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Republicans and the Libyan War

Rick Perry recently gave a muddled answer to what he would have done in Libya if he had been president in 2011:

I would have had a coalition, a coalition that the U.S. was substantially more engaged with than what we had in this case. So what the outcome would have been — most likely, and again knowing what we know today, having the stability in Libya would have been better for that region than this chaos that we see today.

To be charitable, this is a lousy response. Perry is acknowledging that he would have attacked Libya, but would have made sure that the U.S. was “more engaged” than it was. That’s not very helpful. He doesn’t commit to anything specific, but he gestures at his preference for deeper U.S. involvement. This is actually the worst possible answer that a candidate could give. He endorses an unnecessary war, quibbles with the way that it was waged, and then says that the U.S. would have a larger commitment in Libya if he had been president.

The Libyan war was a disaster first and foremost for the people of Libya, but if Perry and other hawks like him had their way it would also have been an ongoing problem for the U.S. as well. In his characteristically bumbling way, Perry has pointed out once again the GOP’s inability to criticize the administration or Hillary Clinton on Libya. Almost all of the 2016 candidates were in favor of the intervention at the time, and none of these hawks can credibly attack either Obama or Clinton on this issue. Perry was one of many hawks that celebrated the fall of the old Libyan government, yet by his own admission he now doubts that it was in the U.S. interest to remove him from power. That suggests that his views on these matters are changeable and opportunistic. It also shows that he has no problem with any military intervention while it is happening. Like many other hawks, he discovers only in hindsight that an unnecessary war for regime change might have been in error.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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