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Published on: March 19, 2011
Obama’s War

“Vote for a Republican,” my grandfather used to say, “and you get a depression.  Vote for a Democrat and you get a war.”  That seemed like a pretty good rule of thumb in the twentieth century: Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover gave us depressions, and Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy (with […]

“Vote for a Republican,” my grandfather used to say, “and you get a depression.  Vote for a Democrat and you get a war.”  That seemed like a pretty good rule of thumb in the twentieth century: Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover gave us depressions, and Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy (with an assist from Lyndon Johnson) all gave us wars.

Then came the twenty first century and all bets were off.  George W. Bush gave us two wars and a depression; President Obama has already presided over two slack economic years and now seems bent on giving us his first war.

It’s not that the President suffered from a war shortage, with two inherited conflicts (both of which I supported and continue to believe the US must fight) from his predecessor.  He escalated the one in Afghanistan and has followed George W. Bush’s proposed timetable in Iraq.  Now he has committed US forces to a third conflict in the Middle East in ways that eerily echo the last administration.

President George W. Bush prepares to fly to Iraq in June 2003 (Wikimedia)

This President is, to be sure, doing what he can to distinguish his policies from a Bush administration he vociferously opposed when running for office.  With open support from the Arab League, a vote from the Security Council and the support of France (though not of Germany, which also abstained at the Security Council), President Obama has a broader international mandate for action in Libya than President Bush had for Iraq.  And President Obama understands one thing that President Bush never quite did: that American power works best when others perceive us as reluctant rather than over-eager to act.  Getting the French and the British to take the lead won’t legitimize the military campaign in the eyes of Islamic militants, but letting others step out in front sometimes in not a bad thing for an American president to do.

Yet when it comes right down to it, this President’s approach is not all that different from the last administration’s on matters of peace and war.  Military assisted regime change as a solution to humanitarian abuses perpetrated by a government with a history of terrorism linked to a firm belief that more democracy in the Arab world will lead to a more stable region: this is much more Paul Wolfowitz than Colin Powell.

A certain pattern seems to be emerging in this President’s foreign policy process.  On the one hand, he is instinctively drawn to the cool logic of the Jeffersonian realists who believe that the safest and wisest course for the United States is to draw in our horns and make peace with decline.  If he could design the world from scratch, he would build one where the United States had a much smaller military budget and a much shorter list of strategic international interests.  No drone strikes, no confrontations with Iran, no troops in combat overseas and no prisoners at Guantanamo: just the peaceful construction of high speed rail, the implementation of the health legislation and a focus on education.

But when it is time to choose, this President consistently chooses a more active course.  He would rather not think about Iraq, but if he must, he will stick to George W. Bush’s withdrawal plans.  He would rather not have a war in Afghanistan, but since he has one he will escalate the drone strikes and step up troop levels.  He would very much have preferred the Libyan situation to resolve itself without American participation, but forced to choose between action and doing nothing, he acts.  He listens to the realists and makes them feel important — but at least since their ideas on how to handle Israel went so badly wrong, he doesn’t seem to take their advice.

I hope the Iranians are paying close attention, by the way.  This President is much more likely to pull the trigger than they may think.

If the realists and this President are slowly drifting apart, the President is getting important support from some of the same people who supported George Bush in Iraq until the going got tough.  Some use the term “chicken hawk” to describe hawks who haven’t served in the military; the real chicken hawks in my view are the many politicians who are all for the use of force before the shooting starts but turn tail and seek cover once the war turns out to be hard.  Senator John Kerry is a classic example; he has plenty of colleagues in the Senate and beyond who voted for both the Iraq and Afghan wars while they were popular, and then blamed Bush for everything that went wrong when life got hard.

These reminted humanitarian hawks will drop Obama and his Libyan war in a heartbeat should things go wrong.  They are loud but not serious about war; they are too callow about the risks of war before we get in, and too callow and glib about the cost of defeat once the war starts.  They feel more acutely than they think; they feel humanitarian anguish when dictators slaughter their people and advocate unnecessary war.  Pretty soon they will feel the horror, the waste and the political unpopularity of war and conclude — as so many did in Iraq — that no price is too high to pay to bring the war to an end, however inglorious and chaotic.

President Obama beware:  If US troops are fighting in Libya in 2012 the ‘humanitarian hawks’ will likely be out campaigning against you in New Hampshire.  It’s emphatically not a good sign that these weak-winged humanitarian hawks seem to have a lot of weight in Obama’s councils.  There are no weaker pillars on which a wartime president can lean, no less trustworthy allies when the going gets tough.

