2011/03/21

Clintonian liberal interventionism


Most interesting. Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist of the NY Times, looks at President Obama's strategy concerning Libya and well, makes a really excellent argument for Clintonian liberal interventionism. Not that he meant to, of course, but his summary of how Obama's intervention into Libya differs from Bush's invasion of Iraq reminds me and fellow progressives of just why Bush and his policies were so hated.

[Obama] just wanted to make sure we were doing it in the most multilateral, least cowboyish fashion imaginable.

[…]

[in] a stark departure from the Bush administration’s more unilateralist methods. There are no “coalitions of the willing” here, no dismissive references to “Old Europe,” no “you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”

My reaction to this, of course, is “Yes!!!!!” but it's pretty obvious that Douthat intended to present Obama's intervention into Libya as a “parade of horribles.” The following is an interesting paragraph, not so much for what it says, but for what it doesn't say and for the argument that doesn't follow it.

But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.

The issues that goes unaddressed here is the one of how slow consensus-building actually compares in the real world to unilateral kick-ass action that gets taken “Right NOW!” Seems to me that the brusque and decisive booting of Shirley Sherrod from the Department of Agriculture was a sterling example of when decisive action can be hugely premature and can hurt ones' cause far more than it can help it. One might also note that because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't rely upon consensus-building and because there's no apparent way that they can ever result in victory, there's no easy way to end them.
What is the exit strategy for getting out of Afghanistan? General Petraeus certainly doesn't seem to know. He seems to want to keep that war going until it produces a victory and apparently, he'll keep on fighting that war until the last Afghan drops into the dust from sheer exhaustion. Afghans themselves would be perfectly happy to see US troops leave their country tomorrow. One recent friction point has been the killing, via a drone, of several boys aged 12 and under. Several high-ranking US persons have assured Afghans they'll be more careful in the future, but clearly, drones simply can't distinguish targets very well. We know from this and many other cases that drones can't distinguish between firewood-gathering expeditions and wedding parties and guerrillas assembling for hostile action. Afghans understand that the US is using a baseball bat where a tack hammer would be far more useful. That's because a guerrilla war is not the same thing as a World War II-style conventional war. Guerrilla wars require far less in terms of sheer brute force and far more in the way of intel, in terms of precise knowledge as to who the bad guys are and in terms of understanding just what their appeal to the people of the countryside is.

The argument that doesn't follow the quoted paragraph above is that the Iraq War was a success that should be emulated. Douthat doesn't make that argument because it simply isn't true. US troops were not “greeted as liberators,” or at least a small proportion of the Iraqi people did see US troops in that light early on, but it was far from clear in 2006 that the Arab world in general was enthusiastic about the US barging into Muslim countries and imposing made-in-America solutions to their problems, no matter how serious those problems were.

And y'know? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that if the two following propositions from Douthat are true, then a “forward strategy” is the last thing America wants! “Our coalition’s aims are uncertain” and “our supposed partners don’t seem to have the stomach for a fight.” I mean, are those really the conditions that call for an aggressive, kick-ass, no-holds-barred strategy? Really?!?! Sounds to me like Obama's pursuing a strategy that's constrained by the real demands of the real world and not a strategy that's been thought up in the romper room of kids playing cowboys.

Maybe, as Douthat says, “war and moralism are uneasy bedfellows,” but it seems to me that G.W. Bush tried the route of pretending that moralism was irrelevant and that he could just do whatever he pleased and that it was a spectacular failure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Prawn Blog,


My name is Barbara O’Brien and I am a political blogger. Just had a question about your blog and couldn’t find an email—please get back to me as soon as you can (barbaraobrien(at)maacenter.org)

Thanks,
Barbara