Last week, Bloomberg’s Jonathan Alter posed a tantalizing question: “you think Obama’s been a bad president? Prove it.” More specifically, Alter challenged the president’s detractors to identify specific administration policy failures. On Monday, conservative David Frum responded to Alter’s throwing down the gauntlet with three examples of the President’s poor decision-making.
I came up with my own list of the president’s poor policy choices, which left-leaning bloggers have disputed. Of these decisions, Obama’s Libyan intervention may seem like his least obvious policy failure. So far, it appears to be an unmitigated operational success, achieved with far less blood and a lower price tag than the war in Iraq. That said, many on the left are confusing the current operational victory with the strategic validation of Samantha Power’s so-called “responsibility to protect“, which advocates military intervention on purely humanitarian grounds. The problem is that this policy sacrificed America’s vital interest of nuclear non-proliferation to achieve the limited strategic objective of ridding Libya of an unpleasant dictator.
Hey, really great blog post… I’ve enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy you put into each post. I actually run Lawaces.org, a blog of my personal research and experiences. If you’re interested, I would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail: bobshiller78(at)aol(dot)com, and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.
There are, however, other factors. One is the fact that most of the Arab world is under 22 years old and dissatisfied with current regimes. I still think Bush and the neo-conservatives were right in recognizing that change is going to come to Mideast. Their response — to try to get the US involved to shape and control the change — was beyond our capacity. However, supporting dictators and not helping those protesting would potentially sour or even fatally damage our potential relations with whatever emerges. Moreover, if we do nothing than the process of going from authoritarian regimes to something different (not necessarily democracy right away) would be at a much higher human cost.
In Iran the US learned this in the very early “Persian spring.” The Shah could not hold on. While some say the US could have supported the Shah’s grasp on power, that’s unlikely to have led to long term stability. An alternative would be to side with those wanting to oppose tyranny, and then be on their ‘good side’ as they form a new regime. That also sends a signal to other tyrants. This is in our strategic interests because if the Mideast is undergoing a transition, then our long term interests is to be on the so-called ‘right side of history.’
Also, the idea that a dictatorship can survive and have US support if it gives up WMD creates an incentive to start a WMD program. If you start a WMD program and then give it up, you won’t be punished. If you do not start one, then you can. So this creates a perverse incentive for creating WMD efforts in order to assure the US will tolerate whatever you want to do to your people. Do we really want that?
“One is the fact that most of the Arab world is under 22 years old and dissatisfied with current regimes. I still think Bush and the neo-conservatives were right in recognizing that change is going to come to Mideast.”
That’s what scares me. Youth bulges are associated with increased instability. I think the neo-conservative argument that spreading democracy was a justification for going to war was the weakest reason by an order of magnitude for going into Iraq. Helping former terrorists overthrow a dictactor who murdered his own civilians was never a fight that was worth squandering American resources for. It simply was not our business. In fact, we would have been better off if Qaddafi won.
The long-term strategic consequences of this ridiculous test case of the “responsibility to protect” are overwhelmingly negative. Now, al Qaeda elements are part of the new Libyan government. We’ve sent a signal to all governments that your agreements with the United States are only good until the next administration. We’ve signalled to would-be revolutionaries that we will back them in an overthrow of their governments (let’s hope the Saudis don’t take us up on this one). We’ve signalled that the only way to achieve security in the Middle East is to develop nuclear weapons.
Your notions that the Arab world will suddenly take to democracy are noble, but far too idealistic. Democracy has not prospered in that region for over 3,000 years, because attitudes and traditions are so tribal and calcified that it likely never will. The biggest failure of the neo-cons was their belief that all cultures yearn for strong individual rights and democracy. Yet, the Chinese have artfully demonstrated that a nation of people can be perfectly successful with a dictatorship, provided they encourage free market capitalism. It is sad, but it is true. Culture matters. And I think this is the one key insight your analysis is missing.
“Also, the idea that a dictatorship can survive and have US support if it gives up WMD creates an incentive to start a WMD program. If you start a WMD program and then give it up, you won’t be punished. If you do not start one, then you can. So this creates a perverse incentive for creating WMD efforts in order to assure the US will tolerate whatever you want to do to your people. Do we really want that?”
No sane government would start a multi-billion dollar nuclear program just to get attention from the United States. Governments would only start one if they intended to finish it. There are other, cheaper ways to get US support then starting a nuclear program.
Pingback: Al Qaeda to Be Part of New Libyan Government | Reflections of a Rational Republican
Pingback: Republicans Should Beware Obama’s Advantage on National Defense | Reflections of a Rational Republican
Pingback: Six Silly Questions Reporters Should Not Ask of Anyone Advocating Military Action Against Iran | Reflections of a Rational Republican