Right now in the heat of righteous indignation, the humanitarian hawks are overlooking the contradictions in the President’s approach.  Yemen and Bahrain are up to some nasty tricks too; why aren’t we planning to bomb them?  These days our noble humanitarian hawks wave their hands in contemptuous dismissals of such parallels; if the Libyan crisis morph into a nasty war they will use these comparisons to attack the policies which they now urge on the White House.  Ask the members of the Johnson and Bush administrations who went through exactly this kind of critique from former proponents of their wars.

Rebels hoist a Libyan flag in Brega, Libya in early March. Gaddafi’s forces have since recaptured the city. (CNN)

But all that said, President Obama has climbed out on a limb and it is not easy to see how he can avoid a choice between a humiliating climb down or an open ended commitment to what could quickly become our third simultaneous Middle Eastern war.  He has talked himself into a corner and we must hope he can climb out of it as deftly as possible.

Part of the problem is timing; by waiting for the cumbersome wheels of international diplomacy to turn, President Obama gained important international legitimacy but lost valuable time.  A week ago, momentum was with the rebels and the declaration of a no-fly zone might have broken the will of Gaddafi insiders to defend the regime.  (In fairness to the President, one should observe again that what much of the world saw as the excessive eagerness of the Bush administration to go to war has created a real foreign policy problem for his successor.  Like it or not, the United States must try harder to convince world opinion that we aren’t thirsting for new wars in the Muslim world.)

Another problem is the gap between the UN resolution (which calls on Gaddafi to refrain from massacring the people of Libya) and President Obama’s stated objective of, well, regime change in Libya.  “Gaddafi must go,” the President has repeatedly said.

Any outcome that leaves Gaddafi in office will be a defeat for the United States, but it is far from clear that the establishment of no-fly and no-drive zones plus air strikes will bring Gaddafi down.  What does Obama do if the no-fly and no-drive zones and the airstrikes don’t work?

More, the political objectives of the UN resolution are unclear.  The resolution aims to ban Gaddafi attacks on rebels, but doesn’t call for removing him from office.  Literally interpreted, this amounts to a call for an informal partition of Libya into pro- and anti-Gaddafi portions with foreign air forces keeping the peace between them.  This hardly sounds like a recipe for long term stability — or even for resolving the crisis if Gaddafi refuses to stand down.

If there is a guiding strategic vision at work here (a big if, given the number of countries involved in designing and pushing the resolution), the plan seems to be for air strikes to stop Gaddafi’s progress on the ground and to degrade the morale of regime loyalists in the hope that the regime would crumble away.  Should that fail the backup appears to be that over the somewhat longer term massive military and political aid to the rebels would help them take over the whole country without direct participation of foreign ground troops, even as tightening sanctions reduced Gaddafi’s access to fuel, weapons and bribe money.  I would not call this a bad plan — and it might be the best that could be devised under the circumstances — but it is, on the face of it, filled with risk.

Those of us outside the government have no way of knowing what intelligence the President and his top aides used to shape their final decision.  Clearly the administration took its time and aired the question thoroughly.  As in the (Bill) Clinton years, an activist Secretary of State pushed a reluctant Pentagon towards war.  When that happens (as opposed to when a gung-ho military drags the civilians toward war) one can usually be sure that the arguments against intervention have been thoroughly vetted.

At this point, we must live in hope:  hope that the President and his team know what they are doing, and hope that an international show of force will bring a better future to Libya (which means a future with no Gaddafis in it) without further bloodshed.

Alternatively, if the Libyan rebels with help from Egypt and NATO can arm and organize themselves well enough to take advantage of Gaddafi’s immobility and isolation to defeat the regime on the field of battle, that would also in the long run likely be a better outcome for Libya than the bloody restoration of the Great Loon.

Let us hope and pray that all goes well and that the Gaddafi and his sons fall before more blood is shed.  But make no mistake about it: President Obama is taking big risks here and if things go wrong there will be few Republicans or Democrats willing to help him.

show comments
  • vanderleun

    “At this point, we must live in hope…”

    Well, live in hope, die in despair.

    Or, as a more rustic swain once said, “Hope in one hand. Defecate in the other. See which one fills up first.”

  • Mogden

    Good thing it’s unconstitutional to go to war without it being declared by the Senate.

  • http://newmediatheory.net Lorenz Gude

    Here called “humanitarian hawks” I noticed Andrew Sullivan over at The Atlantic called them ‘liberal interventionists’ to distinguish them from ‘neocons’. As the son of an FDR liberal who grew up among Jacksonians I have trouble with the human rights crowd. I think human rights include the right to resist people like Gaddafi with force so long as there is some chance at success. Otherwise you have the right to shut up, smile and bide your time. Still the neocons are former liberals like me and I think the urge to support the Libyan rebels springs from the same liberal urge to see people be free and self determining. Maybe it is a question of which generation of liberals – 3.0 4.0 – as WRM has discussed earlier. Given the Libya has a population of 5 million nearly all along the coast it represents a far less challenging military problem than Iraq or Afghanistan. Natural tribal divisions with jihadis looking for opportunities to exploit those divisions seem to me the biggest problem. Still. what is special about Libya is the Great Loon. Like his fellow loons, Mugabe and Chavez the world would be a better place with him out of power.

