Why are many conservatives against the Libyan war? Is it, as alleged, political opportunism — given their prior support for the 2001 and 2003 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
No. Most of us support wholeheartedly our troops now that we are in, but opposed the intervention for reasons that were clear before we attacked, and are even clearer now. Among them:
1) Timing: If the administration believed this monster should have left, it should have acted when the rebels had the momentum, and not issued threats and demands for Qaddafi to go without commensurate efforts to follow such saber-rattling up. Fairly or not, the administration established a goal that it now seems to be backing away from, as it talks of toning down the operation before it is even a week old. We boasted about storming Vienna, pulled up at its outskirts, froze, and are now bewildered that someone inside actually is fighting back.
2) Approval: To start a third war in the Middle East, the president should have first gone to Congress, especially since he and Vice President Biden have compiled an entire corpus of past speeches, some quite incendiary, equating presidential military intervention without congressional approval with illegality to the point of an impeachable offense (cf. Biden’s warning to Bush over a possible Iran strike). And why boast of U.N. and Arab League approval but not seek the sanction of the U.S. Congress?
3) Consistency: Why is meddling okay in Libya but was not okay in Iran when dissidents there were likewise making headway? Is there any rationale that determines our response to unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iran, the Gulf, or Libya? It seems we are making it up ad hoc, always in reaction to the perceived pulse of popular demonstrations — always a hit-and-miss, day-late-dollar-short proposition.
4) Aims and Objectives: Fact: We are now and then bombing Libyan ground targets in order to enhance the chances of rebel success in removing or killing Qaddafi. Fiction: We are not offering ground support but only establishing a no-fly zone, and have no desire to force by military means Qaddafi to leave. Questions: Is our aim, then, a reformed Qaddafi? A permanently revolutionary landscape? A partitioned, bisected nation? What is the model? Afghanistan? Mogadishu? The 12-year no-fly-zone in Iraq? A Mubarak-like forced exile? Who are the rebels? Westernized reformers? Muslim Brotherhood types? A mix? Who knows? Who cares?
5) Hypocrisy: This Libyan war is transpiring in a political climate where, for the last ten years, Obama and his supporters have lectured us that it is not only amoral and unwise but illegal for America to attack an oil-producing Muslim country that does not threaten our national security, a sin magnified if committed without congressional approval. It also follows similar demagoguery on Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventative detentions, etc. — measures blasted as near-criminality under Bush but embraced or expanded under Obama. In this regard, the prior rhetoric of an Eric Holder or a Harold Koh bears no resemblance to their present action — a hypocrisy that follows from the president himself.
6) Means and Ends: The monthly federal budget deficit now exceeds the yearly deficit prior to when Bush went into Iraq — at a time when we are engaged in two other Middle East theaters, gas is soaring, inflation is back, and we have borrowed $5 trillion since this administration took office.
7) Leadership: This is a Potemkin coalition, far smaller than the one that fought in either Afghanistan or Iraq, notwithstanding loud proclamations to the contrary. We are not even done with the first week of bombing, and yet no one seems in charge: What body/country/alliance determines targets, issues communiques, or coordinates diplomacy? The U.K. goes after Qaddafi, and we plead “They did it, not us”? Again, fairly or not, the impression is that Obama dressed up preponderant American intervention under a multicultural fig leaf, earning the downsides of both. A loud multilateral effort could be wise diplomacy, but not if it translates into a desire to subordinate American options and profile to European and international players that are not commensurately shouldering the burden — and not if all this is cynically used to advance a welcomed new unexceptional American profile.
When we talk of “European leadership,” we mean the U.K. and France, not Germany, Italy, or most of the EU. When we talk of the “Arab League,” we mean essentially zero military assets. And when we talk of the “U.N.,” we mean zero blue-helmeted troops. So, like it or not, there is a level of understandable cynicism that suspects Obama’s new paradigm of multilateral, international action is simply the same-old, same-old, albeit without the advantages that accrue when America is unapologetic about its leadership role, weathers the criticism, and insists on the options and prerogatives that a superpower must demand in war by virtue of its power and sacrifice.
Add the above up, and I think Team Obama will find that even Democratic diehards and neocon sympathizers will soon bail, and very soon. Like it or not, to salvage this mess, the Obama administration is going to have to get rid of Qaddafi, do it very quickly, and argue that what follows is somewhat better.