April 3, 2011


The "I can't believe I'm a hawk!" club: They're liberals who opposed Iraq from the start -- but they're on-board with Libya (Jordan Michael Smith, 4/01/11, Salon)

What's more surprising, though, is that the ranks of liberals who favor the Libyan intervention contain some of the earliest and most vocal critics of the Iraq War.

One important anti-Iraq liberal who backs Obama's policy, TNR's John Judis, is dismayed by how quickly many of his fellow liberals lined up against the operation. "I've been surprised and disappointed in how uniform the disagreement among the left is," he says.

Judis isn't quite as lonely as he thinks. A number of prominent individuals with stalwart left-wing credentials have found themselves supporting what is the third active American-led war in a Muslim country. Their arguments suggest a possible new direction for American foreign policy as it adjusts to a post-revolutionary era in the Middle East.

Judis has been clearest in outlining why Libya is a matter of U.S. national interest. If the cost of oil continues to rise (as it has since the beginning of the Libyan uprising), he contends, instability may inhibit the world's economic recovery. "[I]f the recovery stalls globally, that could have enormous geopolitical implications -- think of the 1930s," he's written. Judis identifies as something of a realist, one influenced by journalist Walter Lippmann's idea that the U.S. foreign policy should primarily act as the "shield of the republic," the protector of American security.

His realist-minded assessment of Libya is seconded by Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who has popularized the idea that suicide terrorism primarily results from foreign occupation. Both Judis and Pape opposed the Iraq War, primarily because they recognized it was detrimental to American national security interests.

Still, most on the left in favor of the Libyan war are more concerned with humanitarian motives than with ideas about America's national interest. Human rights organizations have led the way in this regard. The International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch both called for United Nations-led action in Libya; by contrast, both had opposed war with Iraq in 2003 on the grounds that it didn't meet the criteria for humanitarian intervention. As early as Feb. 22, the newly formed Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition was calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone. The Enough Project, an arm of the Center for American Progress, cheered that "[c]onfusion and inaction in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and a host of other lesser-known failures of international will have laid the groundwork, finally, for a spine-stiffening catalytic moment in Libya." In the view of these NGOs, outside powers needed to insert themselves into the conflict simply to avoid a massacre.

Another faction sporting "I can't believe I'm a hawk" buttons are the regional specialists. Middle East experts Juan Cole, Marc Lynch and Shadi Hamid have all been supportive of the military action in Libya. This is in stark contrast to Iraq, where a few right-wing scholars like Bernard Lewis were the only scholars of the region supporting the venture.

If Mr. Obama were to announce today that he were switching to the GOP they'd all bail on the Libyan people.

Posted by at April 3, 2011 8:18 AM

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