These days, countless conservatives have taken to criticizing President Obama over his lack of leadership on Libya. They do have half a point: Obama has dithered and demanded, to no effect.
In his defense, however, it’s not clear what a good outcome to that country’s brewing civil war would be, from the perspective of this country’s national interest. Libya is like Iraq: a colonial creation forcing three different tribes into a single nation that has been held together by a charismatic strongman.
Meanwhile, eminent politicians including John McCain, John Kerry, and Joe Lieberman are pushing for a US-enforced “no fly zone” in Libya. This could be seen as an act of war in itself or a precursor to war. It would certainly make Qaddafi’s fight more difficult: air power is one undeniable edge his government has over the rebels.
I understand the humanitarian arguments for intervention. Indeed, such arguments were one reason that I was a squish on the second Iraq war rather than an outright opponent of it. I also understand that not all conflicts are going to go as badly as Iraq, just as most of America’s post-Vietnam engagements turned out to be basically walks in the park, despite all the warnings.
Having said all that, a great part of me hopes that Obama goes a different way on this one. Why? Because there’s something uniquely perverse about this country’s foreign policy being dictated by people who were on the losing ticket in the last three presidential elections.