A reader writes:
Enjoyed your last post and appreciate your consistent opposition’ to the Libyan conflict. It is interesting to watch the debate because it was essentially the same debate over Yugoslavia.
I have found myself to be strongly anti war with the exception of military being used for protecting a mass atrocity. Historically, this has put me on the opposite side of every war relative to your positions. If I may be glib, you are for recreational’ war, wars that accomplish something the US wants. It put you in favor of Afghanistan and Iraq. Prevention of atrocity I support, has put me on the side of Yugoslavia and Libya. Interestingly the failures have been the recreational wars, and I believe the successes will be those that actually save lives.
This is the right war at the right time, and it also has a reach greater than Libya itself. The message it sends keeps the energy in the other movements throughout the Arab world, including today Syria. Has Libya turned into massacre, the chill would have likely stopped the Syrian efforts in their tracks. Instead we have a likely additional member to democracy in Syria coming in the next several days.
This is multi-dimensional chess at its finest, and Obama plays this game best of anyone I know. It is a pleasure to watch the Arab 1848 play out and to know the West has contributed to it, by means of preventing atrocities in the region.
The truth is, I did eventually agree with action in the former Yugoslavia, but it took a while and only after the case was thoroughly made that the benefits outweighed the costs. And yes, the morality of the genocidal actions of Milosevic factored in. I know it's frustratingly complicated, but of course, I don't think purely humanitarian concerns can be surgically separated from all decisions on war and peace. If great evil can be prevented at a minimal cost - and figuring out when this is possible is entirely prudential - I'm for it. If it isn't, I'm not (hence my opposition to intervening in Somalia and Rwanda and Iran).
I'm just extremely skeptical as a general rule of using the military without vital national interests at stake. I agree with candidate Obama on this, not president Obama. But I wish the president, at this point, and the allied armed forces, the best of luck. How can one not?