Don’t Be So Sure

Posted on March 21, 2011 by

Is President Obama right about Libya? 

For some progressives it’s an easy call. 

If you don’t want the United States as the world’s dominant military power, then you simply oppose any use of force. 

After all, it’s hard to trust the government which brought you Vietnam and Iraq. 

On the other hand, Kadafi is a brutal tyrant.  And he’s crazy. 

Why shouldn’t the U.S. military intervene to save lives? 

I won’t try to solve this here. 

I will admit, though, that I’m not aligned with those who believe American foreign policy is just plain evil.  I’m not a Chomskyite or a Zinnist. 

In fact, I’m a little bit of a cold war “revisionist.” 

Tell me that doing away with the Soviet Union wasn’t good for humanity and civilization?  And that despite McCarthyism, Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua (I could go on), the United States wasn’t fulfilling its post-World War II mission by helping to liberate the people of Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Estonia, the Ukraine and even (god help them) Russia? 

So we’ll see what happens in Libya. 

I suppose it’s possible for the U.S. to get entangled and for Obama to take the fall. 

But I can’t sort it out right now. 

And for those who seem so certain, I can only say: 

Don’t be so sure.

Comments (10)


  1. Frank Stricker says:

    why not try to sort out some of those issues. Really crappy behavior ok because we helped to liberate eastern europe? Mountains of issues there.

  2. Greg says:

    Our foreign policy has been evil. but President Obama is making the effort to de-evilize it. Our foreign policy gave Haiti a horrible government and how many incredibly bad leaders around the world have we supported with billions of dollars, including Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Ladin. The thing about this intervention that makes me happy is we got the UN and the Arab League to sign on before we went in and we are only slated to be involved the first few days. I understand things might slide off track time wise a bit, but I don’t think it will slide off by much. This is a thoughtful administration. And by the way, we did not do away with the Soviet Union. That is just another Republican myth. We are not served when we buy into those things. They just happened to have a leader at the time who saw the folly of their ways, including spending themselves into bankruptcy. In Afghanistan I believe.

  3. “Progressives” are all over the place on the intervention in Libya, and then subdivide again on various strategic questions. Walzer is against, Alterman for, the New Republic crowd all in, and I heard an interview yesterday with a guy who wrote a book with Chomsky talk eloquently about how we, meaning the all who have taken the plunge, needed to rescue Libyans from slaughter by a tyrant who announced he had slaughter on his daily schedule. I’m in, and crossing fingers.

    On the Cold War, Lou, that’s another matter and a long discussion, but I would remove the word “mission” from your vocabulary about foreign policy. Let Palin and those possessed with religion and a sense of America’s profound “exceptionalism” go on about our special mission. That way lies American empire, wasted lives and treasure.

  4. And this from John Judis, who used to write for In These Times before moving to TNR

  5. Let’s start with the fact that the invasion of Libya and the U.S. involvement in it violates the U.S. Constitution. Two wrongs don’t make it right. The Obama administration cannot simply conduct military operations overseas without the consent of the congress. President Obama said as much when he was a U.S. Senator in 2007.

    If you ask some of the communist leaders around the world, they would tell you that the western powers are “crazy.” It cuts both ways. The only time the United States is concerned about humanitarian aid and uses military aggression is when there is something to be gained. Like cheaper OIL or a strategic military base where they can be closer to the action of attacking workers’ movements around the world. By the way, the Soviet Union will be back shortly. Just you wait and see.

  6. kerry c. says:

    “By the way, the Soviet Union will be back shortly. Just you wait and see.” This would be a good thing?

    Right, and Dennis Kucinich wants’ Obama impeached.

    Obama has sent his notification to Congress, complying with the The War Powers Act, which is being debated all over the place. So join in. But it’s a bit surprising to me that the left in opposition to multilateral intervention with a UNSC vote of ten countries, wavering support from the Arab League, and a commitment to no ground troops, would today be shedding crocodile tears over the slaughtered of men, women, and children of Benghazi had the intervention not taken place. But they would still have their anti-imperialist principles intact. Nicely done. Hands clean.