  • LAG

    “American power works best when others perceive us as reluctant rather than over-eager to act.”

    I just reviewed Churchill’s relationship with FDR. You must be talking about some other America.

  • Richard Fagin

    Um, didn’t Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge give us “The Roaring Twenties”?

    The U.S. economy wasn’t so bad under Presidents McKinley, T. Toosevelt,and Taft, either.

    Eisenhower presided over a pretty deep recession in 1958, but form most of his term Americans did quite well, thank you.

    I don’t even have to mention Roanld Reagan to put the rest of you opening paragraph in the intellectual trash can.

    Face it, Hoover, Gerry Ford and the two Bushes were anomalies. They weren’t particularly economic conservatives. Hoover is long dead. Time to bury him once and for all.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Tell it to my grandfather; 1929-33 loomed pretty large for him.

  • Jack

    “But when it is time to choose, this President consistently chooses a more active course.”

    Actually, I think you mean to say, “When it is past time to choose….”

    My belief is that Obama made this decision on the basis of how it makes him look, not on any fundamental principles.

    And to be honest, the President seemed to have a better grasp of his final four picks, and more interest, than he did about the situation in Lybia and his justifications for US involvement.

    But I will agree on this: A man with no experience fighting (our commander in Chief), especially a big man (US armed forces), is far more likely to start fighting if not fighting makes him look a fool, a coward, or worse. No matter how ineffectual his skills are. And Obama’s role is leadership, but you can bet he’ll be setting a whole new set of ineffectual rules of engagement.

    And what does Obama say? There will be no boots on the ground. What if one of our planes is shot down? What if an air crew is captured? My guess is that Obama hasn’t got past considering how it will make him look.

    And while Obama may be quicker than thought to intervene, he is also more likely to intervene where the US has little national interest.

    And maybe President Obama will ask Louis Farakan to send back the 5 million given him by Quadafy. It’s well past time for that request.

  • Bruce

    I am not sure Obama was studying this as in-depth as people think. It is likely he was just paralyzed. Community organizing doesn’t train one for decisions like this. That said, maybe a little paralysis is a good thing. First of all, how do we choose which regime induced humanitarian disasters we intervene in? There are many throughout the globe. Second, we don’t have any money to fight anybody anyway. Maybe we have to “become Switzerland.”

    It’s a complex world and the fact that America is insolvent and probably on the verge of a hideous economic outcome has to enter in to our thinking on where we intervene and spend money.

  • Dracovert

    Hypothetical:

    If a person does a bad job, is fired, and someone else is brought in to clean up the mess, whose fault is the mess? Whose fault is the cost of cleaning up the mess?

    So, if one political party is closely associated with a particular policy or a particular course of action, and that policy or action is enacted into law and proves to be expensive, wasteful, and/or corrupt, who is to blame? What if the expensive, wasteful, corrupt activity extends over several years, whose responsibility is it? What if the expensive, wasteful, corrupt activity extends into another administration, then who is at fault? If the new administration tries to reform the expensive, wasteful, corrupt activity and is blocked by the rules of congress from reforming the malodorous policies, whose responsibility is it now?

    Without major revision, FDR’s Social Security System will bankrupt this Republic. Eisenhower and every president since has warned that SS is unsustainable, but every serious attempt to reform the system has been blocked by Democrats.

    LBJ’s War on Poverty cost $6.6 trillion and was finally, mercifully, ended by President Clinton, but only after leaving us with a $6 trillion national debt, President Reagan tried to end the WoP in the 1980s and was repeatedly blocked in the senate, primarily by Tip O’Neill, and trillions more in debt piled up between Reagan and 1995.

    Similarly, Medicare and Medicaid may be well-intentioned but they are quite capable of bankrupting the Republic. (What are the implications of the United States of America going bankrupt twice, once over Social Security and again over Medicare?) Instead of trying to solve the problems of Medicare and Medicaid, President Obama seems intent on increasing the scope of the problems.

    Then the Democrats’ Unaffordable Housing Project triggered the worldwide markets crash in 2008. I defy you to show me a single Republican law or policy that remotely contributed to the Housing Bubble. On the contrary, President Bush repeatedly tried to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the chief criminals in the housing crash, and was repeatedly blocked in congress by Dodd, Obama, and Frank, the three principal recipients of Fan and Fred campaign contributions.

