National Review joins the interventionists

Remember the days when National Review was the voice of mature, responsible caution in the conservative world, restraining the hotheads? No longer. NR’s editors have become the hotheads. In an editorial today, they call for U.S. military intervention in Libya to help the rebels defeat Kaddafi. Below is the editorial, with my interspersed comments:

Save Benghazi

Two weeks ago, we thought Qaddafi would soon be out of Libya or hanging from a lamp post. But he checked the momentum of the rebels and reversed it with astonishing speed. The optimal result in Libya would be the rebels’ winning on their own, sending a message to others in the region—especially the Iranians—that it’s possible for a determined populace to overturn a hideously repressive regime. That’s not going to be. The question now is whether Qaddafi crushes the rebels with impunity and consolidates his terroristic, anti-American rule.

It is in the interest of the United States that this not happen.

Qaddafi is a murderer of Americans with whom we still have a score to settle. [LA replies: Presumably NR means the score from the Lockerbie bombing in the 1980s. But wait! Just a few years ago NR was celebrating the fact that Kaddafi had come over to our side, when he announced, following the invasion of Iraq, that he was dismantling his nuclear program. So what happened then to the score we supposedly had to settle? If that score had been forgotten by 2003-2004, what has suddenly brought it back in 2011?] If he survives after we and our allies sought his ouster (even if ineffectually), he will be even more unpredictable; he would be foolish not to restart his WMD programs as insurance against foreign intervention against his regime in the future. [LA replies: NR’s reasoning goes like this: Because Obama was so foolish as to intervene in the internal affairs of a foreign country by demanding that its leader step down, but then, lo and behold, its leader didn’t step down, this means that the U.S. must intervene much more dramatically in the affairs of that country by invading that country and overthrowing its leader. It’s one thing to say that getting involved in a war against a foreign power commits us to following through and defeating that power. It’s quite another to say that a vain, unserious statement by the U.S. President to the effect that a foreign leader “must” step down commits the U.S. to waging war against that leader and toppling him.] Moreover, the United States has staked its credibility on his ouster with President Obama’s repeated categorical statements that he must go. If Qaddafi re-establishes control quickly, it’ll be a blow to U.S. credibility. [LA replies: A blow to U.S. credibility? The U.S. has no authority over the internal affairs of Libya. Therefore it can’t lose any credibility based on what happens inside Libya. Only people who believe that the U.S. has control over and is responsible for the government of every country on earth could see Kaddafi’s survival in power in Libya as causing a loss of U.S. credibility.] Finally, a Qaddafi victory will mean a humanitarian and refugee crisis, certainly affecting Egypt, and perhaps Europe. [LA replies: But the fall of Kaddafi will also mean a humanitarian and refugee crisis. The refugee flood began when it looked as though Kaddafi was going down.]

All this means that we should want the rebellion against Qaddafi to survive. We initially opposed a no-fly zone, but circumstances have changed. [LA replies: Meaning, because Kaddafi did not fall, now we must make him fall, by sending our forces against his country.] We should establish both a no-fly zone and a no-drive zone in the approach to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi to prevent Qaddafi’s armored vehicles from entering the city. [LA replies: A no-drive zone? Meaning that if Kaddafi’s forces go where we don’t want them to go in their own country we use our air forces to bomb and kill them? And in a civil war that is none of our business?] The no-fly zone is unlikely to tip the military balance in itself, but Qaddafi’s air force has been a factor in his fight against the rebels. Coupling a no-fly zone with an effort to stop his advance on the ground should save Benghazi and allow the rebels time to recoup. Ideally, the Egyptians would dispatch peacekeepers to the city. Regardless, we should work with our allies to provide logistics, training, and arms to the rebels. [LA replies: By the way, eastern Libya, the rebel stronghold, is also the place which of all places in the Arab world sent the most terrorist insurgents in Iraq following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Eastern Libya is an al Qaeda area. These are the people NRO wants us to help.]

