I’ve recently acquired a decent respect for Joe Scarborough. He seems, to a certain extent, to defy easy labeling as another mouth of the hydra-headed, but uniformly extreme, Republican Party (e.g.). But that respect has its limits.
In a Politico op-ed, Scarborough asks where the liberal outrage is over Libya — he apparently reads neither the influential Greenwald, nor the indignant Sullivan — and wonders how we can morally justify the Libya intervention, but not the Iraq War.
While one can make the moral argument that countries can be attacked strictly on humanitarian grounds, that argument is laughable when it comes to Libya.
How can the left call for the ouster of Muammar Qadhafi for the sin of killing hundreds of Libyans when it opposed the war waged against Saddam Hussein? During Saddam’s two decades in Iraq, he killed more Muslims than anyone in history and used chemical weapons against his own people and neighboring states. [. . .]
If Obama and his liberal supporters believed Qadhafi’s actions morally justified the Libyan invasion, why did they sit silently by for 20 years while Saddam killed hundreds of thousands?
The article pays lip service to the painfully obvious distinction — as a military action, the Libya expedition is both fundamentally different from, and substantially smaller than Iraq — but doesn’t follow the logic to its conclusion. The decision of when to use military force for humanitarian reasons depends on two very different values: what we’d like to do, and what we can do. Scarborough’s point about liberal hypocrisy only materializes if we equate the two values. That methodology of conflict would partially explain the rush to war in Iraq, but it’s an odd way to plan foreign policy. In fact, it’s cheating: the political science equivalent of assuming a frictionless vacuum. To make an equally absurd point, why did Bush invade Iraq in 2003, when he could have “just as easily” invaded China and installed an American proconsul in Hu Jintao’s place, wiping out the national debt in the process?!?
Especially in war and foreign policy, moral calculus matters. To that point, it’s material to note that the price tag on the Libya expedition comes in, so far, at just 0.07757404% of the staggering bill for Operation Iraqi Freedom. And that’s using the conservative, February estimate, valuing the Iraq War at just $709 billion. That took math: comparing the cost in American lives is a considerably easier task. For any value of “x,” 0 is precisely 0% of x.
Asking what wars an invincible, fully paid-for military would fight is just a distraction. What Scarborough should ask is, is the President doing the best work possible with the military resources available to us? That’s a tough call. But at least it’s a useful question.