The stunning collapse of the Libyan regime today should be counted as a half-victory for President Obama, a rebuke to the GOP’s new isolationist wing in the House, and a testament to the responsible leadership of such Senate Republicans as Jon Kyl and Mitch McConnell.
Obama did the right thing to order U.S. forces in, but it was done reluctantly, with the administration claiming it was not really at “war,” limiting the U.S. and its allies to enforcing a no-fly zone only, and then trying to reduce our participation in airstrikes. Obama’s foot-dragging prolonged the Libyan civil war and will reduce our ability to influence the post-Qaddafi regime, which may well have strong extremist elements.
But I think the new Republican isolationists in the House (and among the presidential candidates) will come out looking even worse. They opposed the president’s constitutional authority to use force abroad to protect U.S. national-security interests, yet they failed to put forward any serious proposals of their own for U.S. foreign policy in the region (aside from pulling out wholesale, I suppose). They not only contradicted the consistent position of Republican administrations on the war-powers issue, but they had no alternatives to put forward on what to do about Libya. These House members had plenty of company from the Democratic party’s antiwar Left, of course — but if they all thought the war was illegal and a bad idea, do they want to give Libya back to Qaddafi now?
It was the Senate Republican leaders (and some of the House leadership) who remained consistent — they resisted efforts to undercut the president’s constitutional authority, they supported continuing intervention in Libya, and they properly demanded that Obama do more to bring the war to a swift conclusion.
Republicans in both chambers, and on the campaign trail, should embrace Bush’s freedom agenda. It is in our interests to bring down the authoritarian dictatorships in the Middle East and hopefully replace them with democracies allied in some way with the United States — even if they don’t want to call it that. One can argue over the costs, or about the benefits of any individual intervention, but the spreading of democracy, freedom, and markets through persuasion, coercion, and sometimes force provides a principled foreign policy that is consistent with America’s greatness in the past and continues our exceptional role in the world in the future.