Dear Reader (and the folks following me on Twitter who only can make it for about 147 characters before they start chasing something shiny),
Andy McCarthy Scores Another Victory
Let me get this straight. A Middle Easterner was locked up on American soil. Miraculously he escaped his captors and made contact with the media. When he was found again, he was – without due process of any kind — immediately thrown back into a dark cage. No wonder our image with venomous snakes around the world is so tarnished. This “Bronx Zoo cobra” (notice how he’s named after his prison! No one talks of “Achmed” being on the loose) did nothing wrong. He was blatantly profiled by city officials for the simple crime of slithering while venomous.
Don’t Talk About the War
On November 9, 2001 I began an Old School G-File thus:
There’s been a lot of editorializing lately that the war is going badly. In the current issue of National Review, there’s an editorial entitled “The Limits of Patience.” The editors feel that the war, as currently fought, isn’t working. The wise and attractive folks who sign my paychecks believe there’s too much dickering and bickering on the part of policymakers. They write, “what the U.S. war effort most needs is the clarity of simple-mindedness, the understanding that nothing much matters next to the goal of achieving a decisive victory in Afghanistan, which in turn requires annihilating our enemies.” In short, they call for “DeClintonizing” the war.
I then went on to counsel patience, writing in part:
Until a house is completed, it’s useless as a house. The rain falls through the top, the stove doesn’t work, the toilets don’t flush. As a house, an unfinished house is a total disaster. This is especially so very early in the construction process, when it’s often just a giant hole in the ground with a bunch of workmen scratching their exposed posteriors at $35 an hour. In a certain sense, an unfinished house is worse than no house at all: It’s more expensive, time-consuming, and complicated.
This principle is not unique to houses; it also applies to . . . well, let’s see. Omelets are a mess and a waste of food until they’re cooked. Cars are a lot of useless and expensive metal and rubber until they work. Football games are a bunch of guys running around and hitting each other until the final score tells us who was better at it. . . . And, oh, yeah: Wars are a colossal fog of whirling confusions and unknown banshees, consuming time, money, emotions, geography, and of course lives – until someone wins.
Now, I still basically feel that way about the war in Libya, too. At least in theory. The problem is that what started as a very strange war – but a war nonetheless – is threatening to become something very different altogether. The New York Times reports that NATO has told the rebels that if they kill civilians then NATO will bomb them, too.
As a commenter in the Corner put it, this is reminiscent of that scene in Bananas where the operatives are talking en route to a hot zone:
“Any word on where we’re going?”
“I hear it’s San Marcos.”
“For or against the government?”
“CIA’s not taking any chances. Some of us are for it, and some of us are gonna be against it.”
More seriously, has there ever been a war where we’ve gone from taking sides in the fight to saying, “You kids play nice! Don’t make me come in there!” (Honest question, has there ever been a great power that has in effect acted like a schoolyard referee, making sure that both sides “fight fair”?)
In principle, I don’t have a huge problem with the U.S. saying that we won’t abide by allies behaving indefensibly. But in reality, I think Peter Kirsanow’s point is very hard to argue with:
We bombed Qaddafi’s forces because they were killing civilians. So Qaddafi’s forces began dressing like civilians. So the rebels began killing civilians. So NATO is warning the rebels not to kill civilians, otherwise NATO will bomb the rebels. But the rebels are dressed like civilians. So NATO may end up killing civilians.
In other news, the administration continues to debate arming the rebels who are dressed like civilians. But Qaddafi’s forces are also dressed like civilians. So we may be arming Qaddafi’s forces who are killing civilians while we also bomb the rebels who are killing civilians and bombing civilians who really are civilians but look like Qaddafi’s forces who are killing civilians.
Who’s on first?
Or as the New York Times itself notes:
Meanwhile, fresh intelligence this week showed that Libyan government forces were supplying assault rifles to civilians in the town of Surt, which is populated largely by Qaddafi loyalists. These civilian Qaddafi sympathizers were seen chasing rebel forces in nonmilitary vehicles like sedans and trucks, accompanied by Libyan troops, according to American military officers.
Now, obviously, I think it’s possible, even likely, that the rebels will kill civilians without justification. But it’s going to be awfully hard for the crowd in Brussels to be sure who the civilians are in places like Surt and Tripoli.
