Shutting down the federal government is a hostile act against civil society.
The Civil War started 150 years ago in April 1861, and we are still getting over it, still talking about it, still writing about it. Some in the South have still not made peace with the end of the Civil War and hold fast to “heroes,” notably General Robert E. Lee. President Abraham Lincoln showed what he thought of Lee when he seized Arlington, Lee’s stately home and slave plantation across the Potomac River, and started burying the dead Union soldiers in the ground there.
Lincoln’s message could not be clearer: Leading an assault on the Union was not a Sunday picnic in the country. Serious consequences followed, hitting home.
Now we have a band of rebels—87 of them newcomers—in the House Republican majority, who are fixin’ for a fight. Spoiling to see the Capitol Dome go dark. Acting as if that’s the mission, the reason they crossed lines to come into the heart of the enemy. Washington is a staging ground for their defiant anger at the Union. The republic is under a new kind of siege.
If they have their way, the federal government will be closed this time next week, not what we need right now with so many American households hanging by a thread.
Now a few facts to concentrate the mind. First, the Tea Party is part of the problem. But hold the whole lot of House Republicans and their leaders responsible. If there are any grown-ups in the House, they are allowing their most radical element, unschooled freshmen, to dominate in a delicate showdown looming with the Senate and the White House.
Second, remember the Senate is controlled by a Democratic majority, a fact conveniently forgotten by the lower chamber, whose members often brag about the last election. The 2010 outcome was actually an evenly divided government, with a Democratic president to play his part in final outcomes, laws, and budgets. That’s the way it should be, if Senate Democrats and President Obama will only stand up to the rebels.
Third, the scope of the House Republican “defunding” demands is tantamount to waging war on our civil society as we know it. I don’t mean just NPR. Some of the priceless “commons” are at risk, in the proposed degradation of environmental programs. Social programs like family planning and women’s health are on the chopping block in an offensive against women’s health and reproductive rights. Chris Van Hollen, a House Democrat from Maryland, reads it right: Across the aisle is an extreme agenda to impose a right-wing ideology on town and country, using budget cuts as a vehicle.
Fourth and finally, whether $33 billion or $60 billion is cut from the budget, it will be too much. For the collective health of the nation, either number is like going on a diet when you’re starving. It’s really no use the two congressional chambers meeting in the middle, because the rebels can say they won the day—and they might be “right” in more ways than one. They skewed the debate by passing their draconian budget early and talking it up every day since.
What the GOP House freshmen lack in knowledge, they make up with sophomoric enthusiasm. They are so gung ho to camp out in the dark. Remembering Lincoln, don’t let the rebels take over and turn the lights out on us.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U.S. News and World Report, April 4, 2011
Over the past few days, President Obama has surprised us. For weeks, he seemed committed to avoiding military action against Libya—even though Libyans were imploring America and the West to come to their aid. But at the very last minute, when Muammar Qaddafi seemed to be only days and perhaps hours away from retaking the remainder of his country by force, Obama decided to act. It was a decision we wish he would have arrived at weeks ago. But it was the right decision. And Obama deserves credit for having made it.
To understand why Obama’s decision was not only correct but really the only decent one that was available to him, it is necessary to contemplate what would be taking place in Libya right now if we had not intervened. Late last week, Qaddafi announced that his forces, having reestablished control over most of the country, were closing in on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, and issued his now infamous warning to those who refused to give up. “We are coming tonight,” he said. “We will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.” Had we not intervened to cripple his forces, it seems likely that, by now, Qaddafi would be in Benghazi and, undoubtedly, carrying out bloody reprisals against his opponents. The rebellion, moreover, would effectively be over, and any hopes of freedom that the Libyan people had been entertaining would be dead, at least in the near term.
Skeptics of the intervention (including TNR contributing editor Michael Walzer, whose thoughtful analysis can be found here) have argued that one of the mission’s flaws is that its goals are woefully unclear. Are we trying to topple Qaddafi? Are we merely trying to create a safe-haven for rebels in the east? These are fair questions, but it seems to us that the most immediate goals of the mission were quite clear: first, to prevent a slaughter in Benghazi, a slaughter that Qaddafi himself had promised was only hours away; and second, to tip the balance of power in the rebellion away from Qaddafi, so that his forces were unable to retake any more of the country, thus extinguishing the resistance for good. On these terms, the intervention has already been a success.
