A reader writes:
Thanks for posting my email, but I think you misrepresent it slightly. You still do not acknowledge that the U.S. has not yet committed itself to anything. It has only supported a UN resolution that authorizes, but does not require, us to do anything. There is still plenty of time for Congressional and public debate about how the US should get involved in this, if at all. We have not declared war on anyone.
I think you should slow down on suggesting that Obama is more imperial than Bush. Legally, Obama can introduce the American military into hostilities so long as he submits a report to Congress within 48 hours. In this situation, the onus is on Congress to check the executive. I'm not saying going into Libya is the right thing to do, but it's not illegal - yet.
It seems to me that your concerns about U.S involvement in Libya, while well-founded, are built on a major flaw. This is not the U.S. declaring war on Libya; this is the UN authorizing intervention in a failing state in order to prevent massive loss of life. This is the purpose of the UN. What you're suggesting is that the UN has no authority to try and halt conflicts and bring an end to Crimes Against Humanity simply because the US may be involved. That's not just wrong; it's ridiculous.
It is astonishing to see all the arguments that many of us tried to make prior to the Iraq War, but which were contemptuously dismissed by hawks such as yourself, being trotted out to justify total inaction in Libya.
The two situations are not in the least bit analogous. In Iraq there was no uprising; there was an invasion. What we are talking about in Libya is an essentially humanitarian intervention; there is a one-sided massacre taking place, with a despicable regime crushing a legitimate resistance with massive military superiority. Why should we not have a moral responsibility to take what actions - within reason, good sense, and sound strategy - that we can in order to ameliorate the human tragedy that is unfolding before us?
No one is asking Obama to invade Libya and create a resistance where there wasn't one to begin with. That would be a foolish thing to do. But it is really galling when the very same people who argued so vociferously for invading Iraq now oppose an exponentially more limited engagement with a clear humanitarian goal - and use Iraq as their justification!
It is interesting how quick you were to support Bush when there were numerous fallacies, inaccuracies and fear-mongering. We engaged in a pre-emptive strike (a war of aggression) pretty much on our own. This is not the same. Not even close. The hypocrisy of rationalizing a war of aggression with NO support from civilians in Iraq or the region (and support of US citizens garnered only from outright lies by the Bush administration) versus being begged to intervene, along with the UN, and promising not to put boots on the ground but primarily protect civilians. How do we look to the world when we refuse the pleas of a genuinely democractic uprising and a certain impending massacre by a truly certifiably insane dictator?
Sometimes, sir, I think you try to hard to vindicate your previous mistakes. Unfortunately, I think your lack of support here will be another mistake on your part.
We so often agree that I'm actually emotionally moved by my level of disagreement with your almost hysterical reaction to the UNSC vote. The vast majority of an Arab nation decides it will no longer tolerate a life under tyranny and undertakes a revolution that calls for greater freedoms - a revolution that has so far been unmarred by Islamism. The tyrant responds by murdering civilians, indiscriminately, including from the air, crushing the movement almost completely. The UNSC then, in a 10-0-5 vote, authorizes multilateral action. And at this you go into paroxysms of outrage?
I have a hard time believing that the Obama administration is enthusiastic about committing U.S. forces to this exercise. The alternative would have been to abstain from the U.N. resolution ... with China and the Soviet Union. This could prove disastrous, but it may also prove an example of a new American disposition to be followers in such ventures, rather than leaders.
And the crowds in Benghazi sure don't feel like we've declared war on them.
Look, I understand that the way the administration is going about this is eerily reminiscent in a number of ways to the planning-and-execution debacle that was the Iraq War: moralistic proclamations of needing to fight for liberty in a distant Arab country that doesn't want us physically there, an unfunded and undeclared military expedition (putting it generously), and no real answers yet as to exit plan. Again, I get where you're coming from.
But isn't it a little unreasonable to say that, pace Senator Lugar, "U.S. interests would [not] be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya"? Sure, it's fraught with risks. But unlike Iraq, there's actual evidence to back up the Bush-esque rhetoric about "the people over there" wanting our help. I'm sure you believe, as any reasonable person following the Middle Eastern protests and uprisings right now would, that preventing the stillbirth of the "Arab spring" in Libya will ultimately help suffocate the fires of violent extremism against the United States. Isn't that worth protecting? Viewed through that lens, I don't see how it's not ultimately a vital U.S. security interest.
Wouldn't it be fair to say that while the invasion of Iraq was a disaster, the earlier decision to impose a no-fly zone on Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War saved the Iraqi Kurds from a genocide, and did not even come close to overstreching the resources of the US? It was the right thing to do.
Andrew, take a deep breath and relax for a second. This is not Iraq - and I should know, because I fought against that war for years and years while people like you were championing it for reasons I still find mindboggling. It's not Afghanistan either, in so many ways that the comparison seems positively daft. Muslims live in both places, but what of it? Compose an argument against this intervention if you must, but leave the guilt in the margins.
It's not a war against Libya; it's an intervention against a crazy person who used to, but can no longer, represent or control Libya. Remember: Gaddafi was down to one city at one point, a city being put down not by a loyal, valid Libyan faction but by foreign mercenaries indiscriminately firing automatic rounds into people and houses. Right now, Benghazi is the only actual part of Libya, and we are acting to protect it.
This is an international humanitarian intervention, not a war. Congress doesn't need to approve - but more importantly, it would approve. And Americans will approve. Iraq was sympathetic because it had been lied about, smothered, and used from day one. Diplomacy was never really tried. That is not what we're seeing and smelling here.
The Libyan people have been begging for weeks. The only thing we did wrong here was wait so damned long to get involved. If you don't think one city can speak for Libya, think back a couple weeks and re-run the math.
Iraq and Afghanistan are terrible wars of exploitation and misintention. Intervention in Libya is the right thing to do, done out of generosity and with no particular self-interest. More importantly, it is an ACCOUNTABLE ACT, whereas Bush's wars were made without consideration for anyone else's opinions or goals.
When I say it's accountable, I mean this: it's not our idea. This isn't American over-reach with a vast set of selfish ideas behind it; it's an act that a) was requested by the people of Libya and b) is fairly universally supported around the world. This is Obama being accountable to the world community on behalf of the United States. To have acted on Hussein, and not to act on Gaddafi - that would be the truly backwards and wrong thing.
This is accountable to Libyans, to universal values and to human rights. It's also accountable to those like me who can't stand the idea of the US not stepping into a relatively predictable conflict in a nation that will have few of the challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan in getting back up afterwards, and none of the major ones.
Here's where I go out on a limb, and you can hold me accountable for this if it turns out I'm wrong and you're right: this is going to be no more than two months, and probably much shorter. We will bomb Gaddafi's forces and their air support, and once the mercenaries realize they are no longer with such an advantage, they will quit Libya and leave Gaddafi to the mercy of Libyans. Libyan rebels will be greeted as liberators by Libyan cities one by one. This will be Obama's Kosovo.