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Opinion

Opinion

Libya action reflects American hubris

March 23, 2011

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— The missile strikes that inaugurated America’s latest attempt at regime change were launched 29 days before the 50th anniversary of another such — the Bay of Pigs of April 17, 1961. Then the hubris of American planners was proportional to their ignorance of everything relevant, from Cuban sentiment to Cuba’s geography. The fiasco was a singularly feckless investment of American power.

Does practice make perfect? In today’s episode, America has intervened in a civil war in a tribal society, the dynamics of which America does not understand. And America is supporting one faction, the nature of which it does not know. “We are standing with the people of Libya,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, evidently confident that “the” people are a harmonious unit. Many in the media call Moammar Gadhafi’s opponents “freedom fighters,” and perhaps they are, but no one calling them that really knows how the insurgents regard one another, or understand freedom, or if freedom, however understood, is their priority.

But, then, knowing is rarely required in the regime-change business. The Weekly Standard, a magazine for regime-change enthusiasts, serenely says: “The Libyan state is a one-man operation. Eliminate that man and the whole edifice may come tumbling down.” And then good things must sprout? The late Donald Westlake gave one of his comic novels the mordant title “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?” People who do not find that darkly funny should not make foreign policy.

In Libya, mission creep began before the mission did. A no-fly zone would not accomplish what Barack Obama calls “a well-defined goal,” the “protection of civilians.” So the no-fly zone immediately became protection for aircraft conducting combat operations against Gadhafi’s ground forces.

America’s war aim is inseparable from — indeed, obviously is — destruction of that regime. So our purpose is to create a political vacuum, into which we hope — this is the “audacity of hope” as foreign policy — good things will spontaneously flow. But if Gadhafi cannot be beaten by the rebels, are we prepared to supply their military deficiencies? And if the decapitation of his regime produces what the removal of Saddam Hussein did — bloody chaos — what then are our responsibilities regarding the tribal vendettas we may have unleashed? How long are we prepared to police the partitioning of Libya?

Explaining his decision to wage war, Obama said Gadhafi has “lost the confidence of his own people and the legitimacy to lead.” Such meretricious boilerplate seems designed to anesthetize thought. When did Gadhafi lose his people’s confidence? When did he have legitimacy? American doctrine — check the Declaration of Independence — is that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. So there are always many illegitimate governments. When is it America’s duty to scrub away these blemishes on the planet? Is there a limiting principle of humanitarian interventionism? If so, would Obama take a stab at stating it?

Congress’ power to declare war resembles a muscle that has atrophied from long abstention from proper exercise. This power was last exercised on June 5, 1942 (against Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary), almost 69 years, and many wars, ago. It thus may seem quaint, and certainly is quixotic, for Indiana’s Richard Lugar — ranking Republican on, and former chairman of, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to say, correctly, that Congress should debate and vote on this.

There are those who think that if the United Nations gives the United States permission to wage war, the Constitution becomes irrelevant. Let us find out who in Congress supports this proposition, which should be resoundingly refuted, particularly by Republicans currently insisting that government, and especially the executive, should be on a short constitutional leash. If all Republican presidential aspirants are supine in the face of unfettered presidential war-making and humanitarian interventionism, the Republican field is radically insufficient.

On Dec. 29, 1962, in Miami’s Orange Bowl, President John Kennedy, who ordered the Bay of Pigs invasion, addressed a rally of survivors and supporters of that exercise in regime change. Presented with the invasion brigade’s flag, Kennedy vowed, “I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana.” Eleven months later, on Nov. 2, 1963, his administration was complicit in another attempt at violent regime change — the coup against, and murder of, South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem. The Saigon regime was indeed changed, so perhaps this episode counts as a success, even if Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City.

George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

StarfishPrime 3 years ago

"The U.S. government doesn't have a 2011 budget for its Department of Defense," Byron points out, "and we're six months into the fiscal year." That’s because the previous Congress failed to pass a budget for defense... or anything else.

"Not to put too fine a point on it," Byron says, "Congress has authorized no money to fight wars — at least not this one. Thus, right now, the U.S. is shooting missiles, dropping bombs and engaged in its third, simultaneous 'hot' war (actually, the fourth, if you include bombing Pakistan), and there's no budget."

