Late yesterday, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously (with five nations abstaining) to create a no-fly zone in Libya and to use "all necessary measures" to ostensibly protect civilians who might be crushed in backlash against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Although the resolution allows for airstrikes and artillery fire, it prohibits the use of an "occupying force" to intervene in the civil war. I am not reassured by any of this. Raise your hand if you remember the Iraq debacle.
And indeed, like Iraq, calls for intervention in Libya defy the simple left-and-right divide in domestic politics. Rather, it's between those who believe we have some sort of moral obligation to throw our military might around the world and those who think that maybe, just maybe, bad, unexpected consequences could flow from undefined and open-end military commitments that lack clearly defined goals for victory. It's between conservatives who believe radical socialist Barack Obama would be a fool to try to remake the Middle East and conservatives who think the U.N. is showing that wimp in the White House how to be a man.
Daniel Larison writes that Obama should listen to his past self, who, on the eve of the Iraq War, cautioned that he was opposed to dumb wars. Libya would be just such a war. And the situation is rapidly degenerating into one in which Obama might be the only figure on the world stage with the ability to halt this potential madness. When Kevin Drum quips that "is it possible that widespread support for Libya intervention is precisely due to the fact that the U.S. is obviously reluctant about it?", he's demonstrating the fact that we still live in a world that not only expects U.S. leadership but has not forgotten the unprecedented breach of trust unleashed by Iraq.
It's time the United States and its people became accustomed to simply being a powerful player in the world, not the prime mover. I can't think of a better person to deliver that message than the president of the United States.