I think this is a fantastic assessment of President Obama’s basis of preemption in Libya. It calls everyone out on the carpet and ends with this:
And for those Democrats who are either cheering on or grimly supporting the president’s actions…there’s a reason why the biggest fans of last night’s speech were hawks like William Kristol: If you didn’t like Iraq, you really won’t like Iran. And when that day comes, please don’t debase yourselves by crying crocodile tears over the Constitution, or pretending for even one second you are anti-war.
My only real point of contention with writer Matt Welch comes from this graph, in which he makes an important mistake:
Set aside the administration’s ever-elastic definition of “interests,” and instead grok this: The Democratic foreign policy best and brightest have admittedly adopted as their causus belli for dropping bombs on a sovereign country the same test that former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used for pornography: They know it when they see it. As for the rest of us taxpaying, war-weary plebes, we’ll receive an “update” from the president now and then to let us know where his own eyes have taken him next.
I agree that the president’s definition of “interests” is ever-elastic. I like that Welch used the word grok. I admire the Stewart analogy, although for some reason I thought O.W.Holmes owned the quote. The last sentence would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
But the Gaddafi regime is not sovereign. When you murder you own people, you lose whatever tenuous grasp on those straws you ever managed to muster. The Libyan people are sovereign. Their idea of Libya is sovereign. The reigning government is not. But what does it mean to say that a people are sovereign if they’re not also free? If protests are met with bullets? If that popular sovereignty cannot be expressed. The truth is that we don’t know what set of priorities the sovereign people of Libya would choose for themselves if given the chance (apart from deposing Gaddafi). That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the rights of self-determination. They deserve it and they deserve the support of free peoples. But I continue to question the degree to which the Obama doctrine really supports the people of Libya. Yes, preventing a massacre of a civilians provisionally registers as a just casus belli, but Welch is right: people who based their opposition to Iraq on the previously unprecedented doctrine of preemption who don’t see the Libyan engagement as a preemptive war are kidding themselves. This is a war, and it is a preemptive one. I am wont to say that the disagreeable means justify the ends of preventing a civilian massacre, even as I’m wont to say that no one except committed pacifists would now oppose preemption in Iraq if WMDs addressed to the US had ever been found there.
Good God, what a mess. And now there are reports coming from a Vatican official that
US NATO bombs have killed 40 Libyan civilians. Remember that line in the president’s speech about the Libyan civilians coming to the aid the American rescue team that came for the pilots of the grounded F-15? For the first time ever, I have started to believe that Barack Obama has bigger brass ones than Bill Clinton, because guess what? Our guys mistakenly shot six of those helpful, peaceful, friends. One was a kid. No one died, but the boy might lose his leg. Is this the acceptable collateral damage of “kinetic military involvement,” or is this the basic stupidity behind all wars and behind all acts of aggression?
Getting back to my original point: Libya, the nation, is sovereign and is without a legitimate government. That vacuum is dangerous, provisional, and fraught with hardship. But it doesn’t cede Libyan sovereignty to NATO, the West, the US, or Barack Obama. We’ve seen that play out here before. It doesn’t end well. As commenter SingleMaltMonkey said here on a recent post, none of this ends until we stop selling arms, until we get serious about dialog.
Until we don’t brazenly assert our right to stop humanitarian crises when they’re happening in countries who’s fate is somehow fundamentally aligned with our “interests and values.” (Ed. note: the following sentence is added to clarify SMS’s position and what I’m adding to it as per our discussion in the comments below). To that, I’d add: until we stop saying we’re justified in intervening to protect civilians because our national interests and values are also at stake. I mean, what the hell does that even mean? It’s in our interest to stop humanitarian crisis everywhere, isn’t it, because that’s what people with souls want to do. But when we say “yes, we can get kinetic on this one because, oh happy day, we can justify intervention by some vague appeal to natural law and universal rights and happy unicorns, and, um, also our (bwa ha ha ha) interests,” we sound like the opportunistic douches the most extreme haters say we are. I guess that’s why John McCain and others are saying that regime change has to be our ultimate military priority like it was with Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. I guess that’s why attacking military installations, sending the CIA, and hoping that the regime in Tripoli just says uncle strikes so many as the worst combination of a bunch of ways forward.
- This is a preemptive war.
- War probably doesn’t really help the net good of Libya or the planet.
- But Libya’s already in a war, and civilians should be protected by powers that can protect them.
- By attacking his own people, Gadaffi has formerly ceded power. That power sits in a vacuum, and that’s cause for bot concern and hope. And that makes everyone uncomfortable.
- This power does not belong to the US or any outside force. It belongs to the Libyan people. But ff the Libyan people are left unprotected, they might be massacred, even those who don’t pick up any arms to fight Gadaffi.
- We feel like we should do something, but we can’t call it war or preemption because those are things George Bush does. We are not George Bush.
- So we call war “kinetic military action” and we say that the massacre of civilians is always bad, but it’s only bad enough to stop when our other interests are also at stake.
- We sound like assholes.
- We kill and maim civilians.
- This all gets very ugly.
Does the humanitarian crisis end if Gadaffi isn’t deposed? Does deposing Gadaffi ourselves line up with our humanitarian military mission? Is a humanitarian military mission a contradiction in terms? Does deposing Gadaffi ourselves ice the so-called Arab Spring?
Oh, and in case you missed it: this preemptive war just accidentally killed 13 rebels.
- New at Reason: Matt Welch on Obama’s Doctrine of Preemptive War (reason.com)
- Must Watch of the Day: Jon Stewart on Obama’s Libya Speech (bigcitizen.wordpress.com)