    So, how does WRM get off with this statement:

    “Then came the twenty first century and all bets were off. George W. Bush gave us two wars and a depression … ”

    Umm, what “depression” would that be, exactly? The one that Carter and Clinton created with Carter’s CRA (1979) and Clinton’s policy of declaring all mortgage borrowers as being “qualified” regardless of their demonstrated inability to pay their mortgage notes?

    One of our problems is that intelligent ideologues are rational, erudite, and eloquent in many areas, not including areas where their ideological biases intersect with reality; at that point brilliant ideologues become as dumb as turnips.

    My thesis is that the genius of the Constitution is in the collective intelligence of diverse individuals (the Tea Party is the latest manifestation), and not in the imposed collectivism of ideologues which have repeatedly failed, most spectacularly in the Soviet Union.

    WRM is in serious danger of falling into this ideological trap if he thinks that “George W. Bush gave us two wars and a depression … “, when in fact George W. Bush did everything possible within the Constitution to prevent the Great Recession (not depression).

    If WRM disagrees with this statement, show me in the historical record where I am wrong. My horseback estimate is that he cannot do that.

  • John Lynch

    Obama didn’t plan ahead. The nearest carrier was far out of position, and no one told the Navy or anyone else to be ready for this.

    When in the last 50 years have we started a bombing campaign without a carrier? Libya is a coastal country. It’s inexcusable that our Navy isn’t already there.

    There was no contingency plan, the President either would not make a decision or changed his mind at the last minute. Even a week’s notice to be ready would have gotten our military into position.

    This was a hasty decision to go to war. Whatever the detractors of both George Bushes may say, they didn’t go to war without extensive military planning beforehand. Even after 9/11 the military had weeks to get ready.

    Against Libya this haste probably won’t cost us. But it’s something to keep in mind for next time, and hopefully the President learns from this mistake. Indecision can cost lives.

  • skdjnyhg0o

    Analyzing Obama’s actions is difficult because he certainly has intelligence reports that we are not privy to.

    Supporting the rebels may prevent them from turning to Iran for help. Remember, Ho Chi Minh asked the US for help to get France out of his country before he turned to the USSR for help.

    If I was cynical I would also say delaying start military assistance to the rebels gives Kadaffy a chance to wipe them out before the west wipes him out. Then the west can prop up a compliant puppet oil monger in the ensuing power vacuum.

    There is are two real difference between Libya and Bahrain. 1) Lockerbie and other types of support for terrorism. 2) Iranian subversion. Are the idiots in politics and the media sophisticated enough or uncynical enough to care? I doubt it.

    Lockerbie is sufficient cause to remove Kadaffy. The only criticism I have is that the US waited so long.

    Also I’ve seen reports that the UK prime minister is looking good in the UK for his role in the diplomacy for the no fly zone. How ironic that the UK let out the lockerbie terrorist on pretend humanitarian grounds in order to further commercial deals with Libya. For that reason alone the UK deserves a leading role in this to atone for their two faced behavior. (Although some might blame Obama’s snub of our special realtion ship for part of that act.)

  • Luke Lea

    “with two inherited conflicts (both of which I supported and continue to believe the US must fight)” How must is that must? How long continue? Full disclosure: I supported both wars in the beginning. But doesn’t there come a point, especially in Afghanistan, when the costs to our national security or national interest or military prestige or however you define what we are fighting for, exceeds the benefits?

  • skdjnyhg0o

    “If I was cynical I would also say delaying start military assistance to the rebels gives Kadaffy a chance to wipe them out before the west wipes him out. Then the west can prop up a compliant puppet oil monger in the ensuing power vacuum.”

    Actually, the fact that Britian and France are now leading this thing makes this more likely to be the plan, than if it was simply “unilateral” US action. The US can be cynical and imperialistic but is a babe in the woods compared to Europeans who invented colonialism, (and who for example prodded the Indians to murder American settlers in the various wars in colonial times).

  • Luke Lea

    Jack wrote: A man with no experience fighting (our commander in Chief), especially a big man (US armed forces), is far more likely to start fighting if not fighting makes him look a fool, a coward, or worse.”

    Good insight. It especially applied to Lyndon Johnson, who, I am given to understand, did not distinguish himself for courage back in his fist-fighting days in high school in Texas. The same applies to another president from Texas. We might even call it the Texas syndrome.

    The psychological “problems” of our leaders are often determine the course of history, alas.

  • http://moneyrunner.blogspot.com/ Moneyrunner

    Is Obama “Slow” … as in stupid?

    Think back. When did you know, I mean really know, that sanctions were not going to stop Libya’s K. Daffy? A week ago … two weeks ago …. last month ….. even before sanctions were imposed because sanctions never work? Forget whether you think the US ought to get involved in Libya or not, when did you KNOW sanctions were not going to stop K. Daffy?

