Tom Hayden on liberal interventionism and the Libya War
Tom Hayden discusses liberal interventionism, with special reference to Obama's advisor Samantha Power, in Samantha Power Goes to WarThe Nation 03/30/2011; also available at his own blog page.
He gives an interesting sketch of her role as an Obama adviser for the last several years. He gives her credit for her "case for humanitarian intervention" being "serious and well researched." He shares her criticism of the Henry Kissinger-type Realism foreign policy school of thinking, which is that it:
... demotes values in favor of "interests," [and] is a recipe for romancing dictators. That has been the policy of the "long war on terror" which, until recently, listed Muammar el-Qaddafi as a new friend of the United States, along with old friends Hosni Mubarak and dozens of others. On the other hand, the realists are correct that US military force simply cannot be applied against every major massacre across a bloody world. [my emphasis]
This comment points to what would be a more constructive foreign policy, which would be something like a realist-internationalist foreign policy, of which Franklin Roosevelt's vision for post-Second World War policy provides a precedent.
I'm just not much of an admirer of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson had a very important role in furthering international law. He articulated a policy framework for an American policy that would promote international peace and stability in the context of international law. But his actual record with the most important piece of international law for which he was directly responsible, the Versailles Treaty, was disastrous. The League of Nations was a good idea. But he had to negotiate it with the European "statesmen" whose main goal was power and plunder, and its practical effects in Europe were catastrophic. John Maynard Keynes, who had been part of the British negotiating team until he resigned in disgust at the robber's peace being negotiated, gave a highly realistic account of the problems with that treaty in his 1919 The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), which didn't restrict itself to narrow economic concerns.
It's almost Utopian to talk about a basic alternative US foreign policy strategy with the Republican Party currently in the grips of genuine fanaticism, including on foreign policy. Because for it to work over a long time, Republicans would have to agree to the same basic concept. But it's not at all unthinkable that we might have a foreign policy that would make nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear arms reduction and mitigating global climate change central organizing principles. There could be defined policy standards for how far the US would go in its relations with non-democratic countries and those that violated human rights and labor rights, and a separate set of standards for those with a better record. And even the destructiveness of a global dominance strategy could be significantly mitigated if the public, the Congress and the Executive would insist on a more realistic understanding of the real limits of American power.
Hayden looks at the public articulation of what is now being called the Obama Doctrine:
The new Obama doctrine, which could have been scripted from Power’s writings, begins with his refusal "to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action," and while acknowledging that "It’s true that America cannot use its military wherever repression occurs, that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right." After expanding the definition of national interest to include preventing a slaughter in Benghazi, however, Obama adheres to the other themes of his emerging doctrine: the politics of multilateralism (the US coalition would "splinter" if the mission was expanded) and the recognition of limits (primarily the costs of another quagmire like Iraq). Human rights thus becomes a triggering criteria in the application of military force, but not an exclusive one. Obama says he won’t bomb or invade Tripoli to take out Qaddafi militarily, disappointing the hawkish audience while relieving his liberal base.
Still, the parts of that balancing act are in a really precarious balance in Libya. And once the military power of the US is committed in a large and public way, the demands of the military mission are very likely to tip the balance in their direction. It's even more clear now in the few days since Hayden's article that regime change is the political goal of the NATO intervention and more doubtful that the military goals are in alignment with it.
James Dubik of the hawkish Institute for the Study of War makes a fairly conventional case for expanding the military mission to align with the political goal in Boots on the GroundForeign Policy 04/05/2011. I'm opposed to escalating the Libya War. I'd prefer to see the US get out soon. But the problem of the mismatch of political and military goals is a real one, however demagogically some Republicans may use it. I would prefer to see NATO drop its regime change goal. Dubik argues:
The way the United States and its allies have intervened in Libya has placed them on a dangerously slippery slope. Air power alone has not protected Libyan civilians, the declared objective in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the military intervention. Nor have the rebels proved capable of making significant advances against Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces. To effectively enforce the Security Council resolution, the coalition would need to put combat air controllers, advisors, and trainers on the ground -- steps it appears unwilling to take. Where does that leave the coalition when it comes to developing a coherent war strategy? Mostly empty-handed.
Hayden describes his view of the best case scenario for the Libya War and the Obama Administration:
If the US gets lucky this time, Power will be vindicated. It’s possible that US airpower can protect opposition ground forces on the road to Tripoli until Qaddafi’s regime collapses from within. Even then, the United States will have to take part in an unpredictable occupation of Libya until a new set of governing institutions are created, a process that might take months or years. The cost will climb into the billions in deficit spending while the budget crisis worsens at home. Any triumphant new US allies, like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, will prove to be unsavory. That’s the best-case scenario for the administration.
Yes, and Iraq-like "unpredictable occupation of Libya until a new set of governing institutions are created, a process that might take months or years": and that's the best case under the Administration's current policy. Then there's the other end of the spectrum of possibilities:
In the worst case, the human rights rationale will have served as the initial argument for another long, bloody and expensive quagmire in a Muslim country. In a growing stalemate, the United States will feel impelled to escalate militarily in pursuit of its policy of regime change. That could "splinter" the US coalition and violate the UN mandate, as Obama himself has indicated. It could lead to a bloodbath in Tripoli while preventing one in Benghazi. It could devolve into civil war and an indefinite power vacuum. And speaking of morality in foreign policy, what will Power advise and Obama decide when asked to prevent massacres in Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan or elsewhere (anyone for intervention in China or Russia)? [my emphasis]
With that range of probably outcomes, it's hard to even say "let's hope for the best." Because "the best" would be bad enough!