Another War of Jenkins' Ear

Resist The Pointless

Posts Tagged ‘Benghazi

When Your House is On Fire, Call a Family Meeting: The Unbearable Frivolity of Andrew Sullivan

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I agree with DougJ about the the least convincing pro-intervention argument is from Richard Cohen regarding Libya. But this gem is the dumbest Libya argument against intervention yet. Andrew Sullivan:

The Libya case is an interesting one because of the need for dispatch, as events on the ground made a Congressional debate moot. But to my mind, that kind of emergency decision is precisely the moment when deliberation is necessary. Deciding war in a rush and in secret is normally not a good idea. And Obama did not have to act urgently to save American lives or vital interests. He had to act urgently for purely humanitarian reasons.

And so we now have an executive branch claiming powers far, far beyond what the Founders or any prudent constitution would allow. The presidency becomes Angelina Jolie with an air force.

So let me get this straight: the circumstances under which Obama had to make a decision made any further consultation with Congress moot – in Sullivan’s own words. But he would still argue that one is necessary. And not just necessary, but necessary in fancy italics.

Moreover, it takes special writing abilities to contradict your entire argument that thoroughly. The first sentence shows that there’s absolutely no time for discussion, the decision needs to be made immediately. The rest of the paragraph completely ignores that reality.

Needless to say, intervening after Benghazi had fallen would be the worst of both worlds: people would say the US does not caer about human suffering, only taking out dictators who interrupt oil flow. It’d be a pointless exercise. Sullivan has to know that – he admitted it to start the excerpt!

Additionally, Sullivan refuses to grapple with refugees anywhere on his blog. Reading him (and mind you this is someone who obsessively chronicles events) you would have virtually no idea about refugee crises on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders, or the EU commissioner warning of a refugee nightmare. Why? I can only guess that he still is obsessed with a Napoleonic conception of war as aggression and responding to it; and human suffering never involves people fleeing from nightmare scenarios, but people taking suffering with a stiff upper lip, because hey, it’s the British way. It’s a fundamental lack of empathy that clouds Sullivan’s reasoning. And all of that might be false. But Sullivan sure as hell isn’t answering it, that’s for sure (in the one in a million shot he responds to this post, it’s one and a million he takes this question seriously).

But it’s not just a lack of empathy, it’s an emotional commitment to reacting immediately that he does not even look at all the facts and grapple with them. And I’m not exaggerating. His blog has mentioned refugees a grand total of once since the resolution was passed, and that was just in reprinting the Security Council Resolution. So as far as I can tell, Sullivan himself has no idea what regional destabilization actually means. His lone reference to the crisis this month was – literally – on March 9 when he saidlet Egypt and Tunisia deal with it.” Really, Andrew? They have the resources and wherewithal to deal with that right now? Nothing else is going on there? There’s not going to be any regional effects from them having to deal with it? What a crock of shit. That’s not grappling with a problem, that’s Sullivan sticking his head in the sand. No responsible administration would or should think this way. Not even George W. Bush would think that way. Not even Neville Chamberlain would think this way – at least Chamberlain was willing to take the time to hitch a flight to Munich.

And then he has the gall to talk about prudence. Prudent men and women before him have realized that the boundary between the war powers and the commander in chief powers are at least somewhat a grey area. Truman was prone to overreacting (Steel Seizure case) but also did send troops to Korea without authorization. I’ve blogged about the notes from the 1945 Congress which are not authoritative by any means, but certainly fall within any reasonable definition of prudent.

This is not even to mention the shock value he’s going for with the Angelina Jolie comparison. I expect that sort of thing from an Andrew Breitbart intern, not Sullivan. (Not to mention that he has use Jolie, because “a massacre in Benghazi sounds completely awful if you use any non-celebrity framing. Seriously, try to find a better way to frame what Gaddafi pledging “no mercy” on a city of 700,000 would mean.)

