Yes, it’s getting to be that time again. During the run-up to the November 2010 elections, many observers — including me — remarked that the tea party, which was clearly shaping up to be a major power in many states, was not so much anti-Democrat or even anti-incumbent as it was anti-business-as-usual. The tea partiers were united not by demographics — age, profession, education, geography, etc. — but by impatience at the sclerotic inefficiency and blundering intrusiveness of a government establishment that had lost touch with the American founding principles of limited government, fiscal accountability, and republican virtue. Perhaps the most conspicuous targets of the tea party were high-profile Democrats like Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer, but plenty of Republican politicians also learned to their chagrin that they could no longer treat their office as a perpetual entitlement or the American taxpayer as an inexhaustible mammary gland. As was repeatedly noted in the aftermath of the election, while the tea party lost a handful of high-profile races (Nevada, California, Delaware), the spirit of reform rushed like the waters of the Alpheus and Peneus through the Augean stables of state and local legislatures. Commentary is not prophecy; nevertheless, I predict a reappearance of those cleansing waters come 2012. How thorough a job they will do depends, of course, on the people directing the flow. A key question is exactly who will be standing in for Heracles on the Republican side of the ledger.
We’ll know that soon enough. For now, it’s perhaps worth underscoring that anti-business-as-usual, a-pox-on-both-your-houses theme. In the 2010 election, the primary focus was on domestic issues: the economy, ObamaCare, the economy, immigration, the economy, gun rights, the economy, the economy, the economy.
Domestic issues are still front and center. But the embarrassing spectacle of the Obama administration lurching from paralysis to spasmodic incoherence and back on the Middle East and North Africa suggests that foreign policy will also loom large on the tea party’s agenda.
I say “foreign policy,” but there has been precious little policy — precious little in the way of thoughtful and consistent activity — in the Obama administration’s tergiversations. On the contrary, Obama’s signature formula — arrogance undergirded by the twin pillars of incompetence, on the one hand, and thuggish if naïve progressivism, on the other — has ruled the roost these last weeks as the United States has lurched from embracing to expectorating one strong man after the next. It’s been a disastrous — and potentially a very dangerous — minuet that Obama and his minions have performed.
But the fiasco that is American action in the Middle East and North Africa at the moment is not the provence of Democrats only. There are also several Republicans who have bought into the “Arab Spring” narrative and seem to believe that what we are seeing in that part of the world is a reenactment of 1776 instead of an anarchistic uprising unified by sundry criminal and Islamist elements. Indeed, the rose-colored glasses have been donned not only by Republican politicians but also by various conservative commentators who have traded common sense and appreciation of political reality for the emotion of virtue, a neo-Wilsonian sort of exchange that unfailingly ends in disillusion.
I’ll leave the starry-eyed commentariat to one side today in order to concentrate on a few prominent politicians who, when it comes to Libya, believe in walking loudly and carrying a preposterous shtick. I am thinking in particular of Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joseph Lieberman who, for the last 15 minutes, anyway, have been loudly beating the war drum. (See this excellent piece by Andy McCarthy.)
The time qualification is important. In the last few days, Sen. Graham has publicly described Col. Gadhafi (“Gaddafi,” “Kadafi,” whatever) as an “international terrorist” and an “unlawful enemy combatant,” and has wondered why we couldn’t just “drop a bomb” to rid the world of him. Sens. McCain and Lieberman, meanwhile, have been falling all over themselves to praise President Obama for bombing Libya. In a remarkable piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day, they declared that “regime change” should be the goal of our military action in Libya. “[A] successful outcome in Libya,” they write, “requires the departure of Gadhafi as quickly as possible.” OK. Then what? “By all accounts [all accounts, Kemo Sabe?] the Transitional National Council is led by moderates who have declared their vision for (as their website puts it) Libya becoming “constitutional democratic civil state based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and the guarantee of equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens.” Isn’t that nice?