  7. kerry c. says:

    Since do doubt someone will bring up Yemen and Bahrain, this from a man whose positions I often disagree with, but it seems to the point:

    “These are debater’s points made by people who have no reason to fear that they will ever need to be rescued. It is important that this “logic” be exposed for what it really is, because it sounds so plausible. Is it hypocritical of the United States to act against Qaddafi and not against Al Khalifa? It is. But there are worse things in this suffering world than hypocrisy. Are we inconsistent? We are. But should we abandon people to slaughter, should we consign freedom fighters to their doom, for the satisfaction of consistency? Simone Weil once remarked that as long as France retained its colonial possessions it was morally disqualified from the struggle against Hitler. It was a breathtakingly consistent and stupid remark. We should be candid. All outrage is selective. Nobody cares about everything equally. Nobody can save everybody, and everybody will not be saved. If everybody who deserves rescue will not be rescued, should nobody who deserves rescue be rescued? If we cannot do everything, must we do nothing? The history of help and rescue is a history of triage. There are also philosophical and moral and political preferences that determine the selectivity of our actions, and those preferences must be provided with valid reasons. Maybe we should be intervening in Burma or Bahrain: let the arguments be made, the principles and the interests adduced.”

  8. kerry c. says:

    Quote is from Leon Wieseltier

  9. kerry c. says:

    And this from a man of the left who has opposed almost everything the U.S. has done in the Middle East, Juan Cole, who also knows a thing or two about the area.

    Here are the differences between George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current United Nations action in Libya:

    1. The action in Libya was authorized by the United Nations Security Council. That in Iraq was not. By the UN Charter, military action after 1945 should either come as self-defense or with UNSC authorization. Most countries in the world are signatories to the charter and bound by its provisions.

    2. The Libyan people had risen up and thrown off the Qaddafi regime, with some 80-90 percent of the country having gone out of his hands before he started having tank commanders fire shells into peaceful crowds. It was this vast majority of the Libyan people that demanded the UN no-fly zone. In 2002-3 there was no similar popular movement against Saddam Hussein.

    3. There was an ongoing massacre of civilians, and the threat of more such massacres in Benghazi, by the Qaddafi regime, which precipitated the UNSC resolution. Although the Saddam Hussein regime had massacred people in the 1980s and early 1990s, nothing was going on in 2002-2003 that would have required international intervention.

    4. The Arab League urged the UNSC to take action against the Qaddafi regime, and in many ways precipitated Resolution 1973. The Arab League met in 2002 and expressed opposition to a war on Iraq. (Reports of Arab League backtracking on Sunday were incorrect, based on a remark of outgoing Secretary-General Amr Moussa that criticized the taking out of anti-aircraft batteries. The Arab League reaffirmed Sunday and Moussa agreed Monday that the No-Fly Zone is what it wants).

    5. None of the United Nations allies envisages landing troops on the ground, nor does the UNSC authorize it. Iraq was invaded by land forces.

    6. No false allegations were made against the Qaddafi regime, of being in league with al-Qaeda or of having a nuclear weapons program. The charge is massacre of peaceful civilian demonstrators and an actual promise to commit more such massacres.

    7. The United States did not take the lead role in urging a no-fly zone, and was dragged into this action by its Arab and European allies. President Obama pledges that the US role, mainly disabling anti-aircraft batteries and bombing runways, will last “days, not months” before being turned over to other United Nations allies.

    8. There is no sectarian or ethnic dimension to the Libyan conflict, whereas the US Pentagon conspired with Shiite and Kurdish parties to overthrow the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime in Iraq, setting the stage for a prolonged and bitter civil war.

    9. The US has not rewarded countries such as Norway for entering the conflict as UN allies, but rather a genuine sense of outrage at the brutal crimes against humanity being committed by Qaddafi and his forces impelled the formation of this coalition. The Bush administration’s ‘coalition of the willing’ in contrast was often brought on board by what were essentially bribes.

    10. Iraq in 2002-3 no longer posed a credible threat to its neighbors. A resurgent Qaddafi in Libya with petroleum billions at his disposal would likely attempt to undermine the democratic experiments in Tunisia and Egypt, blighting the lives of millions.

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