This post is NOT to say this was the right intervention or that the mission is being executed in the correct way. Not at all. It’s just to say that Sullivan, in his apparent haste to make up for his grave Iraq war mistakes, is turning into the the far left caricature he once loathed. There is no subtlety. There is no hard cases. There’s only actions that apparently no one can consider prudent, despite extensive evidence that some people might actually think that. It’s insulting to what’s left of his legacy. I’m surprised he hasn’t demanded that Obama instead change the color of the White House website.

Congratulations, Andrew, you’re tarnishing your worthy legacy with shitty punditry just like David Broder before you. Good luck dealing with this shit, Tina Brown.

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The Plight of Samantha Power Interventionalists

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There’s a tendency to say there are three groups of foreign policy actors in American politics: cruise missile liberals, neoconservatives, and isolationists. But in the last decade, Samantha Power has tried to carve out a niche between the people reluctant to use any force and the cruise missile liberals like Michael O’Hanlon and some people at TNR who have dreams of intervening militarily literally everywhere.

McClatchy had a good summary of Power’s position on foreign policy:

Yet to dub Power an interventionist is to miss the nuance of the mission she began as a 22-year-old war correspondent in Yugoslavia, then nurtured through Harvard Law School and turns in think tanks, academia and as an author and columnist.

“The United States should not frame its policy options in terms of doing nothing or unilaterally sending in the Marines,” Power wrote in her book “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” for which she won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize. “America’s leadership will be indispensable in encouraging U.S. allies and regional and international institutions to step up their commitments and capacities.”

Power called Clinton administration officials to account for not doing more to save lives in Bosnia and Rwanda in the mid-1990s. She didn’t support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, criticizing the unilateral U.S. approach and questioning the Bush administration’s concern for Iraqis’ welfare.

In a 2006 commencement speech for Santa Clara University School of Law, Power said her life’s work was driven by a sense of obligation “to demand that our representatives are attentive to the human consequences of their decision making.” She advised the students to “let reason be your tool, but let justice be your cause.”

I was in college during the run up to the Iraq war and I’ve constantly regretted not being more informed (my own version of Iraq war guilt, I suppose, those I would characterize mine as a sin of omission rather than commission). The clearest and most persusaive theory I identified in since then was Samantha Power’s, adequately summarized here.

As a tentative supporter of actions in Libya, I’ve felt caught in the crossfire between those who would want to go in harder and those that are (in my opinion) overly reluctant to use military force. It’s clear the nation-building plan hasn’t worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. If this intervention leads to a stalemate, sending in the Army to do COIN will not be cost effective. But that doesn’t mean the world has to have let Gaddafi’s army have his way with Benghazi either. (Tom Ricks’ post today was good on along those lines).

I’d like to point out one other inconsistency in critics of any action in Libya: that we are simultaneously involved in a Libyan civil war (16.5 million results on google) and also that the Libyan rebels only have 1,000 trained soldiers and some of them are less than savory characters. My favorite such phrasing was during his press briefing today by US Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz saying ““But I don’t think we’re at a point where we can make a judgment that this is a 100 percent kosher, so to speak, group.”

Moreover, doesn’t that this is a civil war with one side drastically under armed and out manned make this worse? Tienanmen Square was a human tragedy, but I would add that the reign of the Khmer Rouge was worse. There are real humanitarian crises going on across the Arab world. It seems pretty clear none are as of yet rising to what Gaddafi credibly threatened against Benghazi. That does not take away the serious, humanitarian suffering of those in Bahrain, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, and elsewhere. But the constant arguing that the responses are uneven ignores that geopolitical circumstances really are different in those countries. Maybe the US could say or do more elsewhere; that’s certainly possible (even probable in the case of action in the Ivory Coast). But that’s not a compelling argument against US action in Libya (even if this particular version of action isn’t the wisest course – I’m no military specialist here).

I don’t find this persuasive – does anyone think the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide is implicated in any way by what ideology the Tutsis slaughtered had. It’s easy to highlight the pro-peace Tutsis, but I’m sure there were less than savory factions too. The people being murdered by the governments of Yemen and Syria to date are not all adherents to western liberal thought.