There is a "continuing resolution," a means by which Congress keeps kicking the can down the road so the government doesn’t shut down. The current one expires April 8, two weeks from tomorrow.

"The nature of the continuing resolution," Byron points out, "is that it restricts the Department of Defense to fighting this year's wars on last year's budgeting structure. I don't believe there's a line item for ‘bombing Libya.'"

On second thought, it makes no sense.

http://5minforecast.agorafinancial.com/heeding-the-irrational-market/

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George Lippencott 3 years ago

Does anybody know what we are trying to do and what the expected end state is?

I sure hope Mr. Obama had an idea on what would likely happen before he started this effort. I cannot imagine how he could not have been aware that civilians would be killed (if only from "bad" jets falling out of the sky). You don't need a "Joint Staff" briefer to tell you that. Of course since I really do not know who is in charge I don't know that our own military knows all of what is happening (French seem a bit independent)

This initiative is IMHO not distinguishable from Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia, or - keep on naming them). We are imposing our will on someone else because we think we can. Is there anybody left in the world with whom we are not in some form of conflict?

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beatrice 3 years ago

Jafs, the problem with the questions posed is that, as I already explained, I disagree with you that the length of time between when a dictator kills his people and when we drop bombs is irrelevant. To just send in bombs ten or more years after a dictator killed his people is impractical, even if the morality of the situation remains the same. It makes a huge difference if the people are in the middle of the battle with their leader, or have already been crushed, are completely disorganized and possibly unable to rise up any longer.

Yes, it would be nice to have a consistent foreign policy, but it is never going to happen. Different leaders and different parties in power at different times will handle situations differently. We also are not powerful enough to treat China like we treat Iraq or Libya.

If you like sports, I have an analogy for you. In basketball a forward might easily go to the basket if defended by a smaller guard, but they might be more cautious or avoid the lane altogether if facing a center. Think of China as, ... well, Yao Ming. A young, healthy Yao Ming, with a large number of equally sized players ready to come off the bench. We might score a basket, but we will probably get knocked on our backside even if we do.

So yes, foreign policy is often based on what we can get away with. We might be able to stop small dictatorships, but we may not be able to stop big ones. If we can't feed the world, does that mean we shouldn't feed the person starving on the corner? We both wish we could make the whole world one big freedom loving planet. However, we can't. In this instance with Libya, at this time, in my opinion, it seems like the correct thing to do. It appears you believe so too.

I do wish, however, that Obama had brought this to Congress. His lack of doing so does suck.

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beatrice 3 years ago

Jafs, on your question of whether or not I'd feel the same were Obama president then and Bush president now, I absolutely say yes. Of course it is a hypothetical, but the reason I am so confident of my statement is because, as I am sure you will recall, Bush was coming off a 90% approval rating following 9/11. The majority was behind him on getting us into Iraq, including Congress. Hillary Clinton voted to approve the invasion of Iraq, which I think is the reason she is not president today. I was strongly against it then, because there seemed to be too many holes in the story. I wish I had been wrong and that it was a quick in and out operation. It wasn't. I did not just hate Bush for the sake of hating Bush, he earned my scorn with his policies, which continued to go downhill after invading Iraq.

I am a Democrat, certainly, but I'm not a party above all else loyalist as some have claimed. Never have been. My being a Democrat is largely based on social issues. I do vote for Republicans when I feel they will do the best job, including voting for a handful of Republicans in the most recent midterms despite knowing that the Democrats needed all the help they could get. If there were viable third party politicians, I'd consider them as well. I'm not fully happy with everything Obama does, either, and I feel he lets down his liberal base far too often. I feel he is doing a better job than McCain would have, but that is just speculation given my living in Arizona and seeing a little closer what McCain doesn't do for my state on a regular basis.

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Hong_Kong_Phooey 3 years ago

"Such meretricious boilerplate seems designed to anesthetize thought."

Somebody has a dictionary and isn't afraid to use it! My guess is that he believes that using those "five-dollar words" makes his column seem more legitimate -- he's wrong.

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Agnostick 3 years ago

Hey, anybody know of a back door into this mysteriously deleted thread?

Most Active Discussions Discussions with newer comments appear nearer to the top.