My larger point, again, is that this is very rapidly moving into uncharted waters. The United States, even under the supervision of a committee (a committee we are, oddly enough, chairman of), even while dotting all of the U.N.’s eyes and crossing all of its tees, and even with only a few CIA operators with alternative footwear (no boots on the ground!), can still mop the floor with Qaddafi’s goons – eventually. But that’s contingent on this actually being, you know, a war. If it becomes something more akin to refereeing a dog fight, I have no idea how it will turn out.
U.N. Will Still Suck Tomorrow But we do know that however this turns out, and no matter how much backslapping and cheerleading will follow a clear-cut Obama “win” — however defined — one thing we can be certain of is this: We will not have a new era of multilateral cooperation as a result. Walter Russell Mead, not surprisingly, explains it better than I could, but let me give a try, in brief.
A new era of multilateral cooperation depends on aligning the self-interests, principles, and values of myriad nations to do this sort of thing again and again. Guess what? The self-interests of the nations involved in this enterprise won’t last more than a couple weeks. The prospect of doing this sort of thing in countries that don’t have oil or might be able to fight back is out of the question. As for principles and values, it’s already a cliché to point out that Libya falls short on the humanitarian criteria laid out to justify the war in Libya! This whole thing is a bizarre one-off. And if Obama makes it out the other side politically intact, it won’t be because he had some master plan or doctrine, it’ll be because he was lucky and his presidency is too-big-to-fail for the press.
Just Might Be Crazy Enough to Work!
On the other hand, there is something to be said in favor of how crazy all of this is.
A friend of mine told me about a guy he knows from Taiwan. This Taiwanese guy – a serious academic and intellectual – was the only one of his peers to be entirely supportive of the Iraq war. Why? Because the whole thing was so bat-guano crazy that it sent the signal to the Chinese that America was still enough of a gun-slinging badass of a country to send its military halfway around the world just to prove a point. Or something. And being from Taiwan, this guy thought this was a message the Red Chinese needed to hear.
I don’t think this is a fantastic justification for what’s going on in Libya, but if even Barack Obama – the guy with the middle name “Hussein” who ran on getting us out of preemptive invasions of Muslim countries – is willing to launch war #3, you can be sure a lot of bad actors around the world are scratching their heads about what crazy America might do next. That is not altogether a bad thing.
Although why the White House is doing everything it can to reassure the Assads in Syria and others in the region that they’re perfectly safe is beyond me. Leaving ‘em guessing what America might do next has its advantages.
“The genius of you Americans,” former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser allegedly once said, “is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them which we are missing.”
Some Last War Points
1. I find the claim that “NATO” is fighting this war and we’re not makes about as much sense as saying, “I’m not punching you in the face, it’s just my right hand doing that.”
2. I find the notion that this isn’t a real war to be ludicrous. It may not be a big war (yet) but neither was the Creek War of 1813-14 and that goes down in the history books as a “war.”
3. Personally, I think we should call this the Third Barbary War.
The Mystery of Donald Trump’s Hair Revealed
It’s a double comb-over!
By the time you read this, I will be switching planes in Chicago en route to Dallas for a speech at the Philadelphia Society. There will be no meet-ups with readers, alas. I need to turn straight around the next day and come home. I am slowly becoming overwhelmed with work (as the unpredictable schedule of this “news”letter might have suggested to you already). I’m way behind on my book. Indeed, I was before my brother’s accident, and now it’s worse than ever. My wife’s picking up new projects. And there’s some other stuff best not shared in such a public forum. (That’s what Twitter’s for!) Anyway, not complaining, just explaining why I may seem a bit frazzled.
In the meantime, here’s my Friday column, and here’s Friday Stuff from Debby. Later!
Tomorrow is International Pillow Fight Day.
Scientific breakdown of a Bloody Mary.
Mechanical Engineer Explains the Secrets of the Wiffle Ball.
Headline of the day: Staten Island man set pregnant ex-girlfriend’s apartment ablaze in bizarre fecal rampage.
In the “things that seem like a bad idea the next morning” category, super gluing a miniature fedora to the side of your head. Related, Creator of Super Glue dies.