The Question: Why This Time?


Ezra Klein asks:

Every year, one million people die from malaria. About three million children die, either directly or indirectly, due to hunger. There is much we could due to help the world if we were willing. The question that needs to be asked is: Why this?

Chait counters Klein and me:

I think there are very reasonable arguments to suggest that the operation in Libya could devolve into a quagmire, fail to achieve its objections, or achieve them at unacceptable cost. And, of course, some people -- not Sullivan or Klein -- think the U.S. has no right to intervene in places like Libya. But that's the question. The question of whether or not we ought to intervene in some other country, or in some other way, is an important foreign policy issue, but not an argument against intervention in Libya.

I think the discussion is focused rightly on whether the costs of intervention should be born when there is no vital national interest involved. I'm not against interventions as such; I'm against dumb interventions, as someone once nearly said. Yglesias counters:

[A]ll this context is relevant as an indictment of the elite leadership class of the United States of America. If everyone cares as much about the political rights of Arabs as Libya interventionists say, then what on earth are they doing in Bahrain and Yemen and Palestine? If everyone cares as much about the loss of innocent African life as Libya interventionists say, then what on earth are they doing ponying up so little in foreign aid and doing so little to dismantle ruinous cotton subsidies? These aren’t really points about Libya. And why should they be? What do I know about Libya? What does Chait know about Libya? These are points about the United States of America and the various elites who run the country and shape the discourse.

(Photo: A shrapnel riddled wall, painted with the Libyan rebellion flag, is seen in Benghazi on March 20, 2011, a day after an international campaign of air and sea strikes destroyed Libyan targets. By Patrick Baz/Getty.)