A Political Case for the Libya Effort

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I have been apprehensive, a month ago, and now, about what the Administration, still with no Congressional approval, is getting the nation into in Libya. A reader makes a political case in favor of this sort of murky limited involvement. The argument is that this is a way for the Democrats to show street cred in foreign policy, while also teaching NATO a lesson about how the world works now:

>>I very much agree with the concerns you have expressed about what we're doing in Libya, but I have a somewhat devil's advocate view of Obama's strategy....

I believe Obama understands the concerns from the left, but has no choice but to factor the broader political context into the mix. We're at an unusual historical moment, in that the Republican Party has degenerated to a point somewhat analogous to if the likes of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin had been the dominant voices in the Democratic Party 40 years ago. There's a unique opportunity at hand to educate independent voters and disenchanted working class populists that Republicans have no credible track record as the party of fiscal conservatism, and that their bedrock policies, in fact, are unapologetically designed to protect the interests of the already well off at the expense of everyone else.

I expect that much of the 2012 election will be fought on this turf. It logically follows that it behooves Obama strategically to not simultaneously make too many radical shifts to his conduct of business-as-usual. Bill Clinton's having essentially carried out a Republican- style foreign policy plays into that.

I interpret Obama's actions as essentially signaling the French and the British that the days of their relying on the American military to be the world's fighting force are winding down.
Vietnam should have put an end to that, but Ronald Reagan successfully hijacked the cultural narrative about uses of American power in the global arena. The American public at large seems to want to believe in the myth of U.S. power as a force for good in the world; meanwhile, Europeans have had money available for social services ever since WWII because they were piggy-backing on the astronomical resources the U.S. has poured into its military. Dreams die hard.

If we took a tough love stance and sat this one out, word on the street in the Middle East might be that the Americans aren't willing to fight to protect Muslim civilians. By going through the U.N. and calling on Arab governments to be involved in military action, while continually stating that the U.S. is only going to engage in a limited fashion, I see Obama consciously carrying out a strategy that upholds the positive aspects of U.S. military force (which do exist) while transitioning into a realistic 21st century framework that puts the rest of the world on notice that they need to step up to the plate: we're about to start bringing troops and money home so we can put them to better use on the domestic front and, among other things, start rebalancing our budget....

My late brother was an Army paratrooper in Vietnam in '67 and '68, and I've done a lot of soul-searching on these matters.<<

I understand the argument but view it as another expression of the  "well, let's hope this turns out well" sentiment. That is essentially what we are left with at this stage.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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