    Well, congratulations you little Mensa candidate. You’re smarter than the President. Because the “administration sources” let it slip that Barack Hussein Obama didn’t know it until Tuesday.

    ABC’s Jake Tapper does the best he can with the material he has, but nothing disguises this fiasco:

    For President Obama, Libyan Tipping Point Came Tuesday: “What We’re Doing Isn’t Stopping Him”

    On Tuesday, President Obama became clear that diplomatic efforts to stop the brutality of Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi weren’t working.

    Presented with intelligence about the push of the Gadhafi regime to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the president told his national security team “what we’re doing isn’t stopping him.”

    I’m not sure whether to believe this or not. If it’s spin to make Obama look good it’s a huge fail. We can go back to assuming that Obama was pushed into supporting action to counter the public perception that he was a feckless bystander. If it accurately reflects Obama’s judgment or intelligence it indicates that a serious effort should be made to impeach him as a danger to the Republic on grounds of stupidity.

    It should be noted that humility is not part of Obama’s persona. Here’s what he told the members of the Democrat Finance Committee:

    “The first time around it’s like lightning in a bottle. There’s something special about it, because you’re defying the odds. And as time passes, you start taking it for granted that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama is president of the United States,” Obama said. “But we should never take it for granted.”

  • Robert

    A fundamental principle for Obama and others on the left is that US force is legitimate only when it’s not in our national interest. This notion runs consistently through everything they say and do. And a large part of the left — almost all of it, I’d say — is made up of just those “humanitarian hawks” you describe. As always, this intervention will turn out badly.

  • Emile

    Le singe de capitulation mange du fromage!!!

    The surrender monkey eats some cheese!!

  • dave

    I’m confused. Where are Code Pink and Cindy Sheehan? Isn’t intervening in Middle-Eastern wars foolish and just plain wrong? Why are all these people who were for invading Iraq and then were against invading Iraq because Saddam was evil but Bush lied and children died — why are they for this?

  • Hugh Watkins

    Feels like WWII – France and UK together; US in the background; Germany against.

    OK, there are differences, but I think the fact that the charge was led by a Mediterranean country (France)in solving a Mediterranean problem is significant. I expect that we will see other such contingent coalitions arise to deal with contingent situations.

  • Anthony

    “War is the health of the state”…Randolph Bourne. What really are we contemplating fighting for? Certain ideas, certain people, certain regimes, certain world resources, certain power interests, are all matters historically proffered to assuage contested killing. But, death and related darkness accompanies such choices and choices are easier to talk about when you’re removed from the action.

  • Tennwriter

    WRM,
    You’re more optimistic and pschyological about the interior thought and character of our leaders than my tendency is to be. It may be just that you understand more, and you thus have the tools to do the job.

    Paul Johnson claimed that FDR was grateful when Hoover went out on campaigning saying how different the two men were, because they weren’t really that different. The true difference was between Coolidge on one side and FDR and Hoover on the other side.

    I appreciate your point about humanitarian hawks being unreliable. And correct that no Republicans are going to feel a deep desire to help Obama given how badly he has behaved towards them. Neocons may give him some grudging approval, but with qualifications in number.

    I found this to be one of the weaker of your articles I’ve read with a number of statements that deserve the Lilekian ‘Perry Mason raised eyebrow’ award. Still everyone has a bad day, and you still enlightened me despite that.

  • Dmacdonald

    skdjnyhg0o says:: “Remember, Ho Chi Minh asked the US for help to get France out of his country before he turned to the USSR for help.”

    Well, Ho had been a Comintern agent for twenty years before he wrote that letter to Truman (and also one to Chiang Kai-shek.) The letter was written before the Cold War, and when the US and USSR (and Chiang) were still wartime allies. Ho was also a member of the French Communist Party, the Chinese Communist Party, and had formed the Indochinese and Thai Communist Parties. He had “turned” to the USSR long before 1945. We shouldn’t confuse tactics with strategy.

  • Tom Holsinger

    “Blaznee: Just for the record …

    Enforcer Drone: I’m listening.

    Blaznee: I thought this was a bad idea.

    Enforcer Drone: Just for the record, you’d better hope not.”

    Spaced Invaders – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100666/quotes

  • sirius

    Lockerbie is sufficient cause to remove Kadaffy. The only criticism I have is that the US waited so long.

    What’s it been–25,26 years?

    Better late than never, I guess. Unfortunately, the President has chosen to frame our response as a humanitarian effort, which unnecessarily obscures what should have been a strong message: we have long memories and will hold a grudge, thus you mess with us at your peril.

  • Oblio

    Ouch, Mr. Mead, you really know how to let us down hard.

    There is no apparent US strategy or endgame here. We waited until almost the last moment, and had to be shamed into action by France. The Western powers are committing an affront to the Decolonialist Narrative, but without the self-confidence to simply remove the man and put in someone we like better. It is de facto imperialism without the courage to say so. How is this supposed to end well? Is another Oil for Food program of sanctions coming down the road?

