Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I'm of two minds about our new incursion against Qaddafi, personally. One sympathizes with the rebels and would absolutely love to see a monster like Qaddafi driven from power. Furthermore, Clinton (I believe) claims that what really struck Obama about the no-fly zone was the opportunity to reorient American foreign policy in the Middle East to take more account of human rights abuses and take a step away from CIA-backed client states and toward support of democratic reform. That end, I think, is unimpeachable.

The problem, however, is in the means. First and foremost, as I've said for years, I believe peace is underrated in America. There is a general lack of recognition of the costs of war and of the difficulty of leashing "dogs of war" already loosed.

More specific to this situation, I have little confidence either that the limits of our intrusion were sufficiently spelled out, or that all the likely outcomes were considered. Can we be confident that our military will leave once "Qaddafi stops firing on his own people" even if it becomes clear that he will stay in power? If he is toppled and replaced by another dictator? Can we prevent this spectacle from providing autocrats in Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere the cover they need to fire on their own protesters?

If nothing else, Libya has given us an opportunity to discuss a particular problem with our status as the "world's police." On Saturday night the BBC was talking with an American pundit about the degree to which this was truly an international coalition vs. just another American intervention. He answered with an interesting point: to an extent every multi-partner intervention is an American-led one, not because America is more meddlesome or bellicose than other nations (though we might be) but because we have the only military force on the planet with the necessary infrastructure to manage a full-scale aerial and maritime force of any real size.

That is an astonishing statement. This was a war that Europe, and to some degree the Arab League, wanted, that Sarkozy went to the mat for. It has official UN sanction. In fact, most of the air "sorties" are now supposedly conducted by non-US actors according to NPR this morning. Even in this Europe-"led" UN humanitarian effort, however, they had to rely on our navy to control logistics and our planes to do some initial bombing while they got their ducks in a row. Yet neither the United Nations nor the "first world" have to contribute a single euro, yen, or loony to the upkeep of the obscenely oversized military apparatus that's busting the American budget and hardening our people to the sight of violence and suffering. Nor can we forget the disproportionate cost in blood that the United States also pays.

Those who believe that down the path of world military supremacy lies madness, that waging an arms race with the entire world is a fool's game, would do well to remember that if they ever succeed, it will be not with the support of the developed world, but over its protests.

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