The Conservative Case for the Libyan Intervention

I am for the intervention in Libya.  It may have come weeks too late -- and it may not be executed correctly by those who have been entrusted with the responsibility -- but it is absolutely the right thing to do.  We cannot allow national security to become the hostage of politics, as has too often been the case in recent years.  Now that combat has actually begun, it is absolutely necessary that we set aside hand-wringing and finger-pointing over the past and, instead, commit ourselves to supporting the military as it works for the defeat of the enemy.  This was the standard to which I -- and many others  -- asked the left to adhere during the conflicts of the last decade and it would be tremendously hypocritical of me to abandon it now.

There is a case for military action in Libya that does not rest upon empty-headed invocations of the United Nations and the general humanitarian good.  I firmly believe now, as I have always believed, that the decrees of the United Nations alone are not worth the blood of a single solider.  Nor, for that matter, are the crimes of Gaddafi against civilians -- horrible though they may be in an individual sense -- exceptional on a global basis. 

First, let me present the moral element of the case.  There is a serious argument to be made that the proclamations of successive Americans President in support of freedom in the Islamic world have played some role in inciting this revolution.  While many -- with good reason -- fear that the revolutionary movements in Libya and elsewhere in what some are calling the "Arab 1848" might be captured by Islamic extremists, does it not seem just as likely that many have been inspired by the example of a rising Arab democracy in Iraq and, further, by the example of American freedom as broadcast by the emerging media around the globe?  While we know full well that Islamists are masters of technology as well, it seems unlikely to me that the great mass of any people with Twitter and Facebook would, in the course of ordinary events, allow themselves to be enthralled by any Khomeini-like extremist. 

It is not made more likely that these revolutions will take on an extremist tone if we perpetuate a shameful pattern from the past and allow liberty-seeking revolutionaries to be massacred in the streets?  If we do that -- as we have done in the past - what alternatives are we left with?  In that case either the victor will be Gaddafi -- a known murderer and terrorist who will have proven his ability to defy the West -- or a group of rebels who will now have very good reason to hate us even more than they possibly do at the present.  In other words, the moral case is actually a practical one as well.  Not only may it be fairly said that we owe a moral duty to those who we may have incited to rise up but, furthermore, our intervention is the best path to a good outcome.  Sitting on the sidelines ensures that we lose.

Now, second, let me restate a point that I made above: Gaddafi is a murderer and a terrorist.  He has committed numerous crimes against people in the West.  The man is personally responsible for the murder of nearly two hundred Americans, more than forty Britons -- even three Canadians.  He should have been removed from power a long time ago.  A delay of decades does not absolve us of our responsibilities towards those victims. 

This man is known to have murdered more than two hundred Westerners (never mind uncounted numbers of his own people) in cold blood.  If he is allowed to survive this ordeal, does anyone want to give me odds that he will not strike out again in some way? 

Gaddafi is now a target of opportunity.  For decades he has defied and attacked the West - always being careful to remain just below the threshold that would trigger a major military response.  Yet he is indisputably a terrorist.  Is this not just the sort of threat that all of us vowed to deal with head-on after September 11th

In response to this, many of my friends will drag out the well-worn, "why should America be the world's policeman?" argument.  To which I respond: America must be the world's policeman because there is no alternative.  Though, actually, that's not quite true.  There is an alternative - the United States could withdraw from an active role in world affairs, which would be followed swiftly by anarchy, an assertion of foreign (likely Chinese) power, and a cataclysmic end of American prosperity.  That is the alternative on offer here, ladies and gentlemen.  We cannot choose between the United States as a quasi-imperial power and the United States as a nation of Jeffersonian yeoman farmers, isolated from the world behind two oceans.  That choice went off the table, at the absolute latest, at Kitty Hawk. 

American economic power is inexorably bound up with American military power.  America's predominant place in the world's economic order is dependent upon America's status as a Superpower.  That's because America's outsized influence in world affairs allows it to sustain a world system wherein America's free market system can out-compete most of the world.  This is the best option available for most of the world because, frankly, the openness and diverse interests contained within the American political system prevent excessive abuse of that position of dominance.  One cannot possibly imagine that a Chinese hegemony would suffer from any sort of enforced benevolence.

A retreat from military leadership would ultimately be one from prosperity as well, as alternative powers stepped into the void and shaped the world's economic landscape to their advantage.  That is why the United States and its allies must police the world.  Because if they don't, someone else will - and the result will be to our disadvantage.

In truth, an American intervention in Libya is necessary at least in part so that the United States can demonstrate that, in defiance of a decade of biased media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan -- and countless media stories about the wounded American giant -- that it is fully capable of responding effectively and forcefully to aggression and ready to enforce its own will.  Conducted with skill, this intervention could become a new Falklands or Grenada -- a short, sharp shock that reminds the world of the scope of American power.  The difficulties in recent wars have come not in defeating the initial forces of the enemy, but in engaging in prolonged and direct reconstruction efforts. 

Now, that being said, I believe that there are many, myself among them, who doubt whether the current President of the United States has the skill or the will to bring this off successfully.  That is a serious concern.  The initial pronouncements as to the scope and purpose of this mission have been confusing and worrying.  The delay in its undertaking may well prove, without a very large effort by the Coalition, to be fatal to the cause.  I fully acknowledge all of that and, in response, I would suggest to you that the success or failure of the mission is ultimately the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and that the American people will be given a full opportunity to make a judgment in that regard in about nineteen months.  However, whatever doubts we may have about the man, for the moment he is, to borrow from a decent Defense Secretary, "the army we have."  No good purpose is served by petty sniping from the sidelines or repeating well-worn equivocations that could easily be slipped into the mouths of any Democratic Congressman eight years ago today.
I am for the intervention in Libya.  It may have come weeks too late -- and it may not be executed correctly by those who have been entrusted with the responsibility -- but it is absolutely the right thing to do.  We cannot allow national security to become the hostage of politics, as has too often been the case in recent years.  Now that combat has actually begun, it is absolutely necessary that we set aside hand-wringing and finger-pointing over the past and, instead, commit ourselves to supporting the military as it works for the defeat of the enemy.  This was the standard to which I -- and many others  -- asked the left to adhere during the conflicts of the last decade and it would be tremendously hypocritical of me to abandon it now.

