Wednesday, March 23, 2011

US Liberals, Conservatives Struggle to Find Positions on Libya

As Britain prepared to host an international conference in London on Tuesday to consider the next steps in the implementation of the Libyan no-fly zone, ambassadors from NATO nations met for the third day in Brussels to hammer out NATO's role in carrying out the UN mandates.

Britain and the United States have suggested that NATO lead the mission, while the French have suggested an international body including the Arab League, African nations, and concerned European nations should bear the political leadership while NATO maintains technical command-and-control role.

The fractious cogitations over Libya has seen the Arab League call for the no-fly zone, then balk at its implementation; NATO member Turkey balk at intervention, then agree to send warships; NATO member Germany withdraw its Med fleet from NATO command; and Italy and Norway opt for NATO control.

The Libya debate is no less contentious inside the Washington Beltway, with some politicians staking out familiar territory, while others find themselves on unfamiliar ground with peculiar bedmates.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) was the most vocal critic of the Libyan intervention among the liberal camp, questioning whether President Barack Obama's action to implement the no-fly zone was an impeachable offense.  Kucinich is at least consistent in his anti-war stances, having called for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to be impeached for starting the Iraq War.  Likewise, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) was the only member of the House to vote against the Iraq War, and stood against the  no-fly zone here. You probably wouldn't have gotten Ghandi to go along with airstrikes either, not to imply that either Kucinich or Lee are good enough to carry the Mahatma's loincloth.

On the Republican side of the aisle, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama has come out against the no-fly zone. Senator Richard Lugar, ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee likewise stood against it.

The House Progressive Caucus struggled to find a position on the Libyan no-fly zone. Its 75 members discussed whether Libya might be a quagmire, whether to block funding for the action, whether the President acted Constitutionally, or whether to simply express skepticism.  In the end, all that came out was a tepid statement signed by just four caucus members, with Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Mike Honda (D-CA) joining Lee. Their statement read, in part:
"There is a serious humanitarian crisis in Libya, and Gaddafi’s reckless, indiscriminate use of force on his own people in response to grassroots calls for change is unacceptable. But there are serious consequences for rushing to war with a limited understanding of the situation..."
Ghadafy's actions, apparently, were "unacceptable," except that were acceptable. The statement goes on to say the US shouldn't "sidestep" diplomacy and humanitarian efforts, as though no one had thought to invite Ghadafy to discuss the matter over tea and cakes.

The "bomb-them-into-the-Stone-Age" camp included neo-con pundit William Kristol, who urged committing ground troops. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) were early supporters of the no-fly zone.

Former House Speaker and sometime 2012 Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was for the no-fly zone, then against it. He, like many Republicans, was apparently caught flat-footed by President Obama's tough stance against Ghadafy. Perhaps he anticipated the President would be soft on intervention, and called for the no-fly zone so he could be opposed to Obama. He has now switched his position and achieved his goal.

So, you have a situation where conservative Ron Paul (R-TX) and liberal Dennis Kucinich are questioning the Constitutionality of the action, while John Kerry (D-MA), best known for protesting the Vietnam War, and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), are joining John McCain and Lindsey Graham in supporting the President.

Charles Schumer (D-NY) for, Jim Webb (D-VA) against.

It's all probably very healthy for democracy. 

Nonetheless, what we have is a blood-thirsty tyrant who, unlike some other bloodthirsty tyrants, is nearly universally despised, threatening to massacre his own people who have risen against him. He has rolled tanks and artillery and scrambled ground-attack jets to pound virtually unarmed civilians. Rarely has there been so clear-cut a division between good and evil, between what is right and what is wrong. Even the Russians and the Chinese abstained on the UN resolution, when the buttons on their Security Council desks are permanently hard-wired to "Veto."

If the Spanish Civil War had occurred today, would there be earnest young partisans flocking to join the rebellion?  Would the Marquis De Lafayette be flaunting his government to sail in support of the American rebels? Or would the Rwanda genocide be the model for the day?

The endgame is murky, and intervention puts Allied troops in jeopardy.  However, the endgames are always unknowable, and anyone who thinks day-to-day peacetime military operations are without hazard should consider strapping 60,000 pounds of thrust onto his backside and trying some touch-and-go's. The one thing that's certain is that, when French jets blasted Khadafy's columns as they were poised to overrun Benghazi, the townfolk cheered.

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