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?
This is the part of your hero’s journey where you’re tempted to refuse the return. Having ascended to the greatest height of political power our planet offers, you have been expected for some time to bring the boon back from the heavens and bestow it upon the world, or at least upon your ideological fellows. As you’re fond of saying, elections have consequences.
You have done some of this. But in matters of war, of geopolitics, of, say, Guantanamo Bay, you have not. (There are some 70 fewer detainees at Guantanamo under the current administration, and Obama has reserved the right to hold prisoners indefinitely without trial. The Bush Administration released some 500 detainees itself, leaving 242, compared to Mr. Obama’s remaining 172. Yes, you can read that to say that George Bush release 10x as many Guantanamo detainees as has the man who made promising to close the facility and axiomatic plank in his election platform.) Some might say, sir, that you are keeping the boon.
This brings me to Libya, where the complaint from many has been that U.S. air-strikes there, and our larger assumed role, smack of Bush Era (that is, like, so0000 three years ago) policy. On Monday night, you tried to diffuse that.
You said, if I may paraphrase:
Some nations may turn a blind eye toward looming humanitarian crisis, but the United States is different. (American exceptionalism on Line one, sir.)
We are engaging in military action in Libya to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
We are protecting innocent civilians from the brutality of their own government.
We are preemptively ensuring that the likely exodus of destabilizing refugees into Tunisia and Egypt won’t happen. (Preemption on Line 2.)
We are not fighting on the rebels’ behalf.
Our goal is not regime change.
Our military action is focused on preventing a humanitarian crisis, but our larger interests (and our role in Libya’s future) is open-ended. Because:
Our military goal is short and concise, but our long-term geopolitical, nay, geosocial goal is nation-building. (Campaign rhetoric denouncing nation-building is lighting the hell up on Line 3, Mr. President).
But remember, our military goal is not regime change.
But our larger, peaceful, goal, once regime change happens, is nation-building.
We have a duty (and an implied right) to do this.
We, the Administration, is really afraid of the phrase “regime-change.” Except freaking Hillary. Biden thinks it’s about the revolving cast of former popstars endorsing ProActiv.
Because you’re Barack Obama, I need to say something about your delivery. The speech was clear in small pieces, but lacked the uniting coherence that got you elected (probably because it lacked all of the ideology that got you elected). At times, you seemed overly defensive. Clintonian. Which makes sense, given that I can’t be alone in thinking this is Hillary’s Kosovo.
What you need to do now:
Convince us that everything going on in the Middle East and North Africa will not end with yet another summit of rich Western nations drawing lines on maps. We’ve been there before, sir, (see, if you’re Woodrow Wilson, nationalism and self-determination are all well and good for anyone north of the Mediterranean) and it, more than freedom, is why proponents of Arab nationalism and Islamism so often define themselves against a what they see as a recalcitrant, oppressive, evil West.
You’re on quite a tight rope. Of course we can’t stand idly by while people are slaughtered by their governments, but shit, Mr. President, doesn’t it feel awful opportunistic to say that we’ll go ahead and spend our troops and treasure when there’s a humanitarian crisis that just so happens to also involve American (and let’s not forget NATO) interests? Doesn’t that sound like so much bullshit? Doesn’t that sound like imperialism? What you’ve said, in effect, is that you won’t wait to see images of carnage before we act (asterisk) when there’s a clear and compelling national interest in stopping that carnage. It’s like we’ve forgotten about the oil in Sudan, and that it goes, of all places, to China. But yes, let’s secure Italy’s, France’s, and Spain’s Libyan reserves post haste, Mr. President. This is alliance at its finest.
Mr. Obama, I don’t envy your job. I don’t envy your responsibilities. But I do have to live with the consequences of how you choose to execute your duties. There’s that word again, consequences. The consequences of your administration seem to be a muddled, confused, engagement against a regime that has, by any standard, forfeited its already-tenuous right to rule. I understand that you don’t want to seem eager to orchestrate Gaddafi’s ouster (Ms. Clinton on Line 4, sir), and I respect that. You’ve also said things like “Gaddafi must go”, but you announced yesterday that you’re not ready, yet, to call for negotiations that would send him packing. That’s a little too cautious given that we’re already bombing him, don’t you think? Actually, that’s the whole problem: you have to be overly cautious about calling for regime change precisely because we’re bombing him, don’t you?
What a mess. Suspicion of chemical weapons in Libya is on Line 5. There’s a G.W. Bush on Line 6, and he’s ready to help with your next crack at this.
Remember all those things we realized too late that we should have done before engaging Iraq in 2003? John Boehner does, and he’s pretty sure the President doesn’t. From CNN:
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Obama Wednesday complaining that “military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission.”
“In fact,” Boehner said, “the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the American people by members of your administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered.”
Among other things, Boehner asked whether it is acceptable for Gadhafi to remain in power once the military campaign ends.
“If not, how will he be removed from power?” Boehner asked. “Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests?”
Boehner also posed other questions for the president. Since the “stated U.S. policy goal is removing” Gadhafi from power, “do you have an engagement strategy for the opposition forces? If the strife in Libya becomes a protracted conflict, what are your administration’s objectives for engaging with opposition forces, and what standards must a new regime meet to be recognized by our government?” his letter said.
Another piece on CNN.com has John P. Avlon proposing that the Left feels as though the world is experiencing a third Bush term. An interesting excerpt:
An objective assessment of the Obama record on foreign policy shows that he has not been the soft liberal ideologue that conservatives want to run against. An excellent book by my Daily Beast colleague Stephen Carter, “The Violence of Peace,” analyzes Obama’s War Doctrine at length from a legal, but readable, perspective. Carter writes, “On matters of national security, at least, the Oval Office evidently changes the outlook of its occupant far more than the occupant changes the outlook of the Oval Office.”
