April 1, 2011
U.S. Intervention in Libya and the HypocritesBy R.B.A. Di Muccio
To date, we've certainly seen the expected litany of reactions to the U.S. intervention in Libya. But there has also emerged a new category which displays such a blatantly stratospheric level of wanton hypocrisy that it strains the very term. Looking at the various brands of hypocrisy can tell us all we need to know about the different attitudes in America about military interventions in general and about the U.S. intervention in Libya specifically.
The Odd Bedfellows
When the United States intervenes militarily anywhere in the world, the sincerity of both the far left and far right is invariably on display. The pacifist group, Code Pink is almost as active with their anti-war protests today as it was during the Bush administration, though you don't seem to hear as much about it these days. The same thing can be said for hardcore isolationist libertarians who incessantly rail about the "military-industrial complex" and have been utterly consistent in condemning foreign military interventions, whether in 2003 or 2011. Hypocrisy level: non-existent to very low.
The Honest Brokers
Just because you're a Republican speaking out against U.S. intervention in Libya doesn't mean there might not be good reasons to question the policy. Likewise, just because you were a Democrat against the Iraq War, doesn't mean there weren't legitimate reasons to oppose it. There are those rare "honest brokers" who have their political objectives and partisan favorites, but who are willing to attack their own and give credit to the other side.
For example, the Weekly Standard and National Review have angered partisan Republicans by giving credit to Obama on occasion for this piece of foreign policy or that. This arguably gives them some credibility and perhaps even affords them the benefit of the doubt. That benefit must be at least the admission that their criticism of Obama's Libya intervention is not necessarily mere partisan politics.
Slate, though certainly a left-leaning publication with clear rooting interests, has arguably been pretty hard on Obama; also on the subject of Libya. And while I'm not personally aware of any instances in which Slate was willing to give Bush credit for anything, they meet at least half of the qualification and could probably be labeled as honest brokers. Hypocrisy level: mostly low.
The Run-of-the-Mill Partisan Hypocrites
The most familiar category appears to be the partisan hypocrites who support their party's guy and attack the other party's guy whenever it's politically expedient to do so. A lot of the Republican commentary that you're hearing now on Libya ("no exit strategy," "bad timing," "no imminent threat to the United States," etc.) could have been leveled by the exact same people using the exact same words when their guy was president. However, we're also seeing the equal and opposite reaction from scores of Democrats. These are the folks who spew justifications for Obama's Libyan intervention, though they would never in a million years support the exact same action on the part of any Republican.
These are all clear, condemnable examples of double standards. But the main reason for this type of hypocrisy is simple: when you favor one party's overall policies and philosophy over the other, you are motivated to look favorably upon specific things that would be utterly objectionable coming from the other side. It's unvarnished partisan loyalty and calculus. It's the sort of hypocrisy that happens with such regularity that it barely even registers. In fact, it's very nearly an unnatural act to apply the exact same standards to "them" as to "us." This type of hypocrisy is almost hardwired in human nature and built into the political system, which must be why it is so widely tolerated. Hypocrisy level: medium to high.
The Libyan intervention has unearthed what I believe to be an entirely new class of hypocrisy. By now we've seen the video of Joe Biden telling various audiences in 2007 that he would "seek to impeach any president who took the United States to war without congressional approval." Obama was quoted when he was a mere candidate as saying even more narrowly that: "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." In an interview with the AP in July 2007, he put an even finer point on the argument, saying that "the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems."
Now that we've seen the president unilaterally authorize a military attack in Libya specifically in order to solve a humanitarian problem, it's evident that this is not your normal brand of hypocrisy. This situation involves a unique permutation of factors. Here, individuals in an administration including the president himself are acting, after having been elected, down to the narrowest ironic detail, precisely against statements they made before being elected. It's a blatant case of "standards for thee, but not for me" far beyond any imaginable justification.
Just think of what the counterfactual equivalents would be. Candidate Truman saying we could not use our air power to prevent humanitarian tragedies? Candidate Nixon saying that we could never cut and run from Vietnam? Candidate Reagan saying we should never demand that the Soviets tear down the Berlin Wall? Either candidate Bush saying we should never get mixed up in large scale land wars in the Middle East?
No, I don't believe we've ever in the history of the republic seen a more transparent or extreme display as the one we're seeing now. What else to call it but "super-hypocrisy"? As far as the "Obama Doctrine" is concerned, the root term doesn't come close to doing it justice. Hypocrisy level: Extreme squared.
Dr. R.B.A. Di Muccio is a guest commentator for The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A former assistant professor and chair of the international relations program in the political science department at the University of Florida, he is now vice president of research and advisory services for a global business advisory firm. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Southern California.