Still, McCain and Graham are right and Will is wrong: The United States must take an active interest in what transpires beyond our shores, and act militarily when and where we can to defeat our enemies and promote liberty. And we must do this not because we are vaingloriously “in search of monsters to destroy,” as John Quincy Adams famously put it.
Instead, America must promote liberty militarily when and where we can because we live in an increasingly close and interdependent world where time, distance and geography provide less and less protection.
Certainly, that ought to be a key lesson of September 11, 2001: Terrorists living in caves thousands of miles away can and did plan and execute a devastating attack on our homeland. So we best act swiftly and preemptively to stop them, as well as the countries and cultures that give rise to these sworn enemies of America.
Our intervention in Libya, then — which Will opposes — is best seen as part and parcel of this larger-scale effort. It is best understood as one battle in a larger-scale, long-term war (and I mean war in both its literal and metaphorical sense) to transform the Middle East and North Africa along more peaceable and democratic lines. ~John Guardiano
Guardiano must see the glaring flaw in all of this. Even if Americans were inclined to go along with this horrible idea, it is hard to ignore that deposing Gaddafi has nothing to do with it. The previous administration believed that such regional transformation was both desirable and possible, and to the extent that we take them at their word they believed that invading Iraq contributed to this goal of transformation. It was also the previous administration that resumed relations with Gaddafi after he renounced unconventional weapons and terrorism.
If there was any threat to the U.S. from Libya before that, it was largely eliminated. If it never became what anyone could call an ally, Gaddafi’s regime was at least no longer a hostile power. Though Gaddafi had once been a clear enemy of the United States, the Bush administration made the right decision to bury the hatchet. Interdependence notwithstanding, there was nothing in Libya from which the U.S. needed to be protected in 2011, or to be more precise the U.S. did not need to be protected from the Libyan government that U.S. and allied forces are now attacking. Even by the reckless, destructive standards of the Bush Doctrine, the Libyan war makes no sense at all.
Guardiano claims that Libya was a “target of opportunity” and goes on to say:
The uprising there offers us the opportunity to rid the world of one of the most menacing anti-American dictators and terrorist sponsors….
Of course, the U.S. and our allies are trying to rid the world of the dictator after he stopped being menacing, anti-American, and a sponsor of terrorism. The message is clear: non-hostile, cooperative authoritarian governments will be targeted for destruction when the opportunity arises. That should do wonders for advancing U.S. security interests.
As Paul Pillar has explained, Gaddafi’s renunciations were not a product of the Iraq war, and the effort to reconcile with Gaddafi had begun years earlier:
Qadhafi was responding to the pressure and ostracism of multilateral sanctions and to the prospect of an improved international standing if he came clean about the bombing of Pan Am 103 and was willing to deal seriously with the United States on the issues of most concern to the United States. The secret negotiations that confirmed and codified all this were begun in 1999, under the Clinton Administration. It was the willingness of the United States to engage Qadhafi’s regime that made this all possible, not some prospect that military force would be used to remove him—let alone, as with the ouster of Saddam, that force would be used to oust him no matter how he tried to adjust his policies.
The deal with Gaddafi achieved considerably more in terms of non-proliferation and counter-terrorism at vastly less cost than the terrible blunder of invading Iraq did. The Libyan war has undone all of the gains made by one of the Bush administration’s very few successes, and it has turned an ostensibly rehabilitated dictator once more into a bitter enemy. Even once Gaddafi falls, as Amitai Etzioni argued last week, the Libyan war will probably yield both chaos in Libya and confirm other authoritarian regimes in their belief that a nuclear deterrent is essential for their security. It is incorrect to see the Libyan war as “one battle in a larger-scale, long-term war…to transform the Middle East and North Africa along more peaceable and democratic lines,” not least because the Libyan war is certainly not going to yield a “more peaceable” North Africa, and it seems likely to encourage proliferation in the region and elsewhere. Whether it becomes more democratic remains to be seen, and on that point Etzioni is also appropriately skeptical:
However, we know that Libya has few of the foundations of a liberal democracy: it has a weak civil society, a thin middle class and no democratic tradition to revive. If this unhappy prediction holds true, five or ten years from now, when one looks at the Libya intervention, it will not be the overthrow of a tyrant to make for a liberal democratic regime. It will be God knows what kind of mishmash of chaos, bloodshed, and pseudo-democracy.
Judged by its own standards of the “responsibility to protect,” the Libyan war already falls short. By any reasonable analysis of U.S. security interests, it has been a terrible mistake. It is yet another example of how the militarized promotion of the “freedom agenda” that Guardiano supports has been and continues to be a disaster for the U.S.