Victor Davis Hanson, a classical historian, normally idealistic hawk and one of my favourite writers, makes two compelling points. Even if this piece is marred by his increasingly sour and polemical distaste for the Obama administration.
The US shouldn’t intervene militarily until it has thought through what its interests are and what it means to achieve. At present, it lacks a coherent overall concept of why and how much this crisis matters to intervene in it, and how it should do so, within what limits:
Do we express support for regime change in a Middle Eastern country when protesters pour into the streets, or only when such protesters seem to be on the edge of winning? By what criteria is Mubarak worse than Ahmadinejad or Assad? Will those who might replace King Abdullah in Jordan be better or worse? Is the Saudi autocracy less harsh to its own than the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, or is it Saudi Arabia’s unique oil status that earned its present exemption from American pressure? And as we contemplate moving into Libya, are we opposed to or supportive of the ongoing Saudi incursion into Bahrain to stamp out dissidents there? Are the Saudis acting as good allies who are protecting Western petroleum interests and the contractual integrity of US military installations, or as reactionary forces that are denying the people a voice in their own affairs? And is a new Egypt going to be more tolerant of religious minorities than Mubarak’s Egypt? No one in Washington seems to be cognizant that those in power in Iran, Syria, and Libya are much worse than the dictators and kings in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf — nor does anyone seem aware that, at least for now, popular plebiscites in the Middle East without constitutional guarantees and institutionalized human rights (and a large American ground presence to help draft and enforce a new constitution) would translate into more, not less, illiberal government.
Nor do we have a systematic plan of action in Libya: Is the idea that we will impose a no-fly zone in the air, but would do nothing to stop an exposed column of Qaddafi’s tanks from streaming along below to slaughter outmanned insurgents? What if Qaddafi stays in power — are we once again to monitor a despot’s skies for twelve years, as our once-loud European allies, lured by oil, tire and peel off? And if the rebels win, do we leave, or do we continue such a presence until the winners prove themselves humane rather than perpetuators of the cycle of violence? These questions do not pose insurmountable problems, but they surely will if they are never raised…
Amen. Though I would qualify this slightly. President Obama has sought to limit America’s liability by adopting a less central military role for the US, inviting his European allies to take the lead. Thus it is not as aggressively ‘America’s war’, and shifts some burdens to friends and partners of the US.
Come to think of it, wouldn’t that be a promising basis for a new grand strategy generally?