As for what comes next: It is difficult to say whether Western airpower can tip the balance of power toward the rebels so dramatically that they will be able to topple Qaddafi. We certainly hope so. But even if it does not, an intervention that at least allows the rebels to maintain a free zone in Libya will certainly be a better outcome than the alternative—a Libya reunited under Qaddafi’s iron control.
In making this argument we are mindful of the lessons of Iraq. We supported that war, which has exacted an enormous human cost on Iraqis and Americans alike, and we long ago came to the conclusion that our support was a grave mistake. But we are also mindful of recent instances where Western power has been necessary to head off mass killing and to help oppressed people achieve their liberation. In some of these instances—Bosnia, Kosovo—we acted, and the outcomes have been generally positive. In other instances—Rwanda, Darfur—we did not act, and the results were hundreds of thousands of dead. The point is that Iraq alone cannot be used as a basis for determining the morality or predicting the efficacy of any given intervention.
Many skeptics have also pointed to the events unfolding in Bahrain, where a Sunni minority government allied with the United States has (with the help of another U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia) violently suppressed an uprising by the Shia majority. Isn’t Obama a hypocrite, many liberals have asked, for intervening to stop an autocrat in Libya but not in Bahrain? It is a legitimate point. Bahrain is said to be a difficult case for American policymakers because a revolution by the Shia majority would be a major victory for Iran. And it is true that anything which advances the interests of a brutal Iranian government in the Middle East must be seen as a setback to the cause of liberal democracy.
At the same time, the events of the last few months show that aligning oneself with autocrats is never a wise course. We spent decades paralyzed with fear about what the fall of Mubarak would mean for our strategic interests. And yet, looking back, would we not have been better off cutting Mubarak loose a generation ago, and siding forthrightly with the Egyptian people? By helping to postpone the arrival of democracy, we did not fortify our long-term strategic position one bit.
We must now think about Bahrain (and Saudi Arabia and our other repressive clients in the region) in the same terms. If our backing allows the Al Khalifa family to remain in power for a few more years, and in the process causes the Bahraini people to conclude that the United States is fundamentally hypocritical, we will in fact be helping Iran. The message of the Obama administration to the Al Khalifas and to Saudi Arabia’s rulers must now be unequivocal: You cannot rule forever, and you must begin the process of opening up your societies and paving the way for liberal democracy.
Should we have intervened diplomatically to stop the repression in Bahrain? Absolutely. But for those offering our failure in Bahrain as a reason not to intervene in Libya, here is a simple question: Would our failure in Bahrain have been in any way ameliorated by allowing Qaddafi to move into Benghazi late last week? We think the answer is a clear no.
Of course, no one knows what will happen from here forward. But this much we do know: Four days ago, a cruel dictator appeared to be on the verge of initiating a bloodbath in one of the last free zones of his country. Today, the free zone he was threatening to attack remains free. And his ability to wage war against a justified rebellion seems to have been at least somewhat compromised. Without Western intervention—that is, without Obama’s decision to finally do the right thing—there is little doubt that the situation would have been worse.
By: The Editors, The New Republic, March 20, 2011.
The fight is not over. Whether or not Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi defeats the rebels in eastern Libya, any legitimacy he once had has been extinguished. He has weapons, tanks and planes, but he has lost the allegiance of even those elements of Libyan society that had once been willing to wait and hope for political reform. His base of support is now only diehard allies and foreign mercenaries. They might win on the battlefield, but they will lose in the end.
The uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt were precipitating events, but the resistance has drawn its core motivation from Libya’s brutal experience of colonialism. What is most striking about the rhetoric of the rebellion is how the anticolonialist theme that Colonel Qaddafi once deployed has now been turned against him and is being used on Twitter and Facebook. Even as they are assaulted by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, the rebels have resisted calling for forceful Western intervention, though they support the imposition of a no-flight zone.
