Thursday, March 17, 2011

Libya: Courage, Prudence, and War-mongering

My colleague's apt poem selection today brought my mind back to Libya.  Reading some thoughts on the day, I found this piece by Max Boot impugning the manhood of President Obama for not acting decisively with force against Qaddafi.  Mr. Boot's war mongering and call to arms is quite honestly shocking in both the sophomoric criticisms of Obama's machismo and blind belief in American triumphalism.

Mr. Boot calls Obama's response "vacillating" and declares, "It is not far-fetched to imagine a Barack Obama Boulevard in Tripoli if the president finally finds the courage to act."  Such appeals to vanity belittle the realities of war and the costs of the use of force.  It is a paradigm that sees a single tool for all tasks, the hammer.

Mr. Boot outlines how easy it would be for the U.S. to enforce a no-fly zone, "if we first neutralize Gadhafi's air defenses."  But of course, before they are neutralized, the must be destroyed which would likely necessitate putting American troops in harm's way.  Mr. Boot glosses over that part, lest we think the use of force is in fact a dangerous endeavor.

He tries to frighten us by declaring, "Given the way the U.S. and our allies have turned against Gadhafi, at least rhetorically, he could easily decide to seek revenge by returning to his old tricks. Considering that Gadhafi was responsible for the midair bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, among many other acts of terror, that is no idle threat."  Except the U.S. has not done anything but speak negatively of Qaddafi, a course of action that Mr. Boot spends his time decrying.  

Still, he erects more boogeymen when he says, " if he is able to keep power by force, it will encourage other Middle Eastern despots to emulate his example.... The Arab Spring could easily turn into a very dark winter that will arrest and reverse the momentum of recent pro-democracy demonstrations...the long-term winners will be al Qaeda and their ilk."  It is as if Mr. Boot believes the mere mention of Al Qaeda will compel people to act.  In truth, he draws some broad conclusions from a very specific situation, while entirely neglecting the on-going history of democracy through force in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To be sure, there are many different views on what we should do about Libya.  Here at DCExile, Ben and I have disagreed about whether to intervene or to not intervene.  Leslie Gelb writes in TheDailyBeast.com that if Britain and France and the Arab League believe so strongly in their ominous warnings, they have the ability to act independent of the UN and the United States.  I am certainly frustrated by others seeking the shade of our military umbrella when it suits them, then shouting at us when they want to be in the sun.  Will Wilkinson also criticizes Mr. Boot, but comes down firmly on the side of a libertarian ilk, which feels too isolationist to me.

There are not easy answers to this problem, but Max Boot seems all to willing to embrace a bloody solution who's motivations lie in a misbegotten sentiment of American triumphalism while grossly ignoring our recent history with democratizing military adventures.

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