The Post-War on Terror Republican Party

Moammar Ghadafi’s death comes as just the most recent in a string of events putting the lie, conclusively, to the notion that Democrats are too weak, diplomatic, even-tempered, internationalist, or what-have-you to lead the American military. And every day the country survives without a terrorist attack counts as one more blow to the theory that Bush “kept us safe” because of, rather than in spite of, aggressive and quintessentially un-American tactics like torture. To their credit, Republicans seem to get it: throughout the series of increasingly hilarious Republican debates, I don’t think we’ve seen even one direct attack on Obama’s foreign policy from this angle — though it’s probably right to view the Palin/Romney argument that Obama doesn’t see America as an “exceptional” nation as some hybrid, taking the residuum of discredited national security talking points, mixing in a little bit of racism, and finishing it off with a layer of condescension.

Leave it to John Yoo then to explain how Obama is still — post-SEAL Team Six, the “war on pirates,” and the fall of Libya — an internationalist, UN sell-out. If only we’d attacked Libya sooner, and gone with a full-scale invasion, well the whole thing would’ve been over that much quicker!

But Obama does not get full credit, I think, because he took so long to intervene. Recall that the U.S. intervened only after the U.N. Security Council approved intervention. Obama chose to wait until Qaddafi had driven the rebels into a last holdout in Benghazi. He chose to restrain our operations along the lines set out by the Security Council, which forbade ground troops. This prolonged the ouster of Qaddafi into a full-blown civil war and resulted in more disintegration of the nation’s institutions than was necessary. To the extent that it is harder to get a new government to stand up and to collect and control Libya’s arms, part of the blame must also go to Obama’s delay because of his undue sensitivity to foreign opinion and the U.N.

It’s hard to say where Yoo’s faith in the virtue of unilateralism comes from. Certainly not results. Even accounting for the obvious reality that Libya stood in a far different state of affairs than Afghanistan or Iraq — which prevents me from arguing that Libya could’ve served as a template for those conflicts — thanks to Obama, Democrats can claim something that Republicans lack in the modern era: a foreign policy victory. True, Bush’s war toppled Saddam Hussein. But the Iraq War drained the treasury, creating the very deficit that Republicans today whine about; resulted in a new Iraq that America must either continue to prop up, or permit to implode; and its base price is measured in American lives, not missiles. In Libya, America managed to do some good, at a marginal price tag, and despite Republican opposition at every step. Call Libya a small victory, sure; but already, that’s more than Republicans can claim.

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8 comments

  1. Ames,
    Yes, well considering that Mr. Obama embraced Mr. Bush’s worst excesses – assassination of US citizens abroad, torture, warrantless wiretapping to name but a few, this “victory” rings exceedingly hollow. Frankly, hd Iraq and Afghanistan not been so abysmally bad for the US, we might well have soldiers in Libya today.

    Really, stop the cheerleading.

    And, beside that, why is “success” in foreign policy measured in terms of armed conflict? Why can’t war, supposedly a last resort, be seen as a great failure? How much more secure would be we be if, for instance, the US had lead economic, social, and education reforms in the Middle East for the last 40 years that had rendered Mr. Qadaffi isolated, the Sauidi royal family hobbled, and Al Quaeda the lone lunatic rantings of a singular mad man? But no, we can only be “effective” in foreign policy and security if we kill people and have a gigantic, treasury-draining military.

  2. Has he embraced torture — and warrantless wiretapping?

    1. Well, warrantless wiretapping is the law of the land, and that legal construct certainly hasn’t been dismantled by his administration, nor have the black sites and rendition practices that contributed to it. As to torture, one need only look at the continued holding in extended isolation of Gitmo prisoners for that answer.

  3. Philip:

    Why can’t war, supposedly a last resort, be seen as a great failure?

    Because sometimes the use of force is actually the best answer, and if you only consider it a “last resort”, you risk dragging your feet for so long that the situation deteriorates into something much worse.

    The Bosnian War is almost a casebook example. If the international community had intervened early and with a rigorous mandate instead of faffing around for years with negotiations and peacekeeping where there was no peace to keep, Sarajevo and a lot of other bad stuff might not have happened.

    How much more secure would be we be if, for instance, the US had lead economic, social, and education reforms in the Middle East for the last 40 years that had rendered Mr. Qadaffi isolated, the Sauidi royal family hobbled, and Al Quaeda the lone lunatic rantings of a singular mad man?

    That’s a very good question. The fact that Libya was indeed pretty much isolated for 20 years after the Lockerbie bombings and Qadaffi still held on perfectly fine suggests that it’s not quite that simple.

    1. While I’ll give you Bosnia, sort of, its not analogous to US involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemin, or Libya for that matter. The US didn’t create the civil war and all its atrocities – as we did in Iraq; nor did the US prop up a corrupt government (which we installed) which we did and still do in Afghanistan. But you didn’t get to my real question – why are the Republicans believed to be “strong” on defense when all they seem to advocate for is armed conflict? Why are Democrats “weak” on defense when they take the long view and try to move countries to the point where dictators don’t have a chance?

    2. I guess that’s simply because soft power is a more difficult and complex sell to the general public than hard power – dropping a couple of bombs on someone is doing something here and now, whereas working to build up the institutions of a civil society might not produce results for decades if ever.

      That said, I don’t think the “strong Republicans/weak Democrats” dynamic will actually be true for 2012, exactly because Obama is sitting with an extremely strong foreign/security political hand if the Republicans choose to challenge him on those issues. He’s managed to rebuild the US reputation abroad to a considerable degree and to get back as an active participant in international cooperation, but he also got Bin Laden and al-Awlaki, and handled the intervention in Libya pretty well. Or to use a bit of a buzzword, he’s using “smart power”: A combination of soft and hard power, whichever produces the best result in a given situation.

      However, there’s a bit of a paradox in that Obama probably can’t use that strength for very much, either, because 2012 will be decided on the economic issues even more than usual. So it’s unlikely to win him that many votes unless the Republicans bring it up – then he can use it defensively. But they certainly know that as well, which is why the foreign political stuff from the Republican has been as vague as it has so far.

  4. Also,

    It’s hard to say where Yoo’s faith in the virtue of unilateralism comes from.

    I suspect it comes from his deep and abiding love of public service. Specifically, the kind that takes place in a government office and brings both a large paycheck and substantial poltical power.

    1. Mr. Yoo was not a public servant in any way shape or form. IF he was, then I and my colleague who have made public service a career have been irreversibly stained by his “service.”

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