What to think about Libya

President Obama can’t catch a break. Conservatives have complained that Obama has been dithering and indecisive on Libya. Liberals, on the other hand, have expressed grave reservations about the conflict.

I think the charges of dithering are unfounded. There were very important reasons to secure international agreement – especially from the Arab League – and not stepping in unilaterally. It would not have benefited Libyan rebels to be soon as U.S. stooges – nor would it be in our best interest to be seen rushing into a third invasion of a Muslim nation.

But I think Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall sounds some very legitimate concerns in a post he called, “Just a bad, bad idea.” As he summed the situation up, “We’re calling a time out on a really ugly situation the fundamental dynamics of which we aren’t in any position to change. That sounds like a mess.” And Ezra Klein makes a compelling point, too, when he says we’re getting into this without a clear understanding of the depth and potential cost of our commitment. But, as he says, “Once Libya is our problem, it will stay that way.”

The situation in Libya was bad. Gaddafi, who initially looked vulnerable, was able to regain his footing and mobilize mercenaries and the heavy arsenal at his disposal. His indiscriminate retaliation was atrocious. But it’s unclear now whether he’s sufficiently dug in that it will take more than simply safeguarding rebel forces from aerial attack to give them an actual fighting chance. Involvement beyond that by Western troops will not be viewed kindly in the Arab world. (Already, some members of the Arab League are disturbed by the extent of the military action, which they believe went beyond what was necessary to establish a n0-fly zone.)

Part of me is glad the United Nations agreed to the no-fly zone, but another part wonders if we are not taking the first steps into another endless, expensive overseas commitment that will have lasting consequences we cannot yet comprehend.

6 Responses to What to think about Libya

  1. Kristen says:

    Hey Dan – didn't see you guys pass us on the road yesterday after all – hope your trip home was uneventful too.

    I have never pretended to know much about the intricacies of foreign policy, but always found myself a little intrigued with the development of foreign relations through history, beginning with the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary, and continuing through the eternal push and pull between non-interventionist policies and treaties which made us more invested in the interests of foreign nations, especially during the two world wars. With global economy being what it is now, I wonder if any American politician can ever return to the isolationist soapbox that was so popular some 75 years ago.

    Still, I know enough about parenting to understand the basic premise that Ezra Klein makes – once you make a problem yours, it stops being someone else's problem, and the best way to encourage true independence is not to interfere with someone else's problem but let them resolve it alone. I think we currently have U. S. military in some 150 countries, including bases in almost 40 of them? This article may be considerably out of date, but current DOD publications consistently refer to maintaining a "strong military presence" in many parts of the world. The big delay (and controversy) in withdrawing US troops from Iraq since sending them there has been whether they can maintain an adequate security without us. In other words, making their problem their problem again, not ours. What if we just stopped making all of these problems ours in the first place? At least until some foreign aggressor came here to make it our problem? If we focused more on alternate sources of energy and relied less heavily on foreign trade, could we hope to be non-interventionist again?

  2. DanRadmacher says:

    Jonathan Chait and Matthew Yglesias appear to have quite the debate going. Read Chait's response and associated links to get a good feel for the extremes of thought on the liberal side of the spectrum.

  3. DanRadmacher says:

    Kristen,

    It was a very uneventful drive home, thanks. Did you get to Pete in time?

    It is interesting to ponder a world where America doesn't feel the need to assert itself so many places. Unfortunately, I think the global reality for the foreseeable future will make an isolationist profile pretty much impossible. Look what happened when we took our eye off Afghanistan after the Soviets were repelled. Maybe if we had paid more attention then and done a little non-military-style intervention, we could have given the Afghans an alternative to the Taliban, and prevented al-Qaida from gaining a safe harbor.

  4. Kristen says:

    But all the intervention (interference) in the world can't change the course of events, like all the preaching in the world can't make someone convert their religion. You yourself commented on the University of Chicago article this morning which concluded that foreign occupation, not religious extremism, drives most suicide bombings. Any high school student could tell you that you can't be bullied when you're invisible, but people will hate you when you rise to popularity and choosing others to help get there. Granted, there have been wars that would have had a tragic ending (I'm thinking WWII) without American intervention, but for the most part I think that we need to take a step back and let some of these countries find their own way, until and unless it threatens our soil here. We didn't manage to stop 9/11 even with as much involvement as we had at the time. But maybe I'm just yearning for a simpler time.

    And yes, we managed to get Pete in time; he was very happy to be sprung!

  5. Frank Young says:

    "We didn't manage to stop 9/11 even with as much involvement as we had at the time."

    Hi Kristen,

    I suggest that 9/11 happened because we have too much involvement in so much of the world over.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/nov/24/theob

  6. Kristen says:

    Frank, that was kind of my (convoluted) point. I agree.

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