  • el polacko

    do we know exactly who these ‘rebels’ are? could it be that we are over there supporting al qaida??

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    As a Jacksonian I don’t feel we have a dog in this fight, and “Boots on the Ground” is out of the question.
    “Iran better watch out?” Please, this is the “Present” President; he isn’t going to do anything he isn’t forced to do by others (Hillary, Britain, France!). Take no position, make general high sounding statements everyone can agree with, be a blank slate that others can project their own positions onto, avoid principles, avoid leadership.
    “Hope and Change” my [rear end] this guy is all about maintaining the status quo and taking none of the risks leadership demands.
    I hereby demote Jimmy Carter to “2nd worst President” in my lifetime.

  • Luke Lea

    Are these these our new allies?

    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/libya-rebels-push-west-towards-kadhafi-stronghold/story-e6frfku0-1226016205995

    Maybe we should consider supporting only non-violent protest, such as we have seen in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain. If a regime machine guns peaceful demonstrators, then let the missiles fly, and only so long as required to stop the bloodshed. Just a thought.

  • Oblio

    The story is that the Fifth Fleet left Bahrain on Wednesday.

  • Dracovert

    WRM March 19, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Dear Sir:

    Your epistemologically and chronographically flip answer to my query is unworthy of you. I am some years older than you, and I have always considered myself to be the last child born during the Great Depression. My father rode the rails during the real Depression looking for work, so I can appreciate your grandfather’s concerns. I would appreciate it if you would not be dismissive of my concerns. In the great scheme of things, K. Daffy is miniscule, $15 trillion (and counting) in national debt is huge, since it is starting to undermine our ability to maintain our security and our well-being.

    Thank you.

  • http://aconservativeteacher.blogspot.com A Conservative Teacher

    Hope… that pretty much is summing up the Obama Presidency (well, that and the word ‘spend’). I prefer results myself.

  • JLK

    Since I be,ieve WRM to be one of the better Geopolitical thinkers today I am a bit disappointed in this article. It almost seems as if it was not clearly thought through.

    Unless you are talking about the PERCEPTION created by the “Chicken Hawks” (great definition BTW) after things got tough saying Bush rushed to war in Iraq is ridiculous. He gave speech after speech in the UN and the UN passed 14 “Resolutions” on Iraq including demands with “consequences” in the run up to the war.

    And every time I hear the myth about “WMD” being the cause I want to throw up.

    Lastly, if the US would have acted with immediate resolve in the first place, Diplomatically or otherwise, the troops now supporting Ghadafi would have broken to the other side early on and we wouldn’t be stuck (again) with the sight of a nutty Dictator killing thousands of his own people.

    It is too late now to help without getting too involved (boots on the ground)so we might as well admit defeat and go back to arguing over golf games, vacations and a Biblically bad health care plan.
    JLK

    PS Afghanistan is not the “right war” it is a sinkhole and Bush knew it. So he turned it over to the UN. Now the “Chicken Hawks” have a second “hot war” on their hands, handed to them by their own amateurish candidate who used it as a stick to bash Bush. Now he (and all of us) are stuck with the consequences.

    BTW where are the body countson the front page of the NYT?

  • Al Bauernfreund

    I read the phrase “I hope the Iranians are paying close attention..” and was troubled. One of the authors of the draft UN resolution requesting the imposition of a no-fly-zone over Libya was Lebanon which is now governed by Hizbollah. As Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution recently pointed out, Hizbollah is “.. a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranian Republican Guard..”. So, would anyone care to speculate as to why Iran, far from being troubled by President Obama’s robust if belated response to the behaviour of the Libyan regime, appears to be keen to encourage a Western military intervention. What is in all this for Iran?

  • Fred

    _do we know exactly who these ‘rebels’ are? could it be that we are over there supporting al qaida??_

    It not only could be, it probably is (or others just as bad).

  • Chris Davis

    Great article. Feel the need to comment on a few points though:

    I am skeptical of the conflict you have imagined between what the President is “instinctively drawn” to or would “rather think about” and what he, in the end, “chooses” to do. Analysis of this situation is useful; unless you have access to his journal, psychoanalysis based on mere conjecture is not.

    I would also point out that while John Kerry and co did vote for the Iraq war, they did not vote for the Bush Administration’s subsequent handling of it regarding de-baathification, reconstruction etc; it seems unfair to imply that those who support invasion must also support the handling of the war.

    I would also posit that a President should not make decisions based on whether or not his “weak-winged humanitarian hawk” advisors — by which I assume you mean Samantha Power, Gayle Smith and co — will stand by him later, but rather based on whether their advise makes sense in the present.

