John Hawkins over at Townhall has a fairly popular article up right now entitled "7 Questions for Liberals About Obama's Libyan War." The article is nothing terribly special but it is getting a lot of link-love in the conservative blogosphere right now and thus its arguments merit response. While Hawkins raises seven distinct points, the article basically boils down to a rehash of many of the Left's criticisms of George W. Bush's adventures in Iraq and asks why these criticisms don't apply to Obama's intervention in Libya.
Others can and will respond to the fallacy of this argument better than this author ever could and thus this article will waste no time detailing the difference between a no-fly zone and an actual war nor will it discuss the difference between unilateral action and a UN backed multi-national operation. These facts and distinctions, while important, are not really of any concern to those on the right who simply wish to scream "hypocrisy" now that President Obama has undertaken the first true foreign action that can be called his own.
No, for people like Hawkins, it is best to address their points head on. Hawkins asks, "Where are the massive protests" and he deserves an answer.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be the answer he wanted. Hawkins, like many on the Right, has the problem of projection. Social conservatism itself is an ideology intolerant of difference and thus it should come as no surprise that its adherents naturally assume their opposition to be very much like themselves, opposed only in politics. When commentators like Hawkins ask, "where are the protests" they do so expecting the Democratic Party - or in this case the Anti-War movement - to exhibit the exact same rigid, organizational discipline that we see in the Republican Party.
But that just isn't the case. Unlike their opponents across the aisle, American Liberals tend to be very fractious and politically disorganized. Their love of difference and individuality makes regimented marching orders difficult to implement. Conservatives seem blind to this reality.
Just as Republicans insisted that the cause for Congressional inaction from 2008-20010 was the Democrats' inability to find consensus amongst themselves (when in reality it was the extraordinary party discipline in support of endless filibusters that held up the Senate's business), they now insist that the Anti-War movement is somehow hypocritical because it has failed to show up in protest of Obama's Libyan intervention with the same level of fervor and dedication.
Hawkins' implication is that the Left showed up to protest President Bush's wars for partisan reasons. While, no doubt, some protesters did exactly that, there was also no shortage of non-partisan criticisms of the Iraq war and it is both dishonest and unreasonable to pretend that all of those objections and criticisms apply to the current situation in Libya.
Absent the partisan shills - there are some in every crowd - there are four key reasons that people turned out to protest the Iraq war. Some of those reasons are still valid for Obama's Libyan engagement and, as this article will demonstrate, people motivated by those reasons are indeed already protesting US involvement in the region. Many of those reasons do not apply, however, and the Right's willingness to ignore prompt and consistent political protest from individuals so motivated suggests a profound and craven dishonesty on their part.
The Anti-War movement in its purest and simplest form consists of those who believe that war itself is immoral and wrong. To these individuals, the reasons for war are irrelevant - no reason ever justifies the use of military force and state-sponsored violence. The slightly more pragmatic pacifists hold that war should be only the very last of options and critisized President Bush's "rush to war" in Iraq just as they now criticize the UN's rush to use force against Quadaffi's government. Writing for the nutoriously left-wing Op Ed News, Majorie Cohen opined:
"All necessary measures" should first have been peaceful measures to settle the conflict. But peaceful means were not exhausted before Obama began bombing Libya. A high-level international team -- consisting of representatives from the Arab League, the Organization of African Unity, and the UN Secretary General -- should have been dispatched to Tripoli to attempt to negotiate a real cease-fire, and set up a mechanism for elections and for protecting civilians.
Though the ink is still wet on Obama's orders to the US military, this segment of the anti-war movement is already out and swinging. Strike one for Mr. Hawkins.
One step removed from the pacifist movement is a similarly ideologically based wing of the anti-war movement which holds that American military might should not be used to meddle in the affairs of other nations. Isolationists heed President George Washington's warnings about "foreign entanglements" and view with deep suspicion any use of American military might not strictly tied to the defense of American territory.
The civil war in Libya is a perfect case of "a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." While the president is limited by the Constitution to repelling or forestalling attack, Congress can declare war for a variety of purposes beyond simple defense. But as a member of the United Nations, the U.S. must abide by the provisions of the U.N. Charter.
Strike two for Mr Hawkins.
Once the anti-war crowd has been stripped of those opposed to war and foreign entanglements we are left with those who judge each action on its merits. In the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration insisted over and over that the Hussein regime possessed weapons of mass destruction and that prompt action was necessary to avoid a clear and present danger to American national security.
"There is already a mountain of evidence that Saddam Husseion is gathering WMDs for the purpose of using them. And adding additional information is like adding a foot to Mount Everest." --White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer, Sept. 6, 2002
"There's no debate in the world as to whether they have these weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that." --Donald Rumsfeld, Sept. 13, 2002
"We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." --Condoleezza Rice, Sept. 8, 2002
"Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof--the smoking gun--that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." --George W. Bush, Oct. 7, 2002
"We know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." --Dick Cheney, March 16, 2003
Of course we now know that the White House's evidence was suspect at best and deliberate misrepresentation at worst. In contrast, the Libyan government's use of force on civilians including indiscriminate bombing and straffing of civilian areas is not only well established but publically documented in the form of numerous independent and sourced audio and video accounts.
Numerous anti-war protesters took issue with the Bush Administration's efforts to sell the war to the American public. The felt that the case for war was made on false pretenses and, therefore, that the war itself was invalid.
There can be no argument, however, that the very things the UN has condemned in Libya are, in fact, going on there. We might ask if Qaddafi's use of force justifies the imposition of a no-fly zone, but we can not seriously debate the authenticity of the claims made against the Libyan regime.
It is little wonder then, that the Jurists are not out in force; their issue with the Bush Administration's involvement in Iraq simply does not apply to the current situation in Libya. Strike three for Mr. Hawkins.
When my grandfather's generation went off to war the expectation was that the United States was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives in the pursuit of some worthy goal. More than 400,000 Americans gave their lives in the Second World War; another 50,000 fell in Korea and another 50,000 in Vietnam. Since then, however, the calculus of combat has shifted in the American mindset. From Vietnam until the War on Terror under President Bush, the United States never participated in a military engagement in which it lost more than a few hundred troops. A generation has passed with such expectations and today our willingness to spill American blood in foreign adventures is much more restrained.
Many in the anti-war movement objected, not to the removal of Saddam Hussein from power but to the enormous cost of doing so in both in blood and treasure. This is partially visible in the slow and steady slide of public opinion against the wisdom of going to war in Iraq. In March of 2003, 74% of Americans believed that military intervention in Iraq was a good idea; five years later that number had fallen to 37%.
It is certainly possible that something will go horribly wrong in the course of American operations against Libya but already the public seems to have clearly articulated its opinions on the conflict and the Obama administration appears to be listening. Some 70% of Americans support the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya yet only 28% support the use of ground troops. Mr Hawkins asks why there are no protests but the UN resolution under which American forces are presently operating specifically bans a ground invasion.
This isn't tee-ball, but strike four.