Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

I guess this one has to be about Libya...

Part of the liberal fear about Libya seems to be that the administration has not really thought through the downside properly; many liberals, even those who are okay with the concept of aiming American bombs and missiles at bad guys and who agree that Qaddafi is a bad guy, don't believe that anyone has answered the "what comes next?" question to their satisfaction. Here's my question: do you trust Barack Obama to avoid turning this thing into a morass? Any more than you would have trusted, say, George W. Bush? Bill Clinton? Why or why not?

Or, to put it another way, how many coalition deaths do you expect in this intervention? 0-10? 11-50? More than 50? More than 500? Would your expectations be any different if any of the other recent presidents was serving now?

(Of course, there are certainly liberals who would oppose this action on other grounds; if you're in that boat, feel free to answer this one any way you would like).


  1. On a relative scale, I have more confidence in Obama's ability to prevent a morass than I have in Bush's. (I use the term "confidence" rather than "trust." I don't think there's a single politician anywhere whom I trust.) But then, Bush's judgment is a pretty low bar to pass.

  2. I trust Obama more than I would have trusted Bush. I think it probably makes a big difference that he seems to be a more active manager, who seeks and tolerates dissenting opinion far more. Probably trust him a bit more than I would have trusted Clinton, but that's a close call.

    But at the same time, I think it's probably a mistake to put too much emphasis on the President when assessing likely outcomes in Libya. There are a lot of other actors in the national security infrastructure, and the President's control over them is inevitably limited. Moreover, once you've decided to intervene militarily, events often take on a logic of their own.

    (No idea how many casualties - I don't have the expertise to guess that.)

  3. At least this is UN intervention not simply U.S. intervention. I put Obama and Clinton about equal (for lack of anything to discriminate) and far above Bush, who seemed to have little interest in and less comprehension of his own tragic presidency.

  4. Sure I trust Obama a lot more than Bush. Obama after all is not an idiot, he doesn't have a messianic desire to remake the Middle East in his own image, and he doesn't have Dick Cheney holding his puppet strings. But fundamentally this is underpants gnome foreign policy.

    1. Overthrow Gaddafi.
    2. ???
    3. Profit! (Libya becomes a democracy and ally?)

    Our experience over the course of many decades of interfering in this region makes me very concerned about what exactly that step 2 will be and highly skeptical we'll ever see step 3.

  5. Clinton's Balkan intervention had zero U.S. combat casualties (... IIRC there was a traffic accident fatality.) It may be criticized on a variety of grounds but not having thought things through is not one of them.
    Obama does not have a record of not being thoughtful. Where he has gone wrong, as in Afghanistan, is in believing the propaganda coming from our own side. There was very little enthusiasm/propaganda for intervening in North Africa, so I would tend to think the consequences are being thought over pretty well.

    That said, it's a situation fraught with peril and many opportunities to go bad.

  6. Osama Von McIntyreMarch 20, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    I oppose intervention outright, unless we are under actual or imminent threat, or we can prevent wholesale slaughter (e.g. Bosnia or Darfur).

    Otherwise, we should stay the hell away from there. In the moment, we are almost always too confident: our long history of blowback should make us reticent.

  7. I'd have a lot more confidence if we were intervening in a country where Bono was a frequent visitor, like Darfur.

  8. Yes, I have more confidence in Obama than I would have had in George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. Still does not necessarily mean I agree with the decision; morass seems like a strong possible outcome.

    We should always guard against supporting something because those of like mind do. Matthew Yglesias has said supported Iraq in part because a lot of Democrats helped persuade him that we needed to invade to disarm Hussein. My own thoughts were also shaped by those of Democratic politicians I trusted. I should have instead trusted the Democrats who opposed the war from the start.

  9. When I saw Obama's speech, I thought, "well, I think all Quadafi has to do is join the Republican party and Obama will fold. "

  10. I think an important point is that this was sanctioned by the security council and is being driven by several countries - not just the US. I do trust Obama to keep us from yet another quagmire.

    That doesn't mean I'm not nervous. The "what's next" question is very complicated and its difficult to plan ahead in what is such a fluid situation. The ongoing situations in Japan, Haiti and the rest of the middle east may have also over-stretched UN's capacity for humanitarian aid and (most importantly) development. While I don't predict that the US military will be involved long term, the international community will likely be heavily involved in Libya for years to come.

  11. No, I really don't because I don't think Obama has much control over events. Once Obama made the decision to get involved in Libya then he effectively ceded much of the power he had over events. The momentum of the war has now taken over and I believe Obama is now at the mercy of what happens in Libya. I think the same would be true no matter who is President.

  12. I agree with the others that are happy for the UN seal of approval on this. However, I think Ron E. hit the nail on the head (perfect joke analogy....I was going to go there!) Put me in the camp of liberals as you describe them. I'm very concerned that this has not been thought out at all. It doesn't seem like they're going to actively help the rebels. There's no reason for a split country. So, this ends with an uneasy peace and Kaddafi (I've seen it spelled so many ways I'm just bored with it now) still in charge. Sure, UN peacekeepers will be there for a while, but I expect Kaddafi to still run the show. In the end, it seems like the options were 3:
    1) do nothing, Kaddafi crushes rebels and purges them.
    2) intervene like this and basically the situation goes back to status quo.
    3) invade and overthrow Kaddafi. Well, we all know how well Iraq worked.

    They might have made the best of a bad set of choices, but I don't get the sense there's any plan. If there was, the language would have been tougher 10 days ago.

  13. I trust Obama more than Bush not to get caught in a Libya quagmire, but I still worry a little bit. Mostly that's because I'm afraid Obama might use this incident in a futile attempt to convince conservatives of his "manhood" in foreign policy. After all, he may be turning Afghanistan into more of a quagmire (albeit with somewhat fewer dedicated troops), and he feels the need to largely copy the Bush administration's national security policies.

  14. I have no worries about it turning into a quagmire, I expect near zero casualties. In fact I was surprised you even said "To put it another way" about that, because I assumed the paragraph above was about "what comes next" as far as Libya and its new government. The US can't lose, but Libya is just another case of us taking that to mean we can attack whoever we want.

  15. I trust Obama not to let Libya turn into a morass for the United States. How it goes for France and Britain after the US has exited stage right (back to Afghanistan) is another question.

    Perhaps a better question: Has the Security Council looked far enough ahead on this? I would say no, but then collective action by co-equal partners is not know for great foresight. Not ideal, certainly, but if it weren't this collective body making the decision, the answer to the first question would be quite different.


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