The Corner

Sticks and Stones in Libya

I’m a recovering neocon. And so there is no confusion, by “neocon” I just mean adherent of the Bush Doctrine. And so there’s no confusion on that, by “Bush Doctrine” all I mean is the National Security Strategy of 2002. I say “recovering” since, though I’m a good six years clean and sober, I don’t think you can ever really be cured of this affliction — you just take it one day at a time.

So I’m especially concerned to see that the shoddy conduct of the Libyan intervention thus far seems to be co-opting all the worst aspects of Bushism and none of the good bits. And worst, the blundering here seems a direct result of the president’s overarching concern with avoiding certain signifiers of the Bush Doctrine — with avoiding the mere appearance of Bushism.

To avoid the appearance of American imperialism, the administration dawdles in the U.N. Security Council, wasting precious days and weeks during which the complexity of the situation on the ground — and of any commensurate intervention — increases geometrically. But to avoid the appearance that we are launching a(nother) Mideast military adventure at all, the administration doesn’t bother going to Congress to ask for an authorization of the use of force.

To avoid the appearance of “unilateralism,” POTUS and SecState Clinton take great pains to assure us that this is not an American-led effort, but an American-supported one, and that overall command will be turned over to the Europeans in “a period of days.” As a result, we have no clear command structure over a slapdash coalition that is already falling apart: Qatar won’t fly combat missions; Italy is threatening to pull the use of its airbases unless NATO steps in.

To avoid the invocation of the of dread “regime change,” our commanders and NSC staff are telling every reporter who’ll listen that it’s “not about” killing or even ousting Moammar Qaddafi. So instead, as Jennifer Rubin puts it, we run the risks of 1) “paralyzing Libyan military figures trying to decide whether to join the opposition,” 2) letting other players in the region perceive that we are an “unserious and unreliable superpower,” and  3) risking domestic support from otherwise hawkish congressional critters who “don’t understand the point,” of the intervention given the administration’s confused and confusing statements.

Mr. President: if you thought Bushism was bad, wait’ll you see the fruits of half-assed Bushism. You’ve already decided to do this thing, best to do it right. If you’re going to get wet, as they say, you may as well go swimming.

Daniel Foster — Daniel Foster is a former news editor of National Review Online.

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