OK. Let me see if I've got this straight (because I'm pretty damned confused right now)...
The current Commander in Chief of the United States, Barack Obama, favors U.S. military intervention in Libya - which he defended in a speech tonight (in the video above) - yet he opposed it in Iraq and (as far as anyone can tell) waffled on the issue of Afghanistan.
Sound inconsistent? Obama is not alone. This current intervention highlights incredible inconsistencies on both sides of the political spectrum.
Conservative Republicans, who backed military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, are - in large numbers, anyway (with definite exceptions) - opposed to Obama's current intervention in Libya. As Mississippi Governor (and potential 2012 G.O.P. candidate) Haley Barbour told the Wall Street Journal: "What are we doing in Libya? I mean, we have to be careful in my mind about getting into nation-building exercises, whether it's Libya or somewhere else. We've been in Afghanistan for 10 years." (Source)
Where was Barbour when the Antiwar Movement was out in the streets marching against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Missing in Action.
Longtime Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar echoed Barbour's concerns on Sunday's Meet the Press on NBC:
There have to be objectives and a plan and an agreement that we're prepared to devote the military forces but also the money. It makes no sense in the front room, where in Congress we are debating seemingly every day the deficits, the debt ceiling situation coming up, the huge economic problems we have -- but in the back room we are spending money on a military situation in Libya.
To be fair, there are some conservative Republicans rallying around Obama, but many are opposing this current intervention. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times explained what he called the "Republican dilemma":
Republican presidential hopefuls have been scrambling to figure out the right vocabulary for denouncing President Obama's decision to launch U.S. planes and ships into action against Libya's Moammar Gaddafi. Because Obama made the decision, they know they're against it. But it took most of them a day or two to settle on exactly why, in part because so many of them had called for intervention before Obama pulled the trigger.
According to McManus, Newt Gingrich, another likely GOP presidential hopeful, flip-flopped on Libya, first stating, "This is a moment to get rid of Gaddafi. Do it. Get it over with." Then Obama intervened and Gingrich said, "It is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity. Iran and North Korea are vastly bigger threats.... There are a lot of bad dictators doing bad things."
You'd think these GOPers, who were so impassioned in their support of George W. Bush's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq - often for the same reasons (when WMDs were debunked, they switched to a largely human rights defense of the Iraq War, and human rights was often at the center of justifications for the Afghan War) - would support Obama's Libya intervention, which would be consistent with their reasons for supporting the two post-9/11 wars. And, like I said, some do. But many oppose Obama - and with a passion.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the Left is no more consistent than their Right-wing counterparts. As was the case with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are plenty on the Left who are opposed to the Libya intervention.
But there are a surprising number of liberals and lefties who are cheering on Obama's tough new Libya policy. "I would like to urge the left to chew gum and walk at the same time," said Juan Cole, one of the most eloquent and brilliant and scholarly opponents of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. In his "An Open Letter to the Left on Libya," Cole came to Obama's defense in a strongly worded Blog entry.
If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left. We should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo the way the Right makes abortion an absolute taboo if doing so makes us heartless (inflexible a priori positions often lead to heartlessness). It is now easy to forget that Winston Churchill held absolutely odious positions from a Left point of view and was an insufferable colonialist who opposed letting India go in 1947. His writings are full of racial stereotypes that are deeply offensive when read today. Some of his interventions were nevertheless noble and were almost universally supported by the Left of his day. The UN allies now rolling back Qaddafi are doing a good thing, whatever you think of some of their individual leaders.
Cole isn't alone. There are other leftist defenders of U.S. military operations in Libya, including veteran liberal/leftish political columnist John Judis and L.A. Weekly columnist and author Marc Cooper. While Cole and Judis are quite respectful and fair toward those who disagree with them, Cooper is downright nasty to anyone voicing doubts about the intervention. He saved one of his most vicious attacks for Phyllis Bennis, a respected progressive-left commentator and author who opposed Obama's Libya policy. In a nakedly ad hominem comment mirroring the most infantile sort of Sixties-era left-wing sectarianism imaginable, Cooper remarked that he's known Bennis "for years - even back when she was a Maoist and relaundered herself as some sort of reasonable 'analyst' an (sic) shrouded with the legitimacy of the Institute for Policy Studies."