There is a case for military action in Libya that does not rest upon empty-headed invocations of the United Nations and the general humanitarian good.  I firmly believe now, as I have always believed, that the decrees of the United Nations alone are not worth the blood of a single solider.  Nor, for that matter, are the crimes of Gaddafi against civilians -- horrible though they may be in an individual sense -- exceptional on a global basis. 

First, let me present the moral element of the case.  There is a serious argument to be made that the proclamations of successive Americans President in support of freedom in the Islamic world have played some role in inciting this revolution.  While many -- with good reason -- fear that the revolutionary movements in Libya and elsewhere in what some are calling the "Arab 1848" might be captured by Islamic extremists, does it not seem just as likely that many have been inspired by the example of a rising Arab democracy in Iraq and, further, by the example of American freedom as broadcast by the emerging media around the globe?  While we know full well that Islamists are masters of technology as well, it seems unlikely to me that the great mass of any people with Twitter and Facebook would, in the course of ordinary events, allow themselves to be enthralled by any Khomeini-like extremist. 

It is not made more likely that these revolutions will take on an extremist tone if we perpetuate a shameful pattern from the past and allow liberty-seeking revolutionaries to be massacred in the streets?  If we do that -- as we have done in the past - what alternatives are we left with?  In that case either the victor will be Gaddafi -- a known murderer and terrorist who will have proven his ability to defy the West -- or a group of rebels who will now have very good reason to hate us even more than they possibly do at the present.  In other words, the moral case is actually a practical one as well.  Not only may it be fairly said that we owe a moral duty to those who we may have incited to rise up but, furthermore, our intervention is the best path to a good outcome.  Sitting on the sidelines ensures that we lose.

Now, second, let me restate a point that I made above: Gaddafi is a murderer and a terrorist.  He has committed numerous crimes against people in the West.  The man is personally responsible for the murder of nearly two hundred Americans, more than forty Britons -- even three Canadians.  He should have been removed from power a long time ago.  A delay of decades does not absolve us of our responsibilities towards those victims. 

This man is known to have murdered more than two hundred Westerners (never mind uncounted numbers of his own people) in cold blood.  If he is allowed to survive this ordeal, does anyone want to give me odds that he will not strike out again in some way? 

Gaddafi is now a target of opportunity.  For decades he has defied and attacked the West - always being careful to remain just below the threshold that would trigger a major military response.  Yet he is indisputably a terrorist.  Is this not just the sort of threat that all of us vowed to deal with head-on after September 11th

In response to this, many of my friends will drag out the well-worn, "why should America be the world's policeman?" argument.  To which I respond: America must be the world's policeman because there is no alternative.  Though, actually, that's not quite true.  There is an alternative - the United States could withdraw from an active role in world affairs, which would be followed swiftly by anarchy, an assertion of foreign (likely Chinese) power, and a cataclysmic end of American prosperity.  That is the alternative on offer here, ladies and gentlemen.  We cannot choose between the United States as a quasi-imperial power and the United States as a nation of Jeffersonian yeoman farmers, isolated from the world behind two oceans.  That choice went off the table, at the absolute latest, at Kitty Hawk. 

American economic power is inexorably bound up with American military power.  America's predominant place in the world's economic order is dependent upon America's status as a Superpower.  That's because America's outsized influence in world affairs allows it to sustain a world system wherein America's free market system can out-compete most of the world.  This is the best option available for most of the world because, frankly, the openness and diverse interests contained within the American political system prevent excessive abuse of that position of dominance.  One cannot possibly imagine that a Chinese hegemony would suffer from any sort of enforced benevolence.

A retreat from military leadership would ultimately be one from prosperity as well, as alternative powers stepped into the void and shaped the world's economic landscape to their advantage.  That is why the United States and its allies must police the world.  Because if they don't, someone else will - and the result will be to our disadvantage.

In truth, an American intervention in Libya is necessary at least in part so that the United States can demonstrate that, in defiance of a decade of biased media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan -- and countless media stories about the wounded American giant -- that it is fully capable of responding effectively and forcefully to aggression and ready to enforce its own will.  Conducted with skill, this intervention could become a new Falklands or Grenada -- a short, sharp shock that reminds the world of the scope of American power.  The difficulties in recent wars have come not in defeating the initial forces of the enemy, but in engaging in prolonged and direct reconstruction efforts. 

Now, that being said, I believe that there are many, myself among them, who doubt whether the current President of the United States has the skill or the will to bring this off successfully.  That is a serious concern.  The initial pronouncements as to the scope and purpose of this mission have been confusing and worrying.  The delay in its undertaking may well prove, without a very large effort by the Coalition, to be fatal to the cause.  I fully acknowledge all of that and, in response, I would suggest to you that the success or failure of the mission is ultimately the responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and that the American people will be given a full opportunity to make a judgment in that regard in about nineteen months.  However, whatever doubts we may have about the man, for the moment he is, to borrow from a decent Defense Secretary, "the army we have."  No good purpose is served by petty sniping from the sidelines or repeating well-worn equivocations that could easily be slipped into the mouths of any Democratic Congressman eight years ago today.

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