be that the president lacks a unified theory. The administration, Cohen concludes, "could have made an argument for staying out [of Libya] or a more forceful argument for going in. Instead it made both. "Milton Berle now plays the White House," he writes. And, no doubt, also haunts Cohen's ambivalent dreams.

Way below the bottom of the fold comes Eugene Robinson's "The dictators we need." Perhaps placement on the page reflects the Post's assessment of the merits of Robinson's argument, but it does have the virtue of clarity. After noting that Gadaffi is a genuine villain, threatening to "turn all of Libya into a charnel house," a blunt description of the allied intevention "clearly intended to cripple the government and boost the revolt's chances of success," Robinson offers a real-politik survey of U.S. relations with other autocrats in the Middle East. He concludes with the observation that the world would be better off without Gaddafi, "but war in Libya is justifiable only if we are going to hold compliant dictators to the same standards we set for defiant ones. If not, please spare us all the homilies about universal rights and freedoms. We'll know this isn't about justice, it's about power."

Perhaps Robinson's observation explains why, amidst all the opinions, pro, con and in between, we aren't hearing from Republican budget hawks about the cost of war. We never do.

But surely, in a country where state governments are moving to outlaw collective bargaining rights for public employees, and public school teachers are being pink-slipped for budgetary reasons, some strong right-wing voice could be heard shouting above the din that we are already spent more than one trillion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (see and can ill-afford another engagement that will raise the cost by billions of dollars (Tomahawk missles cost $570,000 each, the F-15 that crashed a couple of days ago cost $30 million, the first day of combat in Libya coast an estimated $100 million). Alas, no such voice is to be heard.

Is it reasonable, to follow Robinson, to observe that most weapons manufacturers are Republicans, frequently generous campaign contributors, and huge fans of reorders for expensive weapons and expended munitions? I mean, in what other business does a reorder for a single item gross upwards of one-half million dollars?

On his Nation blog, in "Ten calls from Congress for a debate about war," John Nichols appears clear (oxymoron?) on one point: If it is to happen, Congress should authorize military action in Libya. The point is legalistic, perhaps necessary, historically venerated, and insufficient.

If Libya is a humanitarian tragedy about to happen, then any war effort mounted in response ought to be congressionally authorized. But if action is necessary, congressional authorization is not enough. And if Congress does not authorize, and tragedy occurs, what would be America's share of the blame? Further, by how much would a Congressional vote to authorize be delayed as a consequence of behind-the-scenes jockeying to put off such a vote? So, no, Nichol's apparent position lacks gravity and, hopefully, does the Nation an injustice.

But the Nation did editorialize on March 18 in response to the prospect of U.S. intervention. The editors have much to say and make many useful points about the sorry history of U.S. intervention in the Middle East (Libya's in North Africa, but who's counting?) and in Arab countries. I think the piece is a must-read, but I really can't tell if they mean to endorse no-fly zones or other intervention.

Here's the thing, G (the whole Libya-thing is confusing and difficult to assess) is the most understandable answer, but I keep thinking that if I were to remain mindful of the lies and misrepresentations that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that preceded the first Gulf War, that justified the embargo of Iraq (which may have caused the deaths of 1,000,000 Iraqis, including 500,000 children), that accompany U.S. aid to Israel and support the continuing oppression, dislocation and disenfranchisement of Palestinians, that excuse or obscure the human rights violations of a dozen key American allies, that hide the profits of war to a select few and shed theatrical tears for the losses of many, if I keep all those things in mind, then the only honest and reasonable answer for me to make is F (What kind of phony discussion is this? The war in Libya is another undeclared war based on a probably incorrect calculation of national interests that will cost the United States much more than it delivers and will fall far short of any reasonable humanitarian goal.)

Regardless, having gone to war (again), let us conclude with a prayer, Mark Twain's War Prayer, which includes this (among its many lines):
"help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;
help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead;
help us to drown the thunder of the guns
with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain;"

and so on.


  1. Obama's attack on Libya is a criminal act against humanity, which he should go to jail for.

    The left are all hypocrites on this.

    The overthrow of Qaddaffi, by western backed terrorists death squads was pure evil, based on lies, evil scumbag lies of the British, French and their blackmailed poodle Obama.

  2. Please elaborate, how are people on the left hypocrites about siding with anti-Qaddaffi forces in Libya? Because Qaddaffi was a populist, a man of the people?

    What is an "evil scumbag lie?" Please share details.