Against Our War in Libya

by Michael Brendan Dougherty

When your country fires 122 of 124 Tomahawk missiles into a country in a single day, and your pilots are doing bombing runs, then your country is leading a war on that other country. That’s true even if the French President got his jets there first, and your president only announced it in a radio address from Brazil.

So there are some problems with this.

First: Seriously? A third war in the Muslim world?

Second: Exactly what we’re doing isn’t clear. Obama has said “Gaddafi must go,” while the military says Gaddafi is not on a “targeting list.” (Who is?) The U.N. authorized a No-Fly-Zone with the explicit intention of protecting civilians, and achieving a cease-fire. But the rebels in Benghazi are lining up for another attack on Gaddafi’s forces. And if this is a No-Fly-Zone why are Americans firing on buildings and Toyotas? Are Libyans… flying those?

Third: How was this decided? It was awfully quick. Michael Cohen, of the American Security Project, points out:

First of all, from everything that is being reported (and Josh Rogin as usual is doing yeoman’s work on this front) it appears that the White House only made the decision to go to war in the last several days. Consider that for a second; for weeks the US was resisting the use of force in Libya — and then within what appears to be a 96-hour period we went from opposition to intervention to supportive of intervention to escalation far beyond a no-fly zone to actually going to war. And all of this happened without any national debate, any serious consultation with Congress and any strong statement of objectives and purpose by President Obama.

As [James] Fallows points out [at The Atlantic], the only debate that seemed to happen was the one in the Oval Office… to change the President’s mind about the use of force. And it should be noted that the person who seemed to have the most impact on shifting the President’s view was the woman he beat in the 2008 Democratic primary, in large measure, because of her misguided support for another military intervention that wasn’t properly thought thru.

Obama’s decision to commit forces contradicts his statements during the campaign that “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Some liberals are pretty pissed about this.

Fourth: Who are these rebels we are fighting for? Are they what The Washington Times describes as “learned” liberals who say, cutely, “We love America to bits” or are they the type of East Libyans who decided to haul off to Iraq for the chance to kill Americans. Probably both. But who knows? We don’t, and that’s not something we deliberated about before launching this.

Fifth: Even if Obama wants this to take “days not weeks,” we can’t be sure that it will go that way. If Gaddafi manages to hold out — not unthinkable when there are Libyans that feel loyal to him and threatened by the rebels — the ineffectiveness of the No-Fly Zone and the “humiliation” it risks for Obama/Sarkozy/Cameron will be used as the argument for getting boots on the ground. Suddenly we will be left rebuilding a divided tribal region that pretends to be a single country. Poor King Idris who once led Cyrenaican nationalists during World War II is said to have cried when the British informed him that he must also become Emire of Tripolitania. If the United States follows the Pottery Barn rule and tries to glue Libya back together, we’ll also be crying.

Sixth: There are plenty of other revolts happening in the world. Yemen, Bahrain, maybe Morocco. There are plenty of other terrible leaders who kill people. Now that we’ve intervened in one civil war, it can become a tactic of rebellions to appeal for multi-national-sponsored air support. Exactly how do we plan on distinguishing the just from the unjust? Obama has announced no strategic principle on which he is basing the decision to commit our troops, money, and honor to other people’s struggles.

I wouldn’t forbid you from taking the same position as Hillary Clinton, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Samantha Power and Paul Wolfowitz. We have freedom here. And maybe Obama will really wrap this up in a few days, and there will be no truly nasty unintended consequences, and only basically better-than-Gaddafi guys will be in power in Libya ever after. And of course, you can believe that our bombs will only fall on people who deserved to be killed by American bombs. That’s your faith-based initiative if you want it.

But, if you maybe think this was a bad idea, or at least it is being carried out badly, you are in good company. The group of people who are pissed about our Libyan adventure runs from Dennis Kucinich through Glenn Greenwald and Josh Marshall to George Will, Timothy P. Carney and Rand Paul.

Michael Brendan Dougherty is a contributing editor to /The American Conservative

— he and they were both against Iraq too.