    Finally, yes, Yemen and Bahrain are up to some nasty tricks, too. But it’s misleading to equate this situation with what might have occurred in Libya, which is the potential wholesale extermination of the opposition in Benghazi and the East.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      My main point about the humanitarian hawks is that they are a fragile group on which to base your support for a conflict that turns out to go on for any length of time. They are not only picky eaters when it comes to the grim realities of war, there are not many of them.

  • Jim.

    “And President Obama understands one thing that President Bush never quite did: that American power works best when others perceive us as reluctant rather than over-eager to act.”

    So we need another gallant Frenchman trying to persuade Humphrey Bogart that the French fight is the American fight, too?

    Nice in theory, not bad in practice, but what happens when you have an extremely fluid situation like the one in Libya — where the rebels might have been snuffed out while Obama dithered, trying to get permission from the UN and Brussels, when that permission might never come?

    Some decisiveness is necessary, especially when trying to establish the deterrent power of the US. (Especially now that gallant Frenchmen seem in such short supply.)

    “Jeffersonian realists who believe that the safest and wisest course for the United States is to draw in our horns and make peace with decline.”

    Wait, what? Jeffersonian? Who said, “Millions for defense, not a penny for tribute” and then proceeded to send the US Marines to “the shores of Tripoli”??

    “Yemen and Bahrain are up to some nasty tricks too; why aren’t we planning to bomb them?”

    They’re in Saudi Arabia’s sphere of influence, and North Africa is in Europe’s.

    Always look for answers to rhetorical questions. They can be surprisingly informative. :)

    “No drone strikes, no confrontations with Iran, no troops in combat overseas and no prisoners at Guantanamo: just the peaceful construction of high speed rail, the implementation of the health legislation and a focus on education. … But when it is time to choose, this President consistently chooses a more active course.”

    Great. Wonderful. Fantastic. So our strategy will not support our activity, but eternally shortchange it…. brilliant, just brilliant.

    “I hope the Iranians are paying close attention, by the way. This President is much more likely to pull the trigger than they may think.”

    If the Iranians are paying *very close* attention, they may become convinced that America is already too overextended (through poor husbanding of our economic and military resources — poor *strategy*) to do anything effective about whatever it is they want to try… especially if they have help from someone like China or Russia.

    “President Obama beware: If US troops are fighting in Libya in 2012 the ‘humanitarian hawks’ will likely be out campaigning against you in New Hampshire.”

    Worse for Obama; he’ll probably have Hillary out there too, after jerking her around so forcefully through this whole Middle Eastern 1848. Though maybe there’s a chance there will be a rapprochement between those two, now that Obama’s settled on a course for action.

    “Literally interpreted, this amounts to a call for an informal partition of Libya into pro- and anti-Gaddafi portions with foreign air forces keeping the peace between them. This hardly sounds like a recipe for long term stability — or even for resolving the crisis if Gaddafi refuses to stand down.”

    Hm. Well, who’s sitting on the part of the country with the oil?

    Hey, someone’s got to get people thinking about that.

    ….
    By the way, speaking of 1848 — you’re a historian and journalist, and know historians and journalists… who are the players in these new dramas? Is there a Kossuth? A Radetzky? A young Franz Josef? Any of the Louises — Phillipe, Blanc, Napoleon? A Mazzini or Garibaldi?

    There has to be more than just that guy from Google.

  • Kenny

    As my grandmother from the Old Sod would say, “Hope in one hand and [something else] in another and see which gets filled first.”

    And indeed, it will be the stuff of the former that we’re going to end up holding in our hands what with this Libya fiasco.

  • WigWag

    “I hope the Iranians are paying close attention, by the way. This President is much more likely to pull the trigger than they may think.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Perhaps, but the Iranians could just as easily learn a different lesson from the American attack on Libya. After all, there was a time not long ago that Libya had a nuclear program; it was pursuing nuclear weapons just like the Iranians are now. The Libyans gave up their nuclear aspirations, but after only a few years, they were attacked by the United States anyway.

    It seems to me that if I was a leader in the Iranian regime, I would view the take home message as this; whether I give up my nuclear aspirations or not, the West, led by the United States, is going to attack by air and sea and go all out for regime change. In this circumstance, giving up my nuclear aspirations gets me nothing and makes me substantially weaker not substantially stronger.

    My guess is that regardless of how it turns out, the U.S. attack on Libya will soon be viewed as a serious strategic blunder on Obama’s part (just one of many). The Iranians will probably accelerate their nuclear program in response to what’s happening in Libya, not slow it down.

    Would we be seeing the same attack on Libya now if Gaddafi possessed a nuclear capability? It’s possible, but I doubt it.