While Obama has changed the unilateral style of the Bush administration, he’s kept much of the substance. He has drawn down troops in Iraq, as promised. But on many other fronts, he has found that campaign rhetoric often does not square with the responsibilities of governing.
Because many on the left define themselves in opposition to authority, they are historically quick to turn on presidents of their own party for being insufficiently liberal — whether it is Truman’s and Kennedy’s Cold Warrior enthusiasm, LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War, Jimmy Carter’s budget cuts or Bill Clinton’s welfare reform.
Frankly, I’m surprised that no one has brought up the fact that Clinton’s 1999 airstrikes in Kosovo were basically lifted directly from Wag the Dog.
Dateline: Monday – Unrest and protest in Syria and Saudi Arabia today. Continuing crises in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya. And those are just the things going on at the top of the news cycle having to do with wider North African/Middle Eastern developments. There’s the natural, humanitarian, and nuclear crisis in Japan. The irradiation of Japanese milk and spinach, long lines and scant groceries and gas. There are new reports, and, it seems, new evidence, of military atrocities on the part of a rogue element in the US Army in Afghanistan.
Are you outraged? How does your soul feel? I feel sick, disgusted, and tired. And I’m a relatively safe, healthy, American civilian. The image of President Obama at the foot of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil last night triggered all kinds of cynical thoughts for me about the audacity of hope. Then I read a piece suggesting that perhaps the President was taking a kind of solace there. Some might say he’s been taking solace for weeks, failing to lead, etc. I don’t know how I feel about all of that. I don’t know if he was prevailed upon by State to authorize the strikes in Libya when his gut seemed to be telling him to keep the US role there as limited as possible. I don’t know.
But I do know this. 1) We private citizens and co-people of Earth cannot succumb to soul fatigue. We cannot ignore the news, and we cannot settle for the coverage we are given. Free people especially must use their freedom to stay informed. That’s just how it is. 2) If you are the praying kind, I hope to God you’re praying. For everything. For everyone. 3) Find some solace, but please, God, don’t roll up.
Look, I don’t think Iraq and Libya are the same situation or have identical sets of circumstances. I do think that the only legal rationale for either action is the pretty standard assumption that once your regime starts killing civilians, your regime loses the sheen and protection of an observed sovereignty among the nations. It’s the closest thing to international common law we have.
Related: Does it feel to anyone else like as soon as President Obama took office the media stopped reporting very much about Iraq? Everyone keeps saying Afghanistan has become Obama’s war, but you just don’t hear very much about Iraq, or about protests and calls to hasten the official end of our presence there. You hear bits and pieces, you hear reports, but it’s not like it was. I don’t have anything else to say about that, really.
In my heart, I feel like striking military targets in Libya to impede government forces from killing people is a good thing, but let’s not forget that the Libyan resistance is not unarmed. They’re underarmed, to be sure (there’s no Bill of Rights in Libya), and yes, the government fired first. The sham regime lost any lingering claim to sovereignty it had that day, which was weeks ago. It’s simply just the case today that in attacking Libya now, we’re not only protecting peaceful protesters. We’re also aiding an armed resistance. The armed resistance is acting in response to its unjust treatment by the regime in the only way that makes any rational sense.
I know a lot of people who believe in total pacifism. People who believe that nations and oppressed groups can collectively turn the other cheek when their civil disobedience is met with murder as a matter of national political policy. Most of these people are Americans who will never really have to worry about choosing between ideology/Anabaptist piety and protecting their families from agents of the government. Some of these people tell me that the cross is God’s sign that violence is not overcome by violence, and most (not all) of these people live in relative safety. At any rate, we Americans, we French, we British, most of us, anyway, have the absolute privilege of being morally and spiritually vexed. People living through it need to do just that, and they need our prayers, our support, our solidarity. Figure out what that means for you. Then do it.
When deep space exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that name everything: the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks. – Fight Club
We all know that companies (and specifically, the economic polices set forth by mercantilism) played a huge part in the founding of European America. It’s probably safe to assume with The Narrator that when they run out of stadiums, giant companies will, indeed, have a hand in naming the stars in the next push of industrial expansion. Behold, friends, The Facebook Nebula.
There’s a reason “branding” has become such a ubiquitous noun-verb in recent years, and it’s obviously tied to our increasing consumption of dynamic visual media. In a nifty meta-critical move, sites like Brand New and Brands of the World help we consumerist natives remember our lives in corporate logos even as they help curate (you knew it was coming) good and bad design features from which emerging and veteran creatives can draw inspiration or caution.
I’m working on a new infographic for the blog that I hope to put up later today. During my research, I was struck by the succinct political history implicit in what’s going on here:
Considered in light of the grist-milling Soviet system, “designer: unknown” and “contributor: unknown” become rather chilling political statements. “Status: Obsolete” heralds the world we still live in: Soviet weapons and technology still unaccounted for, Soviet scientists still off the grid, regional economies still shaky, but also millions and millions of people more free; in some places, truly, in others by comparison and in degree. Imperfect, even dangerous as all of this is, we’re reminded again and again that people cognizant of their dignity as human beings will rise to demand that dignity recognized, that sovereignty civilly reckoned with if not yet fully honored.
The CCCP’s obsolescence was as far from inevitable as is the rise of true freedom in Russia even now. Consider all that remains to be seen as revolution moves through North Africa and possibly beyond. We have seen freedom ramp up, and if and when it coalesces into free societies and governments, it will be the people that name everything: Free Egypt, Free Tunisia, Free Libya. Free Iran. What might these emerging societies teach us about our own bondage to the Dutch West India Companies of our day, and to entrenched political attitudes that keep us from the business of prudent, engaged, informed civil life? Might this be the end of the world as we know it? Let’s hope.