A Political Case for the Libya Effort

By James Fallows

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 theĀ  "well, let's hope this turns out well" sentiment. That is essentially what we are left with at this stage.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/04/a-political-case-for-the-libya-effort/237765/