About the same time as I posted a diary against the idea of US military intervention in Libya, George Will wrote a column challenging those in favor of said intervention to answer a series of questions about what they were truly trying to achieve. Now David Frum has posed a series of questions to those of us who are against the intervention.
I've decided to take him up on his offer.
To place this in context, I'm not an isolationist or a Buchananite, to the extent that the two are distinguishable. To the contrary, I supported the invasion of Iraq -- and still do -- and the use of the US military to advance US foreign policy objectives.
I don't, however, believe that US military force should be used to make certain people feel good about themselves. I thought, and still think, our intervention in Somalia was one of the most profoundly stupid actions ever ordered by an American president. The conduct of that expedition bordered on criminal. Similarly, our intervention in Haiti was ill thought out and accomplished nothing. I was glad President Bush had the wisdom to ignore calls to intervene in Darfur.
Now, on to Frum's questions.
- If Muammar Qaddafi violently suppresses the Libya uprising while America stands by, will Arab and Muslim opinion really believe that we were “neutral”? Or will they believe that we tacitly support Qaddafi – as they believed through the 1990s that we tacitly supported Saddam Hussein?
If there is one thing we should all have learned by the time we reach adulthood it is that we can't change what other people believe. And running through life overly concerned about what other people think rarely results in good things. It results only in your loss of morality (see Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan) or principles (see David Frum... oops). I don't know that the Arab world believed that we supported Saddam throughout the trade embargo and enforcement of the no-fly zone over Northern Iraq or the establishment of a Kurd state within his country. If they did this they'll probably believe we support Qaddafi. On the other hand, if we intervene to support the "rebels" undoubtedly they will have been part of a CIA plot and ostracized. We have to make our decisions based on the outcome we desire, we can't chase the dragon of public opinion in the Arab world.
- What behavior can we expect from a Muammar Qaddafi who survives this uprising? Qaddafi turned to the West after 2003 because he was frightened by the overthrow of Saddam. Having crushed an uprising – and successfully defied an American president – which way will Qaddafi turn next? How confident are you that he won’t revert to terrorism, if not against Europe then against a newly volatile Egypt right next door?
If David Frum had predicted in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq would convince Qaddafi to abandon his nuclear weapons program this question would have more meaning. Unfortunately, as we do not have access to the Vulcan Mind Meld we don't know what Qaddafi will do. Of course, he could return to terrorism. He might also see our reluctance to boot him from power as a reason to move closer to us and away from Europe. More to the point, how do we know a successor regime will not turn to terrorism. This is one of Donald Rumsfeld's "known unknowns" and we have to face it regardless of which choice we make. Knowing what we do about Qaddafi -- he's basically a craven blowhard -- and what we do about the opposition -- bupkis -- I prefer to go with the known entity.
- Iran crushed its uprising in 2009, with impunity. Hezbollah has seized power in Beirut. Hamas holds Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood is rising in Egypt. Who looks like the ascendant power in the Middle East today? Iran or the United States?
At best this is a strawman. Iran has controlled both Lebanon and Hamas since about 1980. There are cultural reasons why the Arab world does not look towards Iran for leadership. To Frum they may all be brown foreigners but there are immense differences in language, culture, history, and, yes, religion.
- How many Libyans will flee the country after the rebellion is crushed? Where will they go?
Lots. Albania and Italy. Next question.
- If you are the king of Saudi Arabia, what conclusions do you draw from the fall of American ally Mubarak and the survival of American enemy Qaddafi?
Suave qui peut is what I'm guessing. From the fact the Saudi's have made the decision to intervene in Bahrain leads one to believe that the Saudi's know they are in this alone. The real question you have to ask is what would the Saudi's do if they saw us intervene in a country where the legitimate ruler is putting down an armed insurrection. Which action would be more likely to scare the bejeezus out of our friends?
- If you are the prime minister of Iraq, what conclusions do you draw from the apparent regional ascendency of Iran and the apparent decline of the United States?
Iranian influence in Iraq is real. It has been for some time. Why Frum thinks that a secular Sunni ruler putting down an armed insurrection indicates that Iran is more powerful or influential than it was two years ago is beyond me.
- If you are the president of Syria, what conclusions do you draw from the success of Qaddafi’s brutal suppression of revolt?
Probably the same one you drew when your father slaughtered his opponents at Hama. Quite honestly, I think the Qaddafi has little to teach the Assad regime about putting down revolts.
- If you are the president of Venezuela and you lose an election, how will you react when President Obama tells you that you “must” honor the election results?
Probably with laughter. But that has nothing to do with Libya.
- If you are a Libyan insurgent and you are offered arms by international Islamist groups, do you say yes or no?
Iinsurgent groups tend to accept weapons and money from just about anyone. During out own Revolution we accepted weapons and equipment... and troops... from just about anyone. That didn't mean we were owned by them. But more to the point, if you are a Libyan insurgent odds are you are already an islamist and equipped by islamists groups. Libyans were only barely surpassed by Saudis as foreign fighters present in Iraq. Libyans and Moroccans were the most likely to be suicide bombers.
As things stand right now, it seems as though Qaddafi will survive. But the world if full of dictators who have survived coups. There is no logical reason to believe that Qaddafi who has survived this near death experience will emerge more bellicose and dangerous, just as there is no logical reason to believe that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood will be valuable member of the international community. Replacing one tyrant with another simply because new one can muster a flash mob and getting rid of the old one gives you a good feeling is hardly foreign policy.