Neocons, always interested in encouraging war and more war, are jumping on the opportunity they see presented by the revolution now turned to civil war in the major oil state of Libya to do what they do best and apparently like the most, warmongering for United States military intervention. David Dayen has some recent news on the Obama Administration's current position on military intervention: US Mulls Limited Intervention in LibyaFDL News 03/07/2011.
As we should all learn from the neocons' support of the Bosnia and Kosovo interventions in the 1990s and their drumbeat of demands to resume war against Iraq essentially from the moment the shooting stopped in the Gulf War of 1991, these folks play the long game. Kosovo was a sideshow to them. Iraq was the main event. For the 2010's, Libya is their current "Kosovo", a sideshow on the road to the main event of war against Iran.
The National Interest, published by the Nixon Center and a journal friendly to the Realist school of foreign policy thought, carries Jacob Heilbrunn's on The GOP's Neocon Addiction to War 03/07/2011.
Why has the GOP become addicted to war? The default response of the party to almost any international conflict has been to argue that America should intervene, or, to use a less polite term, intrude into what amounts, more often than not, to a domestic dispute. Add the political capital that congressional leaders and presidential aspirants believe can be derived from pummeling a Democratic president for passivity, appeasement, and you have a recipe for embroiling America in messy foreign conflicts.
This is a brand of militarism which is very much a feature of today's Republican Party and all too much a feature of the Democratic Party, as well.
Heilbrunn clearly thinks a Libya war would be a bad idea. But then he breezily assets, "Maybe a no-fly zone could be established with NATO. But this is not the time for America to come swaggering in by itself." The NATO intervention in Afghanistan is a genuinely multilateral one, although Dick Cheney and George Bush declined to make it a NATO operation from the initial intervention in 2001 because unilateral swagger and shooting and bombing and torture were what they wanted to do. Did I mention that this intervention started in 2001, now close to ten years ago, with no end in sight?
Neoconservative cheerleader Bobo Brooks has been eagerly pushing for war on Libya on the PBS Newshour and Meet the Press. The bold Maverick McCain, who generally follows the neocon foreign policy direction, was on This Week pumping for war on Sunday, too. Jim Lobe at Neo-Con Hawks Take Flight over LibyaLobeLog Foreign Policy 02/25/2011 reports how the current cutting-edge neocon organization, Foriegn Policy Initiative (FPI), presented a statement encouraging preparations for military intervention in Libya, whose signatories included quite a few names familiar for having been so disastrously wrong about invading Iraq: Elliott Abrams, Eric Edelman, John Hannah, Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the bold Maverick McCain, Dan Senor (who is married to former CNN celebrity reporter Campbell Brown), Marc Thiessen, Peter Wehner, and Paul Wolfowitz.
I plan to post more from another piece from The National Interest by the leading Realist foreign policy theorist, John Mearsheimer, Imperial by Design 12/16/2010 (Jan/Feb 2011 issue). He describes from a Realist perspective what the post-Cold War grand strategy options for the United States were. The one which Old Man Bush's Administration (in which Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense) adopted, and which the Clinton Administration continued, Mearsheimer calls "global dominance, or what might alternatively be called global hegemony, which was not just doomed to fail, but likely to backfire in dangerous ways if it relied too heavily on military force to achieve its ambitious agenda."
I'm a grudging fan of the Realist approach, although it's not the main way I look at international issues. But Mearsheimer's account of the problems in US foreign policy the last two decades is very perceptive. And he explains that within the global dominance strategy, there are two major variants that have predominated:
There is ... an important disagreement among global dominators about how best to achieve their strategy’s goals. On one side are the neoconservatives, who believe that the United States can rely heavily on armed force to dominate and transform the globe, and that it can usually act unilaterally because American power is so great. Indeed, they tend to be openly contemptuous of Washington’s traditional allies as well as international institutions, which they view as forums where the Lilliputians tie down Gulliver. Neoconservatives see spreading democracy as a relatively easy task. For them, the key to success is removing the reigning tyrant; once that is done, there is little need to engage in protracted nation building.
On the other side are the liberal imperialists, who are certainly willing to use the American military to do social engineering. But they are less confident than the neoconservatives about what can be achieved with force alone. Therefore, liberal imperialists believe that running the world requires the United States to work closely with allies and international institutions. Although they think that democracy has widespread appeal, liberal imperialists are usually less sanguine than the neoconservatives about the ease of exporting it to other states. As we set off to remake the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall, these principles of global dominance set the agenda. [my emphasis]
I don't agree with the global dominance strategy, so that means I have to be cranky about many of the foreign policy choices of both parties. But there's obviously a big difference between a reality-based perspective that has some recognition of the limits of American power and a healthy caution about going into a foreign country and start bombing and shooting people, and the neocons' testosterone dreams of easy, short and invariably successful imperial expeditions.
In practice, a no-fly zone is an act of international war that the United States should not blunder into. It's plausible that in the midst of days-old civil war, a no-fly zone could provide a significant boost to the rebels. But once we've taken sides in a civil war, we would inevitably have to worry about who actually comes out on top in that conflict and how or if we will support them militarily. And, of course, once we were involved militarily, the temptation to assure the best possible deals for American oil multinationals would be great. (Not that I would suggest that oil has anything to do with US foreign policy!) As Bill Clinton found out with the Somalia intervention that Old Man Bush started in the final months of his Presidency, mission creep is a very real problem in such matters.
It's also worth remembering that the US and Britain maintained no-fly zones over large parts of Iraq from 1991-2003. They involved a considerable amount of firing of rockets at ground targets, which rose to the level of a short but very serious air war in late 1998, creepily dubbed Operation Desert Fox by the PR wizards in the Pentagon. The no-fly zone represented a continuing military commitment which gave plausibility to the neocons' war agitation against Iraq and which effectively deferred any feasible improvement of diplomatic relations with Iraq. A no-fly zone is a big deal, not "just" a no-fly zone.
Michael Tomasky gives us a useful contrast between the way British historian Timothy Garton Ash approaches the question of military intervention in Libya and how Marty Peretz, formerly the hawkish editor and still publisher of The New Republic, approach the question: Garton Ash and Peretz on Libya: case studiesGuardian 03/07/2011.