Libya’s history explains why. From 1911 to 1943, half a million Libyans died under Italian rule, including 60,000 in concentration camps run by the fascists. Colonel Qaddafi’s nationalist populism is rooted in the traumas of the colonial era, which were papered over during the modernizing but out-of-touch monarchy that ruled from 1951 to 1969.
The regime that came into existence in a bloodless coup in 1969 was led by officers who came from lower-middle-class backgrounds, represented all three regions of Libya and had the backing of a population that was largely rural. Although it was anticolonialist and anticommunist and advocated Arab nationalism and Islamic cultural identity, the new government did not have a clearly delineated political agenda; instead it looked for guidance from the 1952 Egyptian revolution. To this ideological mix the Qaddafi faction, which consolidated power in 1976, added its vision of an indigenous, pastoral, socialist society supported by oil revenues and the labor of workers from abroad.
Western analysts focused on the leader’s cult of personality and eccentric style have often misinterpreted his regime as a historical aberration. In fact, it was rooted in the hinterland of south-central Libya, with its pan-Islamic culture, kinship networks, fear of the central state and mistrust of the West. Colonel Qaddafi transformed anticolonialism and Libyan nationalism into a revolutionary ideology, using language understood by ordinary Libyans. He employed his charisma to mobilize Libyans and attack his opponents. He spoke, ate and dressed like a rural tribesman.
But “tribalism,” so frequently mentioned in coverage of the revolt, is not a timeless feature of Libyan society. It was merely one facet of Colonel Qaddafi’s divide-and-conquer style of rule. To weaken opposition from students, intellectuals and the middle class, the regime pursued a policy of “Bedouinization,” attacking urban culture; promoting rural dress, music, festivals and rituals; and reviving institutions like tribal leadership councils. Tripoli, the capital, lost much of its cosmopolitan character even as it grew.
In its first two decades, the revolution brought many benefits to ordinary Libyans: widespread literacy, free medical care and education, and improvements in living conditions. Women in particular benefited, becoming ministers, ambassadors, pilots, judges and doctors. The government got wide support from the lower and middle classes.
But starting in the 1980s, excessive centralization, greater repression by security forces and a decline in the rule of law undermined the experiment in indigenous populism. Institutions like courts, universities, unions and hospitals weakened. Civic associations that had made Libyan society seem more democratic than many Persian Gulf states in the 1970s withered or were eliminated. A hostile international climate, and fluctuations in oil revenues, added to the pressures on the regime.
It responded by transforming its rituals of hero-worship into a rhetoric of pan-African ideology. It also turned to violence. After repeated coup attempts, it beat, imprisoned and exiled dissidents. It staffed security forces with reliable relatives and allies from central and southern Libya. During the 1990s, as economic sanctions took their toll, health care and education deteriorated, unemployment soared, the economy became ever more dependent on oil and the regime grew increasingly corrupt.
But what has escaped notice since the rebellion began in mid-February is the demographic transformation that made it possible. About 80 percent of Libyans now live in urban areas, towns and cities. Libya today has a modern economy and a high literacy rate. The leaders of the uprising include lawyers, judges, journalists, writers, scholars, women’s rights activists, former army officers and diplomats — a sizable urban elite that is battered and restive.
Had Colonel Qaddafi responded with openness to the calls for reform and not overreacted to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the urban elite might have been placated, and the violent rebellion avoided. He blew it. Once his army and police shot at protesters, the pent-up disaffection of Libyan society was unleashed, and it is too late for the regime to bottle it up. In recent weeks the revolt has even gained support from the historically pro-Qaddafi rural populace. No matter how much blood is shed today, the uprising will not be stopped.
By: Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times: Professor of Political Science at the University of New England, and author of “The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization and Resistance, 1830-1932.”
Five years ago, in the darkest days of insurgent violence and Sunni-Shia strife, it seemed as if the Iraq war would shadow American foreign policy for decades, frightening a generation’s worth of statesmen away from using military force. Where there had once been a “Vietnam syndrome,” now there would be an “Iraq syndrome,” inspiring harrowing flashbacks to Baghdad and Falluja in any American politician contemplating an intervention overseas.