Benghazi has roughly 750,ooo to one million people, making it the size of roughly Portland Oregon. Gaddafi had pledged no mercy shortly before the no fly zone has been implemented; since then all he has done is do things like shell a hospital.

Is the US intervention perfect? No, and there are real ways it could go seriously awry. Will the west basically have to leave Libya before everything is settled? Sure. Will post-intervention aide to Libya be underfunded? Sadly, there’s no doubt. Should the US be making more efficient interventions overseas (the omnipresent example of anti-malaria tents)? Absolutely. It’s a mark against us that we don’t.

But are things at least somewhat better than they would have been? I think so. To use a domestic analogy, we are willing to have police intervene domestically to stop a murderer, but we’re less willing to spend as much to intervene against more pernicious but endemic harms such as high-fructose corn syrup, asthma in the inner city, or accidents while driving (not to directly compare any of them – just that they are somewhat endemic). And this is (in theory) the kind of intervention the US should be doing, as Power laid out.

From the NYT review of her 2003 book:

The same Washington, of course, is a place of defeatism, inertia, selfishness and cowardice. Warnings pass up the chain and disappear. Intelligence is gathered and then ignored or denied. The will of the executive remains steadfastly opposed to intervention; its guiding assumption is that the cost of stopping genocide is great, while the political cost of ignoring it is next to nil. President Bush the elder comes off as a stone-hearted prisoner to business interests, President Clinton as an amoral narcissist. Perhaps nobody looks worse than former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, on whose watch both Bosnia and Rwanda self-destructed. ”When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk,” Power writes, ”it has a duty to act.” She objects not only to the fact that the United States declines to intervene militarily in genocidal conflicts, but also that frequently it declines to do anything — even to rebuke perpetrators publicly.

This does not mean the United States should fix everything wrong with a country, or that being at the nexus of an access of evil justifies lies about the war. It means that protecting Benghazi through international institutions is a legitimate US interest.

In short, I wish that more critics would be aware Power was a critic of the Iraq invasion and is not some cruise missile liberal. I know a lot of those type of liberals are really annoying. And they’re predictably bandwagon-ing here. That doesn’t mean everyone involved thinks that way.

Gaddafi Shells a Hospital

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This is awful:

While initial Western airstrikes hit Libyan air defenses and an armored column in the east, Gaddafi’s tanks kept up their shelling of Misrata in the west, killing dozens there this week.

Residents said a “massacre” was taking place with tank and artillery fire destroying buildings and snipers picking off people indiscriminately. Doctors were operating in hospital corridors and having to turn some of the wounded away.

The U.S. military said it had successfully established a no-fly zone over Libya’s coastal areas and had moved on to attack Gaddafi’s tanks. Western planes launched a series of air strikes near Misrata and stopped the tank and artillery fire.

But as darkness cloaked the city, Libya’s third largest, Gaddafi’s tanks began to roll once again.

“Government tanks are closing in on Misrata hospital and shelling the area,” said the doctor who was briefly reached by phone before the line was cut off.

A rebel spokesman said 16 people had been killed in Misrata and another six in attacks on Zintan, a rebel-held town in west Libya. It was impossible to independently verify the reports.

During the day, while the tanks and artillery fell silent, the Western air strikes did not stop the snipers in Misrata.

“The snipers are … shooting at the hospital and its two entrances are under heavy attack. No one can get in or out,” Saadoun, a Misrata resident, told Reuters by telephone.

This is all a prima facia violation of essentially every single part of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (the part that applies to any conflict anywhere essentially – the Supreme Court held so in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld). It’s also a good example of what Gaddafi planned to do to Benghazi had the west not intervened. I don’t think the Administration calling what Gaddafi intended for Benghazi “Srebrenica on steroids” can be an exaggeration at this point.

This is not to make any arguments about intervention except the one I actually make: the gravity of this situation is extremely serious. The intervention may or may not be done the right way (or even for all the right reasons) but the situation was sufficiently serious (in this an d other ways I’ve previously documented in this space) that this sort of intervention should at least be on the table.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 24, 2011 at 9:24 am

Paging Mike Huckabee

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Mike Huckabee, two weeks ago:

“Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.”