Now, I believe Ronald Reagan had it right when he described Col. Q. (or “K,” depending on your orthographic preference) as “the mad dog of the Middle East.” After all, the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, in which nearly 200 Americans died, was the handiwork of Libyan agents. The creepiness, to say nothing of the evil malevolence, of the “psychotic transvestite” (in Mark Steyn’s phrase) is not in dispute.
The point is, however, that Col. Q. is not the only bad guy around. And, despite the McCain/Lieberman valentine to the “Transitional National Council,” the fact is that the opposition, a.k.a. the “rebels,” in Libya are liberally represented by people every bit as scary as Qaddafi. Besides, it seems only yesterday — actually, it was about 18 months ago — that the Three Musketeers McCain, Lieberman, and Graham went on a state junket to Tripoli to (as McCain himself put it) cement and “deepen” the “ties between the United States and Libya” which (he said) “have taken a remarkable and positive turn in recent years.”
“Late evening with Col Qadhafi at his ‘ranch’ in Libya,” McCain tweeted at the time, “interesting meeting with an interesting man.” Lieberman thought he was pretty interesting, too, though standing mutely, mascot-like at McCain side he seems more like Howdy Doody than a U.S. Senator.
When Liberman does get around to talking, though, he, too, is effusive. Here’s a Wikileaks cable about the chummy, high-level meeting:
“We never would have guessed ten years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi,” remarked Senator Lieberman. He stated that the situation demonstrated that change is possible and expressed appreciation that Libya had kept its promises to give up its WMD program and renounce terrorism. Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends.
The dynamic trio was in Libya to discuss — wait for it — expanding U.S. military aid to Libya and also — not incidentally — to try to stage manage the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie terrorist who had been incarcerated in Scotland but who was about to be set free on “humanitarian” grounds because he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer. The Obama administration was complicit in the release, asking only that he not be given a “hero’s welcome” in Tripoli. In the event, that’s just what he got and, moreover, he seems to be living happily ever after, for that “terminal” cancer turned out to have many more stops before it reached the terminus, if it ever does.
Col. Q.’s rehabilitation started in 2003 when President George W. Bush told the world that Libya had given up its program to acquire nuclear weapons. Various diplomatic upgrades followed, including a visit from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in September 2008. In 2009, John McCain blathered on about the “mutual respect and friendship” that subsisted between Libya and the United States while Joe Lieberman hailed Libya as an “important ally” in the war on terror. As recently as February 2011 — just a few weeks ago — President Obama asked Congress to increase military aid for Libya in order (so Fox News reports) “to train Libyan military officers, improve its air force, secure its borders and to counter terrorism.”
Well, that was then. Now, in March and April 2011, we’ve rediscovered that Qaddafi is a mad dog after all. As I say, I never doubted that. Senators McCain, Graham, and Lieberman had no reason to doubt it either. Still, as Andy McCarthy notes, they went blithely ahead and embraced him. “With eyes wide open,” he writes:
The interventionist senators abetted the U.S. aid to Qaddafi and the legitimizing of his dictatorial regime. Given that this policy has contributed mightily to Qaddafi’s current capacity to consolidate his grip on power and repress his opposition, one might think some senatorial contrition, or at least humility, would be in order. But, no. Having been entirely wrong about Qaddafi, the senators would now have us double down on Libya by backing Qaddafi’s opposition — the rebels about whom McCain, Lieberman, and Graham know a lot less than they knew about Qaddafi.
What is more dispiriting, the Three Senatorial Musketeers falling over themselves in 2009 to praise Qaddafi, or the same trio in 2011 calling for his assassination in order to . . . what? After Qaddafi, then what? An army of young James Madisons just waiting to install themselves in Tripoli? And here’s another question, from William Hazlitt: “Were we fools then, or are we dishonest now?” As I say, in 2010 the tea party had its hands full with various domestic issues. Those haven’t gone away, but I reckon we’ll be hearing a lot about our North African adventures in 2012. Here’s a question: do you suppose Qaddafi will still be presiding over the Libyan oil wells then? It would be a rash man, I suspect, who said No with any confidence.