But in today’s Washington, no such syndrome is in evidence. Indeed, it’s striking how quickly the bipartisan coalition that backed the Iraq invasion has reassembled itself to urge President Obama to use military force against Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The Iraq war became known as George W. Bush’s war after Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction didn’t turn up, because at that point no liberal wanted to take responsibility for the conflict. But the initial invasion was supported by Democrats as well as Republicans, liberal internationalists as well as neoconservatives — Hillary Clinton as well as John McCain, The New Republic as well as The Weekly Standard.
Now a similar chorus is arguing that the United States should intervene
directly in Libya’s civil war: with a no-flight zone, certainly, and perhaps with arms for the Libyan rebels and air strikes against Qaddafi’s military as well. As in 2002 and 2003, the case
for intervention is being pushed by a broad cross-section of politicians and opinion-makers, from Bill Clinton to Bill Kristol, Fareed Zakaria to Newt Gingrich, John Kerry to Christopher Hitchens.
The justifications for military action, too, echo many of the arguments marshaled for toppling Saddam Hussein. America’s credibility is on the line. The Libyan people deserve our support. Deposing Qaddafi will strike a blow for democracy and human rights.
It’s a testament to the resilience of American power that we’re hearing these kind of arguments so soon after the bloodiest years of the Iraq war. It’s also a testament to the achievements of the American military: absent the successes of the 2007 troop surge, we’d probably be too busy extricating ourselves from a war-torn Iraq to even contemplate another military intervention in a Muslim nation.
But that resilience and those achievements may have set a trap for us, by encouraging the American leadership class to draw relatively narrow lessons from the Iraq war — lessons that only apply to wars premised on faulty W.M.D. intelligence, or wars led by Donald Rumsfeld.
In reality, there are lessons from our years of failure in Iraq that can be applied to an air war over Libya as easily as to a full-scale invasion or counterinsurgency. Indeed, they can be applied to any intervention — however limited its aims, multilateral its means, and competent its commanders.
One is that the United States shouldn’t go to war unless it has a plan not only for the initial military action, but also for the day afterward, and the day after that. Another is that the United States shouldn’t go to war without a detailed understanding of the country we’re entering, and the forces we’re likely to empower.
Moreover, even with the best-laid plans, warfare is always a uniquely high-risk enterprise — which means that the burden of proof should generally rest with hawks rather than with doves, and seven reasonable-sounding reasons for intervening may not add up to a single convincing case for war.
Advocates of a Libyan intervention don’t seem to have internalized these lessons. They have rallied around a no-flight zone as their Plan A for toppling Qaddafi, but most military analysts seem to think that it will fail to do the job, and there’s no consensus on Plan B. Would we escalate to air strikes? Arm the rebels? Sit back and let Qaddafi claim to have outlasted us?
If we did supply the rebels, who exactly would be receiving our money and munitions? Libya’s internal politics are opaque, to put it mildly. But here’s one disquieting data point, courtesy of the Center for a New American Security’s : Eastern Libya, the locus of the rebellion, sent more foreign fighters per capita to join the Iraqi insurgency than any other region in the Arab world.
And if the civil war dragged on, what then? Twice in the last two decades, in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, the United States has helped impose a no-flight zone. In both cases, it was just a stepping-stone to further escalation: bombing campaigns, invasion, occupation and nation-building.
None of this means that an intervention is never the wisest course of action. But the strategic logic needs to be compelling, the threat to our national interest obvious, the case for war airtight.
With Libya, that case has not yet been made.
By: Ross Douthat, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 13, 2011
“They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing,” Voltaire said of the members of the Hapsburg dynasty of his day. The same might be said of the American hawks who are calling for U.S. military intervention in Libya’s civil war.
Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman, along with others, have raised the possibility of establishing “no-fly zones” in Libya, along the lines of those in Iraq between the end of the Gulf War in 1991 and the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003, in order to prevent Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi from using his air force to bomb the rebels seeking to overthrow his regime. Another suggestion is to help Libyan rebels establish secure enclaves, from which they can capture the rest of the country from forces loyal to Gadhafi.