SBerrie: Are all of these posts from the owner?... 2 comments


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Mixolydian 3 years ago

Well this is interesting, Obama has managed to align our country in purpose with the overthrow of Gadhafi with.........Al Queda:

http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=212003

It's been 2 decades already, can we finally get a grown up in the oval office in 2012...please.

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BigPrune 3 years ago

Obama was cool and calculating (or so we are lead to believe).

Nice job Nobel Peace Prize winner - maybe they'll take it back.

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gl0ck0wn3r 3 years ago

At least Will is relatively consistent in his IR views. That's more than I can say for most politicians and pundits.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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yourworstnightmare 3 years ago

It is interesting to read the post of the right wing posters relating to this story.

They simply do not know what to think. On the one hand, our troops are at war in Libya and must be supported. On the other, Obama is evil and anything he does is bad.

So, instead of making intelligent comments, they don't comment at all or just sputter random insults.

Indeed, Scott3246, the Faux News talking points on this one have not yet been released. I imagine by tomorrow we will start seeing some semi-literate post by right-wingers rationalizing why Obama's war is worse than Bush's wars, taken straight from Faux news.

As it is now, however, right wingers are simply floundering.

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Flap Doodle 3 years ago

"too little, too late" seems to be the basic theme of much of the heat Barry's Big Adventure is receiving.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years ago

I say the award of the day goes Godot. Good posting Godot. There is no room to equivocate on the fact Obama is a complete---I mean complete--- joke, not unlike many who broke a leg to go vote for him. Many were just duped though, and that is a fact--and they can and should be forgiven.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years ago

Like Aggies link. Wish I could get "Linc'd" in on some of those email accounts of those people.

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DeaconBlue 3 years ago

Patsy Hubris lets Bahrain and Yemen residents die in riots, but finds it in his heart to let Hillary start a life saving war in Libya. I think Vicente is right. Patsy Hubris is mixed up.

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yourworstnightmare 3 years ago

Having voiced my opposition to this action in Libya and described why it is a disppointing mistake, it is now time to call out the hypocritical right wing on this.

The right wing supported Bush's war of choice in Iraq and vilified anyone who opposed it. They swallowed his lies about weapons of mass destruction, and then quickly got on board when the mission morphed, out of political convenience, into a one to bring democracy to Iraq.

A week ago, they were critical of Obama for not taking action in Libya to help a people find liberty. Now, a week later, they oppose his actions with vitriolic and froth-mouthed rhetoric. A 180 degree turn-around.

The right wing of the GOP have once again demonstrated that they are, above all, concerned with politics and getting elected. They will say and do anything, and then say and do the opposite, as it suits their perceived re-election chances.

This duplicity of the GOP right is seen in things from domestic policy and foreign policy, and is especially evident in the economic matters. Deficits don't matter when they are in charge, but are critical when others are in charge.

Obama's actions in Libya are a disappointing mistake, but shamefully shameless in all things are the GOP.

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yourworstnightmare 3 years ago

I agree that Libya is in North Africa, but North Africa is commonly considered a part of the Middle East.

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Peacemaker452 3 years ago

FYI to those who can’t look at maps: Libya may be a predominately Moslem country but it is not in the Middle East, it is in Africa (North Africa if you want to attach a directional name to it).

A question for those who support the current action in Libya: Would you feel the same if the people of Montana decided to secede from the union and China enforced a UN sanctioned no fly zone, staging out of air bases in Canada?

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yourworstnightmare 3 years ago

However, I agree with Will. Obama has chosen to use military force in a regime change operation, and has bypassed the Constitution and Congress. It is a mistake. Obama made the wrong decision here. We do not know whom we are siding with in a civil war. Obama should have stayed far away from this one, and instead rebuffed the drivel from the right about dithering and indecisiveness. In many ways, Obama played right into their hands, because the same right wingers are now critical of the operation.

No vital, acute interests of the USA were threatened. At least the Bush administration lied about vital national security in invading Iraq in a war of choice regime change operation.

But, the Bush Doctrine of regime change in the middle east lives in the Obama administration.

Disappointing.

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yourworstnightmare 3 years ago

This column reflects Will's hutzpah.

And shamelessness.

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Agnostick 3 years ago

Very odd editorial. I wonder if George Will every wrote an editorial that contained both "hubris" and "Iraq"...? I doubt it. Anyone and everyone is welcome to prove me wrong, though.

