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What It Isn’t Good For

June 19th, 2011

One thing that has kind of mystified me is why so many, including liberals, seem to be equating the Libyan intervention with the Iraq War. “We’re now at war with five countries,” I hear. Well, if you want to take the greatest liberty in stretching the definition, I suppose so–if being involved in bombing is equal to being at war, then perhaps so. But what we’re doing in Libya is about as far from what we’re doing in Iraq as one can imagine.

This also serves to make a more recent distinction between recent Democratic and Republican wars: Clinton and Obama have limited their wars strategically, intervening where it is both potentially stabilizing as well as humanitarian, but doing so in a relatively risk-free and hands-off manner, using mostly bombing and other forms of support. The last two Republicans, Bush junior and senior, engaged in rather dramatic, major land wars in Asia.

The initial Gulf War was a “good” war, in that it was carried out well and was to good purpose–the flaw was that it was unnecessary, had Bush 41 only paid a bit more attention to whom he was dealing with. The war in Afghanistan again was a “good” war, in that it was something we all agreed was necessary–but again, had Bush 43 only paid a bit more attention, 9/11 would have been foiled and the war would not have been necessary. However, unlike his father, Bush 43 tanked his “good” war, dropping the ball and turning what should have been a conflict of less than a year, maybe two, into a decade-long quagmire. As for Iraq, well, the whole thing was a catastrophic blunder from start to finish.

In contrast, Clinton’s Kosovo intervention was extraordinarily restrained; even when NATO wanted to send ground forces in, Clinton held back, and eventually, the air campaign succeeded. While it is still unclear if Obama’s from-the-air, NATO-led intervention in Libya will also be successful, they share other key similarities, in that they are being carried out more for humanitarian purposes rather than to correct tactical blunders or to serve America’s self-interests.

One other shared feature of these conflicts is their defiance of the War Powers Act. While that act remains controversial, it is law, and it makes me uncomfortable when it is more or less ignored like it is. Clinton dodged it by claiming that funding by Congress implicitly approved it by providing funding; Obama is dodging it by claiming it’s not a direct conflict, but instead we are just playing a support role to NATO.

There are extenuating circumstances, however. In both cases, the wars are “good” wars–carried out not for profit or self-interest, but to prevent oppression. In both cases, the wars are limited, costing relatively little (Libya is costing America no more than $10 million a day, whereas the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at their peaks, cost a collective billion dollars per day. In both cases, the wars use only air power, meaning only a minimal risk to our own forces.

One more difference, however, is significant: in both conflicts, while a Democratic president in power tries to use severely restrained, low-cost and low-risk military force to humanitarian ends, a Republican-led force in Congress wants to end the war for purely internal political game-playing reasons stemming from spite and pre-election-year posturing.

This, to me, is the main thing that keeps me from being pissed at Obama–the fact that support from Congress would never be in question were it not for petty game-playing by Republicans. Were it Bush doing this, for example, they would give absolute support for the action. This, to me personally, constitutes effective approval, if not legal approval, and is why I have few problems with what Obama is doing. If Obama is playing games with the War Powers Act, then he is doing it because the Republicans are doing it first–and Obama, at least, is doing it for the right reasons, something which cannot be said about the Republicans.

What bothers me is the precedent–that a future president, for less noble reasons, may start a major land war expensive in both lives and funding, using the same dodge. The problem is, as we saw with Bush 43, even the War Powers Act doesn’t work well when it is enforced, and is only as strong as Congress would be without the act in any case.

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  1. Troy
    June 19th, 2011 at 14:19 | #1

    heh, I just wrote the same arguments somewhere else on the internet:


    Though there is some self-interest involved, we need to limit disruptions of Libya’s oil industry to get gas under $4.

    The Spice Must Flow.

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