11 March 2011

In defense of doing nothing

As George Will astutely noted yesterday, many conservatives' belief that government is inefficient and ineffective ends at the water's edge.

Much of the rhetoric coming from the Republican Party recently is horrifically stupid. Presidential candidates like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and -- God help us -- Newt Gingrich have criticized the Obama administration for one thing or another since Tunisia set off the Middle Eastern powderkeg six weeks ago.

The criticism from Romney, et al. has been that Obama failed to prop up an important American ally in Egypt -- thereby leading to the bogeyman threat of the Muslim Brotherhood seizing power -- but also that it -- wait for it -- didn't move fast enough in calling for the ouster of ... another recent American ally, Libya's Muommar Qaddafi. As folks who read newspapers are aware, President Bush normalized relations with Libya back in 2005 after Qaddafi sought America's good graces. Since that time, Qaddafi has been reasonably cooperative in combating radical Islamic jihad in his backyard. Securing the help of Qaddafi -- long an enemy of the United States -- and normalizing relations with Libya was one of the Bush administration's few shining moments in foreign affairs.

Conservatives shrieked about the Islamist bogeyman that could fill a power vacuum in Egypt, sadly defined by this outrageous Glenn Beck clip warning that Mubarak's ouster would lead to the global Islamic Caliphate. What these conservatives failed to understand is that the Egyptian military -- which has called the shots in Egypt since the beginning of the Eisenhower administration -- is far and away the most powerful institution in the country. Of all the countries in which to suspect a jihadist coup, Egypt is probably the one where such a happening would be of the least concern.

To the contrary, this excellent feature from The Economist demonstrates that the anti-Qaddafi rebels in Libya, in fact, include a considerable number of radical jihadists. During his reign, Qaddafi has lumped Islamists with liberal democrats, creating an odd alliance of both fundamentalists and Western-looking democratists. A problem with intervening in Libya -- among many others -- is that there is no true face of the opposition. In Egypt, it could be said that Mohamed ElBaradei was the de facto leader of the anti-Mubarak forces. In Libya, the opposition is much more disjointed, and as the Economist feature notes, includes a sizable number of Islamist radicals hostile to American interests.

But what many conservatives -- such as Pawlenty -- are encouraging the Obama administration to do is to help overthrow a key regional ally in the global war on terror, and give money, weapons and supplies to a potentially hostile enemy that sympathizes with al Qaeda and would likely have few qualms providing safe harbor to those who wish to do America catastrophic harm.

The inconsistency in Pawlenty, et al.'s criticisms of Obama evince sheer political opportunism and rank demagoguery.

But the most compelling reason to stay out of Libya? America has no stake whatsoever -- NONE -- in a Libyan civil war. American troops were recently in the middle of another civil war -- in Iraq, circa 2006 -- and we sacrificed blood (to the tune of 4,000 of our finest men and women) and treasure for little to no strategic gain.

I've spoken glowingly of Pawlenty before, and I've thought, other than Mitch Daniels, he would make the best president of the current Republican contenders. But yesterday, in criticizing Obama's "incoherent" response in the Middle East, Pawlenty said that he would initiate a "pro-American, pro-security, pro-defense" foreign policy. (This must contrast with the Obama administration, which is presumably anti-American, hopes al Qaeda will hit us again and would rather see north Africa overrun by radical Islamists.) Again, there isn't a shred of evidence to suggest that Obama has mishandled the Middle East in any way. Pawlenty is quickly becoming a laughingstock by pandering so blatantly to the Gingrich/Palin/Beck wing of the party.

To the contrary, Obama's ad hoc response to the organic uprisings -- and his understanding that it is not always a given that the United States can (or must) intervene to effectuate "change" -- is a refreshing departure from the absymal square-peg/round-hole doctrine of forced democracy and neoconservative interventionism that was the hallmark of the Bush administration.

President Obama has gotten most things wrong in his presidency, but his response to the violence in the Middle East is not one of them. If Pawlenty hasn't learned any lessons from America's misadventures in Iraq, then he shouldn't be president.

1 comment:

Jason Beets said...

Great job pointing out Pawlenty's hypocrisy on foreign policy.

You would probably love my post about the Muslim Brotherhood.