No military intervention is without costs and risks, but this air campaign would be an intervention commensurate with our interest—not an overwhelming commitment, but a meaningful one. We are not talking of a military operation comparable to taking and occupying Baghdad in 2003. If we check Qaddafi’s offensive, then we can consider other options. Perhaps we will only want to do what’s necessary to maintain the rebels’ enclave so they can fight another day; perhaps we will want to undertake decapitation strikes against the regime in Tripoli; perhaps we’ll want to use the threat of such strikes to try to bargain Qaddafi out of the country. [LA replies: See, they don’t know what they want to do. They have no Plan B if Kaddafi survives our initial intervention.]

But the hour is late. Waiting for U.N. or even NATO approval is a formula for inaction. We should consider the request by the rebels and the Arab League all the authorization we need, and assemble a coalition of the willing that should include as much Arab cooperation as possible.

We should have no illusions about the rebels, a rag-tag crew that, no doubt, includes its share of bad actors. The standard here, though, shouldn’t be particularly high—are they better or worse than Qaddafi? It will be hard to do worse, unless they take over and immediately begin hatching assassination plots against foreign leaders and ravaging Libyan society. [LA replies: In other words, the criterion for the U.S. to overthrow the government of a foreign country that does not threaten ours is that the successor government would be “better” in some sense than the existing government. If there were any standards left in America or in the conservative movement, no one would read NR after this.] Even if Qaddafi survives, he will be in a much weaker position with a rival government—recognized by us and presumably much of the region—controlling part of the east than if he rapidly retakes the entire country.

After the Iraq War, we are all mindful of the risks inherent in any military action. The caution of a Robert Gates is understandable, although it’s wrong to assume every U.S. operation must go astray. If we can’t establish a no-fly zone over Libya and stop Qaddafi’s drive toward Benghazi, we really are tapped out as a world power. [LA replies: Meaning, our survival as a world power depends on our doing things that we have no business doing and that do not advance our interests in any discernible fashion.] It’s the least we can do to tip the fight against a dictator with American blood on his hands. [LA replies: There they go again, with that urgent score to settle against Kaddafi which, prior to the recent rebellion in Libya, the NRO people and the other interventionists had not mentioned once in decades, but in fact had written off in 2003 when Kaddafi made accommodating moves toward the U.S. This may be the most irrational, irresponsible article I have ever read at National Review.]

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James P. writes:

Your remarks are right on target. All I would add is that Reagan did not consider our “score” against Libya to be sufficient reason to overthrow Qaddafi when the Libyans killed Americans in 1986. Reagan thought that he’d paid off the score with the air attack on Libya in 1986. Therefore the idea that our “score” demands overthrowing Qaddafi in 2011 is absurd.

LA writes:

The interventionists are concerned that a failure to intervene in Libya will destroy American credibility. Do these people have any notion of how their advocacy of U.S. military intervention in a Muslim country where no interests of ours are at stake destroys their credibility?

JC in Houston writes:

This is the same line William Kristol was spouting on Fox News Sunday this past weekend. We had to send sink Libyan ships or send forces to protect the rebels because if we didn’t Quadafi would again sponsor terrorism and obtain nuclear weapons. These armchair saber rattlers have, to paraphrase the late Will Rogers, never met a war they they didn’t like.

LA replies:

As I’ve often pointed out, such expressions as “armchair saber rattlers” and “chicken hawks” are not valid. If someone must have served in the military in order to have an opinion on whether the U.S. should wage a war or not, then only veterans would have a right to an opinion. But of course the people who use speak of “armchair warriors” and “chickenhawks” don’t say that only veterans have a right to an opinion on matters of war and peace. They just use “armchair” and “chickenhawlk” against the people they don’t like in any given debate. So it’s purely an ad hominem attack, and not a legitimate argument.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 16, 2011 02:32 PM | Send

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