The implication is that the enforcement of “no-fly zones,” by the U.S. alone or with NATO allies, would be a moderate, reasonable measure short of war, like a trade embargo. In reality, declaring and enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya would be a radical act of war. It would require the U.S. not only to shoot down Libyan military aircraft but also to bomb Libya in order to destroy anti-aircraft defenses. Under any legal theory, bombing a foreign government’s territory and blasting its air force out of the sky is war.
Could America’s war in Libya remain limited? The hawks glibly promise that the U.S. could limit its participation in the Libyan civil war to airstrikes, leaving the fighting to Libyan rebels.
These assurances by the hawks are ominously familiar. Remember the phrase “lift-and-strike”? During the wars of the Yugoslav succession in the 1990s, Washington’s armchair generals claimed that Serbia could easily be defeated if the U.S. lifted the arms embargo on Serbia’s enemies and engaged in a few antiseptic airstrikes. Instead, the ultimate result was a full-scale war by NATO. Serbia capitulated only when it was faced with the possibility of a ground invasion by NATO troops.
Undeterred by the failure of lift-and-strike in the Balkans, neoconservatives proposed the same discredited strategy as a way to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz and others proposed the creation of enclaves in Iraq, from which anti-Saddam forces under the protection of U.S. airpower could topple the tyrant. Critics who knew something about the military dismissed this as the “Bay of Goats” strategy, comparing it to the Kennedy administration’s failed “Bay of Pigs” operation that was intended to overthrow Fidel Castro without direct U.S. military involvement by landing American-armed Cuban exiles in Cuba. In Iraq, as in the Balkans, the ultimate result was an all-out U.S. invasion followed by an occupation.
In Afghanistan, Afghan rebels played a key role in deposing the Taliban regime. But contrary to the promises of the Bush administration that the Afghan War would be short and decisive, the objective was redefined from removing the Taliban to “nation-building” and the conflict was then thoroughly Americanized. The result is today’s seemingly endless, expensive Afghan quagmire.
The lesson of these three wars is that the rhetoric of lift-and-strike is a gateway drug that leads to all-out American military invasion and occupation. Once the U.S. has committed itself to using limited military force to depose a foreign regime, the pressure to “stay the course” becomes irresistible. If lift-and-strike were to fail in Libya, the same neocon hawks who promised that it would succeed would not apologize for their mistake. Instead, they would up the ante. They would call for escalating American involvement further, because America’s prestige would now be on the line. They would denounce any alternative as a cowardly policy of “cut and run.” And as soon as any American soldiers died in Libya, the hawks would claim that we would be betraying their memory, unless we conquered Libya and occupied it for years or decades until it became a functioning, pro-American democracy.
Those who are promoting an American war against Gadhafi must answer the question: “You and whose army?” The term “jingoism” comes from a Victorian British music-hall ditty: “We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do,/ We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.” Unfortunately for 21st-century America’s jingoes, we haven’t got the ships, the men or the money. The continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched U.S. military manpower to the limits. The U.S. has paid for these wars by borrowing rather than taxation. The long-term costs of these conflicts, including medical care for maimed American soldiers, will run into the trillions, according to the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes.
If a lift-and-strike policy failed, and the result was a full-scale American war in Libya, how would Sen. McCain propose to pay for it? Republicans since Reagan have preferred to use deficit spending rather than taxes to pay for wars and military buildups. No doubt the Republican hawks would support paying for a Libyan war, like the Iraq and Afghan wars, by adding hundreds of billions or trillions to the deficit, even as they claim that non-military programs are bankrupting the country.
Napoleon and Hitler were brought down when they foolishly fought wars on two fronts. In hindsight they look like strategic geniuses compared to the American hawks who, not content that the U.S. is fighting two simultaneous wars in the Muslim world, are recklessly proposing a third.
Fortunately, the American people in 2008 chose not to entrust Sen. McCain with the office of commander in chief. While his domestic policy has been too timid and incremental, in his foreign policy Barack Obama has proven to be the cautious realist that America needed after the trigger-happy George W. Bush. His prudence is shared by his conservative secretary of defense, Robert Gates, who recently told an audience of West Point cadets:
“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”
Gates is right. Those who propose U.S. military intervention in Libya, even as the U.S. remains bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, should get their heads examined.
By: Michael Lind, Salon, March 8, 2011