    The Iranians are likely to conclude not that they need to make a deal with the West-a deal didn’t help Gaddafi. The American blunder in Libya will motivate the Iranians to seek nuclear weapons with even more relish.

    Personally I think Professor Mead is right; I think Obama will be willing to launch an attack on the Iranians. The irony is that the decisions he’s made about Libya will make an attack on Iran all the more necesary.

    It looks like there won’t be any money for those high-speed trains Obama wants anytime soon. Which is a shame because a high speed train would surely shorten Professor Mead’s trips from Penn Station to Rhinecliff or Poughkeepsie by a considerable amount of time.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Perhaps, but the high speed tickets would probably be so expensive that I’d stick to the slow trains. You can grade a lot of papers on a slow train.

      • Walter Russell Mead

        The problem is that the Irish debt got so large partly to spare German banks from taking a write down. If Ireland had pushed its banks to force creditors to take write downs on their bad loans, Germany would be stuck with a big bill to bail out German banks. As it stands, Germany is pushing Ireland to make policy concessions to get a reduced interest rate on debt that perhaps the German government should have been stuck with.

  • John Doe

    Those who support regime changes in the middle east should fund their own charities and fight their own wars.

    The USA should not be in the nation building business nor does it owe Israel security.

    Choose sides carefully.

  • Luke Lea

    Let’s revisit this issue. Mead always has interesting things to say on matters of foreign policy and this one looks like it may not be going away. What are the chances ten days in?

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    We sowed the SEED, and now we are reaping the harvest in the Middle East.
    I said at the time, that installing a Democracy in Iraq was one of the greatest strategic maneuvers in Human history. It was an example of cultural judo of the first water, putting the naturally corruption reducing Democracy in what was once the most cosmopolitan Arab nation was the best response to 9/11.
    Bush is going to gain huge credit for this, as he should.
    Everyone is worried about the Moslem Brotherhood, and Islamists taking control from the Tyrants. But, I wonder how much credit they will get in the polling booth, as I seriously doubt that they will be able to take control without a vote. And even if it’s the case of “One man, One vote, Onetime” that is still a Victory for us, as it is a Cultural recognition on their part that only a Democratic vote can confer Legitimacy.
    We Win!!!

  • Luke Lea

    Prof. Alan Kuperman, writing in USA Today, sounds like the voice of sanity. Excerpts:

    “[I]ntervening actually magnifies the threat to civilians in Libya, and beyond. That is because armed uprisings, such as Libya’s, typically provoke massive state retaliation that harms innocents. By contrast, non-violent movements, as in Egypt and Tunisia, rarely trigger so brutal a response.”

    “The New York Times reported that violence threatening Libya’s civilians was ” provoked by rebels.” Aiding the Libyan rebels also encourages copycat uprisings in other countries, proliferating the risk of atrocities.”

    “Despite ubiquitous cellphone cameras, there are no images of genocidal violence, a claim that smacks of rebel propaganda.”

    “In Bosnia’s conflict of the early 1990s, for example, the most influential Muslim politician, Omer Behmen, later told me that his whole strategy was to ” put up a fight for long enough to bring in the international community.” The result? Three years of war and 100,000 dead.

    In Kosovo, a senior ethnic Albanian official, Dugi Gorani, confessed on BBC: “The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) of course realized that.” NATO’s intervention backfired by escalating the conflict, leaving 10,000 dead and a million expelled from their homes.

    In Darfur, Sudan, the top rebel leader fought for three years and then rejected a peace offer in 2006, despite retaliation that killed more than 100,000. Abdul Wahid al Nur later explained that he was waiting for greater U.S. and British intervention “like in Bosnia.”

    Among Prof. Kuperman’s recommendations:

    “Expend substantial resources to persuade states to address the legitimate grievances of non-violent domestic groups. Ironically, Obama has applied little pressure on Yemen and Bahrain, which slaughtered peaceful protesters, but he bombed Libya for responding to armed rebels. This sends precisely the wrong message to the Arab street: If you want U.S. support, resort to violence.”

    “Do not coerce regime change or surrender of sovereignty unless also taking precautions against violent backlash — such as golden parachutes, power-sharing, or preventive military intervention. If the White House insists on Gadhafi’s departure, it should guarantee asylum for him and a continuing share of power for his senior officials and allied tribes. Simply demanding regime change could drive him to genocidal violence as a last resort, while the international community lacks the will for a preventive deployment of ground troops.”

    The whole thing is here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-03-22-column22_ST_N.htm

    What does Mead think?

  • http://weightloss-247.com/item.php?id=4824 annericed

    Let him so. While writing on this subject can be sufficient. But really nothing new.

  • http://www.fortliberty.org Leshawn Thomas

    According to a recent poll, only 82% of Democrats would re-elect Obama if they could vote today. They voted for hope and ended up with change.

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