The world cried for armed intervention in Libya for a month. The United Nations, the Arab League, the Libyan rebels themselves demanded we come in. So we did. Led by American firepower, British resolve, and—I can’t believe I’m writing this—the purifying moral outrage of the French, we stepped in and stopped a massacre.
Seventy two hours later the world that demanded this war began to turn against it. I believe that breaks the record.
Had we not struck when we did, with Gaddafi’s tanks poised at the gates of Benghazi, any arguments on the merits of this war would be strictly academic. The rebellion would be crushed and the fate of Libya’s citizens would be in the hands of an enraged, triumphant, Muammar Gaddafi. And man, would we have heard it from the world then!
I don’t think president Obama expects gratitude. He’s wise enough to know that public opinion pockets the gains, stuffs them under the mattress, and wakes up asking what have you done for me lately. Though you’d think their sleep might be disturbed by 20,000 lumps of Libyans under the Serta.
What our president is doing, as the winds of public opinion shift from tail to head, is exerting leadership. And whether he is leading us in the right or wrong direction is a fair question for debate, and one we can have now that the rebels face a civil war instead of the Colonel’s justice.
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we start. The world called for, but didn’t want, a no-fly zone. They wanted a no-die zone. But war is not magic. Wars involve death and destruction, and they’re almost never won by airpower alone. A no-fly zone is just a polite way of saying, “You go take care of it, so if somebody gets hurt, they can’t blame us.”
With that out of the way, let’s examine some of the arguments for and against the war in Libya.
The President exceeded his constitutional authority when he sent our armed forces into battle without congressional approval or a declaration of war. This is true enough, though he has plenty of good, and bad, company. Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush did the same thing.
Still, he could have waited on Congress and used his executive authority to ship fifty-thousand wreaths to Benghazi instead, perfectly legally.
Another argument is that we took too long to get in. We should have gotten involved before Gaddafi’s forces regrouped, when it would have been easier to help the Libyans overthrow him.
Well, I should have painted the house last year. Time is always on the side of the aggressors, until it isn’t. We should have gone in earlier. The counter argument is that we shouldn’t have gone in at all. Add them up and divide by two and I’d say we got it about right.
Some isolationists on the right and pacifists on the left argue that American force should never be used under any conditions other than a direct, Pearl Harbor, attack.
This position has the benefit of consistency, but I wonder: How many innocents need to die while we’re having anti-imperialism flashbacks?
Another objection is that we don’t have any idea who will wind up in power in Libya once Gaddafi’s gone, and whoever it is, they won’t be grateful. When you help an overseas nation gain its freedom, they take the freedom, but they never return the favor.
Don’t be so cynical. Take the long view. Without France’s help we’d all be speaking English now—the King’s English. A little more than a decade after a French fleet, the airpower of the 18th century, turned the tide at Yorktown, we repaid them by almost going to war against France. But we squared our debt a hundred sixty years later, on the beaches of Normandy.
Realists complain that Obama should have known he’d get sandbagged by the Arab League, that they’d turn against him the moment the bombs started falling.
They have a point there. But what can you expect. The Arab League has had a lot of turnover in the dugout lately; a lot of managers have been fired this spring by the Arab Street. No wonder the rest are skittish.
You hear this one a lot: If we go into Libya, what about Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia? We can’t take a stand in Libya and do nothing in those other places, it’s pure hypocrisy!
This is the most tedious, immoral argument of all. It’s like saying we shouldn’t splint a broken leg because we haven’t cured cancer. We can’t cure the world’s ills, but we can help some people, some time. This is one of those times.
It’s a bogus argument anyway, barely worth refuting. But I can do the job in eight words:
Doing everything is impossible; doing nothing is unacceptable.
You hear this one from all quarters: Our goal in this war is not clear. Are we there to enforce a humanitarian no-fly zone or to take out Gaddafi?
This is the only persuasive argument I’ve heard so far against our intervention. Maybe we can’t say it out loud, maybe Obama and the other nations involved know what they have to do, but it can’t be said in public.
That’s okay. I understand the need for diplomacy and, for a delightful change, so does our president. I, however, am not a diplomat. And between you and me and the lamppost, this war won’t be over until Colonel Gaddafi is hanging from it.
Because if we learned anything from Iraq it is this: Fighting a war of choice is a dreadful business. The only thing worse is fighting it twice.