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Antiduh 3 years ago

George Will is a partisan piece of useless junk. This is the MOST idiotic bull he has ever produced, and that is coming after a long line of ignorant crap.

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Godot 3 years ago

This is "humanitarian relief" the Obama way:

Six Libyan villagers are recovering in hospital after being shot by American soldiers coming in to rescue the U.S. pilots whose plane crash-landed in a field. The helicopter strafed the ground as it landed in a field outside Benghazi beside the downed U.S. Air Force F-15E Eagle which ran into trouble during bombing raid last night. And a handful of locals who had come to greet the pilots were hit - among them a young boy who may have to have a leg amputated because of injuries caused by a bullet wound.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1368633/Libya-war-US-chopper-shoots-6-villagers-welcomed-Air-Force-F-15-crash-pilots.html#ixzz1HR0aIIXS

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Flap Doodle 3 years ago

In other news: "Say, maybe this is why Barack Obama has decided to shave a couple of hours off of his South America tour by skipping the Mayan ruins in El Salvador. With Joe Biden insisting that he would personally take charge of impeaching a President that launched military action against another country without getting authorization from Congress, Obama may feel the need to race back to Washington to keep his own VP from ousting him from the Oval Office. No worries, Mr. President; Biden said this while talking to Iowa Democrats in 2007, in the context of potential military action against Iran. You know, that country that wants to build nuclear weapons and holds conferences on creating a world without the US and Israel? When the target of the attack is a country that hasn’t presented a threat to the US for years, it’s apparently no big deal … especially if that President is a Democrat. Via Drudge:" Watch the video at http://hotair.com/archives/2011/03/23/biden-we-should-impeach-presidents-who-launch-attacks-without-congressional-approval/

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years ago

If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Obama inherited the unitary executive that was Dick Cheney's wet dream-- one equipped with the greatest war machine in human history. Obama's just whacking at nails with the hammer Dick was so kind to have forged for him.

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July1960 3 years ago

Ten grand a hour to fly from Missouri to there,each missle is over a million bucks-Get out now,This is not our business.Why does the good old U.S.A. have to rule and protect the rest of the world? Are we becoming the next Nazi ? Hope not,But sometimes looks as if the U.S.A, wants to have all control ? Get out now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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beatrice 3 years ago

It appears that conservatives like Will are having a difficult time thinking about freedom loving people of the Middle East.

How many would prefer that those fighting and dying to liberate Libya just died instead? That was the option if we did nothing.

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Kontum1972 3 years ago

we should bomb pearl harbor ourselves.....and get over it....we would probably feel better.... war is a dying business.....Too Late the Hero!

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Godot 3 years ago

Here is the lie:

On March 18, the One said, "Let me be clear about what we will not be doing; The United States will not deploy ground troops in Libya."

Here is the truth: ONSLOW COUNTY -- We've seen Camp Lejuene Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan and now they are joining the fight against Libya.

About 2,200 Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, or 26th MEU will take part. Their mission is to help end the violence directed at the Libyan people. http://www.wcti12.com/news/27257042/detail.html

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jonas_opines 3 years ago

The fun thing about pointing out the hypocrisy of the left (whoever they are) in (supposedly) condoning this military action is how well it illuminates the mirror image of itself in those making the accusations.

Why is it only hubris now? Why is it only a problem now?

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sallyone 3 years ago

The U.S. needs to get out of the middle east and stay out!

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DeaconBlue 3 years ago

Hmmmm....where are the Screaming Liberals?

No Blood for oil!

No Regime Change!

U.S. Out of Libya!

Abu Ghraib!...no wait...I mean Obama Ghraib!

How about this one......Obama Lied.....people died.

Oh wait....that was the last Administration.

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Tom Shewmon 3 years ago

Still does not change the way the utterly corrupt mainstream media tells it to the American folks. With Obama, it's "oh poor guy, he had such a tough decision" and with Bush....well I don't need to even go there. Obama is their man who they fell head-over-heels in love with and they must keep him in a positive light as much as they possibly can leading up to 2012---no matter how much dishonesty and hypocrisy it involves. Oh and about that "going to congress thing"?

“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.”

Sen. Barrack Obama – December 20, 2007

God Bless.

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