Friday, February 25, 2011

Leon Wieseltier wants U.S. action on Libya, suggests it should be pretty clean and easy

Here's the good man on President Obama's well-founded reluctance to put an American face on the anti-Qaddafi movement by directly involving U.S. forces:
To be sure, there are conspiracy theorists in the region who are not in their right mind, and will hold such an anti-American view; but this anti-Americanism is not an empirical matter. They will hate us whatever we do. I do not see a Middle East rising up in anger at the prospect of American intervention.
Well I don't know about you, but I feel relieved!

In case it matters, though, this is the same Leon Wieseltier that was a signatory of the infamous Project for a New American Century letter of September 20, 2001 -- the one that ran down a list of targets for the "global war on terror." The list included Iraq -- "any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq" -- which should come as no surprise; Wieseltier was also a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

Presumably Leon Wieseltier "[did] not see a Middle East rising up in anger at the prospect of American intervention" to remove Saddam, either. I don't suppose the families of the 100,000+ people who perished during the "Liberation of Iraq" are particularly comforted that regional conflagration was avoided.

12 comments:

  1. So, if the Middle East will "hate us, whatever we do," we should jump to the option that exposes us to more direct risk, costs more money, and potentially entangles us in a civil war... And they'll still hate us!

    Why, so we can pat ourselves on the back and talk down to Europeans? The military isn't a tool for the self-affirmation of our values.

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  2. Leon Wieseltier may be a terrible spokesman for the position, but glib dismissal doesn't win the day. If you disagree so strenuously, why not argue the case in all its complexities? It's not nearly as simple as you seem to suggest here.

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  3. Leon Wieseltier may be a terrible spokesman for the position, but glib dismissal doesn't win the day. If you disagree so strenuously, why not argue the case in all its complexities? It's not nearly as simple as you seem to suggest here.

    Perhaps because I'm not the one advocating action, but rather opposing it. I would suggest that it's incumbent on those who wish to address the world's problems with U.S. military presence to "argue the case in all its complexities" -- not me. I would suggest that it's Leon Wieseltier's job to provide some kind of evidence -- or at least a plausible justification -- for his assertion that the Arab street would be mostly indifferent to U.S. intervention in Libya.

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  4. That's a gargantuan cop-out that rests on the faulty assumption that a decision not to use military force carries no risks and consequences for the US. That is not for a moment to suggest that there aren't risks associated with action, but to pretend that inaction doesn't have costs associated with it is absurd.

    I think Libya is a particularly challenging case, and I haven't done enough research on the country to reach a firm conclusion. There are strong cases to be made for and against action, but - in answer to your question - Al Jazeera's coverage, the Arab League's expulsion of Libya, etc. suggest to me that Qaddafi has shredded whatever minimal legitimacy he still retained in the Arab world. Do you disagree, and if so, what signs of continuing support would you cite?

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  5. Correction - the Arab League's suspension, not expulsion, of Libya.

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  6. Correction 2 - technically just 'barred' from meetings, not suspension.

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  7. That's a gargantuan cop-out that rests on the faulty assumption that a decision not to use military force carries no risks and consequences for the US.

    Well that's news to me, because I certainly don't assume that. The status quo is just one of several possible courses of action, but you won't see me asserting that it's not a course of action, or that it doesn't come with associated risks and consequences just as every other COA does.

    There are strong cases to be made for and against action

    Sure. And this post was inspired by the fact that I've yet to see any particularly compelling and suitably specific recommendations in favor of "action." Certainly Wieseltier's proposal that we send "the small number of troops that would be required to rescue Tripoli from Qaddafi's bloody grip" doesn't qualify, and doesn't adequately consider risk and consequences. Or rather, he does consider those things, and then dismisses their significance by simply asserting that it's all just going to be no big deal. As, I hasten to point out, his ideological allies did -- incorrectly, let's remember -- in the case of Iraq.

    but - in answer to your question - Al Jazeera's coverage, the Arab League's expulsion of Libya, etc. suggest to me that Qaddafi has shredded whatever minimal legitimacy he still retained in the Arab world. Do you disagree, and if so, what signs of continuing support would you cite?

    I actually didn't really ask a question, but if I had, it wouldn't be the one you're answering. "Qaddafi has no legitimacy in the Arab world" DNE "the broader Middle East is indifferent to the prospect of American intervention (particularly with ground troops)."

    Saddam was a pariah, too. So what? Did that stop the Iraqi insurgency? Did that stop folks from using U.S. presence in Iraq as a justification for acts of violence and terrorism? Did that stop broad international condemnation of U.S. actions? Did that stop us from spending a trillion dollars? Did (explicit or tacit) Saudi, Jordanian, Emirati, and Iranian support for Saddam's deposition end up meaning much of anything in terms of popular goodwill, international standing, or moral force?

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  8. So you agree that not intervening militarily is a COA, but while apparently advocating it, don't think you need to actually argue its merits? Interesting.

    I'll reiterate that I'm not advocating for or against intervention - I don't know enough about the situation to make a call. I just have a problem with presenting arguments about deeply complex issues as if the answers are self-evident, while heaping scorn on others ideas. Of course, if you care to justify your scorn, heap away.

    And fair point about your question, although I think your invocation of Saddam as a parallel doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps Saddam in 1991 as he massacred the Marsh Arabs, but not in 2003.

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  9. So you agree that not intervening militarily is a COA, but while apparently advocating it, don't think you need to actually argue its merits? Interesting.

    Again, I'm not advocating for any particular COA -- as you say, we probably don't have enough information at this point. What I AM saying is that it's dumb to throw out unsupported assertions like "I don't think the Middle East will mind," and that you should expect to get called out for it when you do. I'm not suggesting that the answer to the Libya dilemma is "self-evident." I'm merely saying that Wieseltier's conclusions are a long, long way from self-evident.

    As far as the Saddam thing goes, I'm not trying to draw a perfect parallel. But it's worth keeping in mind that "he doesn't have any friends in the region" has been both true and essentially meaningless of other leaders in the past, and we should maybe note that when we suggest that it's a relevant data point.

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  10. On the first point I certainly agree.

    On the second, I think the key difference is that Saddam in 2003 may not have had friends among the region's regimes, but he did have some legitimacy in the eyes of the 'street' - and not just the Arab street - for being seen to stand up to the US. I don't think Qaddafi does - or will - enjoy that same legitimacy, but it is certainly plausible that resistance to a US-led intervention could emerge and rally around some other flag.

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  11. it is certainly plausible that resistance to a US-led intervention could emerge and rally around some other flag.

    Let's not forget that the Ba'athist/Fedayeen resistance was only one element of a complex insurgency, though perhaps the most prominent back in the '03-'04 timeframe.

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  12. I should clarify - if an intervention was launched that included explicitly reaching out to the tribes on which Qaddafi depends for support, giving them an opportunity to defect, avoid any attacks, and participate in a process to forge a new Libyan state, then I wonder whether there would be much in the way of endogenous resistance. However, AQIM might well see it as an opportunity get their licks in, and the-insurgents-formerly-known-as-GSPC are just next door in Algeria. Again, I just don't know enough to parse the myriad possible scenarios.

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