The Consistency Petard

by Jonah Goldberg

As someone on the interventionist side of things here at NRO (I’d use “hawkish” but I don’t think that word really makes sense in this context), I’d like to offer a little push-back on one of the main anti-intervention talking points.

Yes, Obama is being inconsistent, hypocritical, or misguided in one way or another. Not to mention Joe Biden! But I fail to see why Obama’s hypocrisy should be a huge concern to conservatives. If he’s flipping to the right policy, who cares what his old view was? And if he’s flopping to the wrong policy, it’s not the flop that should concern us, but the wrongness of the policy itself.

Anyway, the argument that we shouldn’t be intervening in Libya because we’re not intervening elsewhere is a pretty weak claim, by my lights. As I said in my column, the way Obama has gone about this requires him to make an argument about why Libya is different from, say, Bahrain based on some objective standard. That’s his mistake.

But the simple fact is that foreign policy is never a fertile ground for perfect consistency. You do what you can, where you can, when you can. If we could topple the Iranian or North Korean regimes at no cost in lives or treasure whatsoever, I’d argue for doing that tomorrow. But we can’t. This is a game opponents of any intervention always play, “What makes X so different than Y?” The easiest answer is that we have a ripe opportunity in X and not in Y (as I’ve written, I think the opportunity in Libya probably lost its ripeness a while ago).

Now, there are many good substantive arguments against intervening in Libya. I find some more compelling than others. But saying “Why not Saudi Arabia, too?” is not one of them.