I am against intervention in Libya. In explaining why, four things about the ongoing commentary and handwringing over no-fly zones and other potential U.S. intrusions seem noteworthy.
First are the sudden torrents of disdain for Muammar Qaddafi by commentators who spent the Bush years saying this very same terrorist — who even then was repressing the very same opposition he is fighting now — was a great ally of the United States against terrorism. I carry no brief for Qaddafi; I thought it was reprehensible for our government to try to launder him into a statesman, much like Clinton did with Arafat. But given that this strategy only tightened Qaddafi’s grip on power, it’s a bit much for us suddenly to be told that we are now under a moral obligation to oust him. Some proponents of intervention add, “He must answer for Flight 103.” Why didn’t he need to be removed and answer for Flight 103 some time between 2003 and 2008?
Second is the studied effort to avoid addressing who the Libyan opposition is. As in Egypt, the main opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood — avowed enemies of the West whose goal is the establishment of sharia states. The National Front for the Salvation of Libya is also a largely Islamist opposition group — one that was stronger until many of its Islamist members split off because they objected to the group’s acceptance of U.S. support in the 1980s. There are other Islamist and leftist groups, including violent jihadists. Moreover, Libya is virulently anti-Israeli, and a disturbing anti-Semitism courses through the opposition. (See this Pajamas report, as well as this post by Andrew Bostom on the history of anti-Semitism in Libya.) Whatever regime comes after Qaddafi is likely to be anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Israeli. That doesn’t mean such a regime might not be marginally better than Qaddafi, but it does affect how much we ought to care and how much effort we ought to expend to hasten the post-Qaddafi era.
Third, reading my friend Pete Wehner’s post on Contentions today, I have to say that proponents of the “Freedom Agenda” continue to misstate the position of their critics. Pete quotes George Will’s observation — now apparently reconsidered — that Condi Rice was “quite right” in condemning the “enormous condescension in saying that somehow the Arab world is just not up to democracy.” She is actually quite wrong. No serious person I know is saying Muslims aren’t up to democracy (and what we’re talking about here is a Muslim issue more than an Arab issue). This is not a question of ignorance or incompetence. They understand the principles of our democracy. They just don’t want them. Any democracy worth promoting is a democracy that runs afoul of key sharia-law principles. Muslims don’t want our democracy because they believe their civilization — including its law and desired political structure — is superior. I think they are terribly wrong about that, but it’s a considered choice and one that is theirs to make. What’s condescending is to insist that we know better than they do what’s good for them.
Fourth, along related lines, one would have hoped we’d grasp by now that a big part of our problem in Iraq and Afghanistan is that much of Islam regards Western invaders as occupiers against whom jihad has to be waged until they are driven out of Muslim countries. That is not merely an al-Qaeda position. It is a mainstream Muslim position. These Islamic principles counsel Muslims not to side with non-Muslims against other Muslims. They are virulently opposed to efforts to plant Western ideas and institutions in Islamic countries. It doesn’t matter to these millions of Muslims that we think we are doing humanitarian work and helping to improve Muslim lives. It is astonishing, after all that has been said and suffered the last ten years, that these very basic points continue to be missed — particularly by people who purport to be so worried that terrorist recruitment swells because of policies like indefinite detention and military commissions. What really increases terrorist recruitment is invading Muslim countries, killing Muslims there, and staying to try to build Western democracies.
We should be having as little to do with Islamic countries as practicality allows, not getting ourselves ever more entangled — at least absent compelling national-security reasons. Such reasons are not evident in Libya.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.