Widely pilloried around the internet, but the last laugh goes to actual Boy Scouts in Benghazi, Libya:

When the Gadhafi government lost control of eastern Libya, a vacuum formed in social and other basic services.  Among those who have stepped forward to help are the Benghazi Boy Scouts.  The chaos that has engulfed Libya in the last few weeks has sent ripple effects throughout the society.  One unexpected group has been called up to fill gaps that no one could have anticipated. The Boy Scouts of Libya, around 3,500 in the town of Benghazi, are organized, and able.  They find themselves called upon to take on tasks that many would expect of the state – or at least more professional, trained volunteers.

. . .

So, whether it is working in the bloody mayhem of a hospital or directing traffic because no one trusts anyone in a government uniform, in many cases it is now scouts who are sorting out the international medical aid that has flooded in. These young boys and men – in uniforms recognizable around the world – are no longer just a youth organization.  They are helping to keep order – a job perhaps well beyond their tender years.  The man who heads the Scouts in Benghazi, Abdul Rahman, now finds himself leading an organization which is no longer about keeping kids on the straight and narrow but instead about mobilizing them to help.  The moment has filled him with pride over what his young charges can do.  “Because of God and for myself, it adds to my pride being enrolled at the Scout movement and as an international movement we offer a service to my country,” he said. “With my experience and as a history of the movement we give activities that have a good response and they praise the scouts and give us self satisfaction.”

While Republicans as a whole, including – at some length –  Mike Huckabee, put public servants on trial for having the gall to want to organize to ensure fair pay, a group that Mike Huckabee thinks is the paragon of virtue – the Boy Scouts – is actively performing civil service duties without any pay in perhaps the most dangerous city on the planet. Oh, and they happen to be Muslim Boy Scouts who might even have experience in Madrassas. This, of course, is apparently a logical impossibility to Huckabee, who thinks Islam and the Boy Scouts are fundamentally incompatible.

These boys are doing seriously brave work in Benghazi while still being teh Muslim.

The pictures aside the article are the most amazing picture of any teenager directing traffic you will ever see.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 20, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Libya is not Iraq

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Adam Serwer, now:

Both of the above statements could not be farther from [Obama] who, in 2002, said that war in Iraq Saddam Hussein “poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.” Whatever we’re doing in Libya, it can’t really be described as an attempt to eliminate an imminent and direct threat to the United States.

As Daniel Larison points out, all of what Obama said about Hussein can be said about Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. But the Libya intervention seems to have revealed a genuine ideological transition from the Barack Obama of 2002, from a kind of neo-realist to a full fledged liberal internationalist. Both approaches would have justified intervening on moral grounds, but the character of Obama’s intervention is differentiated by its reliance on international institutions.

That’s demonstrably not true. As I just posted, Voice of America reported the EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner is warning of a massive influx of refugees to Europe. Sure, this does not threaten the United States of America, but it sure does threaten Libya’s neighbors in the region – look at reports from the Tunisian border. There’s no indication those sorts of things are going to get better if Gaddafi levels Benghazi. But the regional effects is both the legal justification for action AND the one difference from Yemen, Bahrain (spilling outward is not the same as spilling inward), the Ivory Coast, etc. And by contrast, there was no real exodus I am aware from prior to the Iraq war (if anything, the war caused one). I don’t think being aware of how humanitarian crises spill over into international relations makes one doomed to be as bad as George W. Bush. Rather, it makes Obama conscious of actual international destabilizing actions, not just illusory ones.

(Moreover, any road to a new policy on Israel and Palestine has to include the issue of refugees. Recognition of that elsewhere can only help).

PS: This DOES NOT mean that Obama will not make some of the same mistakes in Libya that Bush made in Iraq or that it means whatever is done in Libya is just a great idea. Just that there’s more legal and political justification for the actions taken than in Iraq.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm