During war you go through a variety of emotions — even when you’re sitting on your derrière nearly seven thousand miles from what is ironically known in the parlance as the “theatre.”
Over the weekend I enthused about the action against Gaddafi. Now I am not so sure.
One of the reasons is obvious. It’s not clear that the intention is to take the Libyan dictator out, something that Machiavelli... or was it Ralph Waldo Emerson?… probably both… would have branded a mistake. They knew “when you strike at a king, you must kill him.” This is particularly true of kings that like to blow up jumbo jets.
Also there is the problem of who wins this donnybrook. Recent events in Egypt have led us to be more than a little skeptical of the result, even if Gaddafi does meet his demise. As You Like It is perhaps too pleasant a reference for such dark times but Orlando’s famous couplet at the end of Act 1, Scene ii seems apt: “Thus must I from the smoke into the smother;/From tyrant duke unto a tyrant brother.” The brother here, of course, being the Muslim Brotherhood and others of their ilk. Gaddafi, insane as he is, could easily be replaced by something much worse — an insane ideology that appears to have infected the entire Arab and Persian world in one strain or another.
Furthermore, the alliance enforcing the no-fly zone, trumpeted only a couple of days ago as some masterpiece of modern diplomacy, seems to be (no)-flying apart as quickly as you can say “Turkey in NATO? Whose idea was that?!”
And yet — though I have about as much use for Barack Obama as I do for, well, Turkey in NATO — I still back the action in Libya, even if my support is a bit fragile and nervous. I still believe the pronouncements that Gaddafi is not a target are mostly cover and that this will not end without regime change. And that this regime change is necessary at this point in history even if something worse replaces it. That is a process we must endure one way or another. If we have to face an Islamic regime in Libya (and Egypt… and.. and…), that is what we are destined to face. We must deal with it in its turn. Fukuyama aside, we have not even approached the “end of history” and probably never will.
Furthermore, despite all the protestations, everyone knows this action could never happen without the USA and, Obama or not, the world desperately needs us to maintain some semblance of order. We are the center without which nothing else holds. We are, like it or not, daddy. And being daddy has responsibilities you can’t shirk. It’s not just watching your daughter’s graduation from Wellesley.
I suppose this is another way of saying I am an American exceptionalist and this action is, or should be, a ratification of American exceptionalism at a time when such ratification is becoming increasingly necessary. A few years of Obama has given the globe fits. Are we still there? Help! Help! (Yes, I know many say they hate us, but that almost proves my point.)
Well, we’re still here — no matter who is president. America is stronger than that. Some days even Obama realizes it. And on other days Hillary Clinton. On even more occasions people like Chris Christie and Allen West know it. We are an exceptional place and we have to take the risks connected with that (and sometimes make mistakes and take the blame).
I never especially liked the term American exceptionalism, because it always struck me as a form of bragging. But I believe in American exceptionalism nonetheless. And actions speak louder than words.