What Cooper doesn't say in his blog is that much of what Bennis says mirrors the same sort of rhetoric used by antiwar activists in their opposition to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Moreover, if the pro-war leftists in America who defend U.S. intervention in Libya were being consistent, they would've supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, after all, Washington was instrumental in overthrowing one of the worst regimes in modern history, the Taliban, which repressed Afghanistan's civilian population far more violently than Gadaffi has done in Libya. The Taliban is, in fact, South Asia's equivalent of the Khmer Rouge - insane, brutal, violent, to the point of being apocalyptic. Corrupt as the government of Hamid Karzai is, when it comes to human rights, it is a huge improvement over the Taliban.
And in Iraq, once you strip away all of the now thoroughly refuted claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), U.S. military intervention resulted in the overthrow of one of the worst tyrants of the past 30 years. Say what you will about current-day Iraq, but the fragile government there has far greater respect for human rights than Saddam Hussein ever did. Saddam was a monster, and some of the most impassioned defenders of the Coalition bombings in Libya were dead-set against U.S. military operations to overthrow him.
So Libya is right, but Afghanistan and Iraq are wrong? If one bases their support of Coalition bombing of Libya purely on human rights, how is it possible to defend Libya but not Afghanistan and/or Iraq?
Is it because Afghanistan and Iraq involved large-scale commitments of ground troops, but Libya doesn't? Is it because those two post-9/11 wars have dragged on for years and have been extremely costly, both in dollars and human lives? If that's the argument, then it's a chicken-shit one. If you accept that the Libya intervention is a justified struggle against an aggressive and violent dictator trying to harm his own people, then you should be willing to put the proverbial money where your mouth is and back an all-out, full-scale military attack to stop Gaddafi from doing what he's doing. Unless, of course, at some level, you don't really buy it.
You hear a lot of defenders of the Libya intervention saying, "Libya is not Iraq." Talk about a hollow cliché. What does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that Obama is too timid to send ground combat troops into Libya? Does that mean it was wrong to overthrow Saddam Hussein, a worse tyrant that Gaddafi? Does it mean that the Bush administration lied to push the country into war in Iraq, but Obama didn't with Libya, so therefore this intervention is OK but Iraq wasn't? Why should it matter that Bush lied if the end result in Iraq is that a monstrous despot was removed from power? Isn't Obama pushing for intervention in Libya for the same reasons - to prevent a bloodthirsty dictator from harming his own people?
So why oppose Iraq and Afghanistan but not Libya? Is it because George W. Bush spearheaded the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq and you can't trust him (and he's a Republican), whereas the intervention in Libya was the doing of Obama, whose motives are pure as snow? Perhaps partisanship is at work in all of these glaring inconsistencies, whether we're talking about the Right or the Left.
If it's right to intervene in Libya for human rights purposes, why not do the same thing in the Ivory Coast, where - as U.S. News and World Report points out - the violence is just as intense, if not more so, than it is in Libya? As U.S. News and World Report notes:
Thousands of supporters of Ivory Coast’s President Laurent Gbagbo enlisted in his army last week, fueling fears of renewed chaos in West Africa. Gbagbo’s refusal to accept his electoral defeat to Alassane Ouattara in the country’s November presidential election triggered bloody clashes between loyalists and Ouattara supporters. Rapes and killings, reportedly by Gbagbo’s forces, have left more than 400 dead. Over 50 people were killed last week alone. Gbagbo officials are encouraging young activists to join the army and fight against “the terrorists,” or backers of Ouattara, whom the United States and the rest of the international community recognize as the legitimate leader. Ouattara called on the United Nations to use force to protect civilians.
Where are the liberal and Democratic Party establishment and left-leaning defenders of U.S. intervention in Libya on the issue of the Ivory Coast? Answer: They're nowhere to be heard.
So what is with all of these wild inconsistencies on both sides of the political spectrum? Is it all about partisanship? Is it that "Good" Democrats were supposed to oppose the war in Iraq, waffle on Afghanistan, and take a hawkish position on coalition bombings of Libya, whereas "Good" Republicans are supposed to defend Bush's war against Saddam, be slightly less enthusiastic (but still supportive) about Afghanistan and oppose Obama on Libya?
If you can figure out this insanity and you think it amounts to anything other than blind partisanship, please - please - let me know.
Addendum: If you get a chance, see Christopher Hitchens' article in Slate.com titled, "The Iraq Effect: If Saddam Hussein were still in power, this year's Arab uprisings would never have happened." Essentially, Hitchens raises many of the issues I've raised here, but from a different angle. I do not agree with Hitchens apology for the Iraq War, just as I do not agree with the Iraq War itself, but if I were to support it, I'd support it for the exact same reasons he does.