The Limits of Armed Interventionism

By Jeffrey Goldberg

A Goldblog reader writes:

You supported the Iraq war (justifiably, in my mind) because of many factors including the fact that Saddam Hussein was a human rights nightmare. But you're playing Hamlet on Libya. What gives?

Don't worry, reader (readers, actually -- you wouldn't believe how many emails I've gotten criticizing me for my ambivalent non-interventionism), I still support a muscular defense of human rights. But a number of questions about Libya have brought me up short:
1) We're overextended on our previous humanitarian/national security projects, in Afghanistan and Iraq. I would like to see more focus, not less, on those existing problems;

2) I have no idea who or what we're actually supporting in Libya. This is troubling;

3) I don't think the West has a plan to win in Libya. I'm reasonably sure -- I hope to be proven wrong -- that Colonel Qaddafi (let's give them man a promotion already) has real staying power. Already, the Arabs are dropping out of the anti-Qaddafi coalition (not that they were ever really in it), and I fear that this effort will dissipate in the coming days, and then we'll be blamed by the international left for warmongering while actually having achieved few of our goals;

4) I don't think America has to automatically lead in every multilateral foreign adventure. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator, said the other day that, 'We used to relish leading the free world. Now, it's almost like leading the free world is an inconvenience." I think this is an overreaction. I also don't think we lose stature by not taking leadership in every single fight.

I'm proud that the Obama Administration, its State Department and National Security Council, are staffed by people who are morally outraged by Qaddafi's behavior. I'm fairly sure this is not an Administration that will let another Rwanda take place on its watch. But I'd be much happier if I knew the plan.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/03/the-limits-of-armed-interventionism/72893/