The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Libya: Who, Whom?

Posted on | June 24, 2011 | 22 Comments

“But the bottom line is, whose side are you on? Are you on Qaddafi’s side or are you on the side of the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been created to support them? For the Obama Administration, the answer to that question is very easy.”
Hillary Clinton, June 22

Everyone is having fun recalling the Good Old Days — which ended about three years ago — when liberals loved to lecture us that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Dissent against liberalism, however, apparently doesn’t count, even when liberals are doing the exact same things they once denounced Republicans for doing.

Obama’s Illegal War™ cannot be justified under any logic the Left would have accepted during the Bush years, and yet Democrats are cynical enough to realize that the Left has nowhere else to go: Whatever else happens, liberal peaceniks aren’t going to vote Republican next year, so Hillary can impute treason to them at no political cost. And political costs are the only costs that concern her.

It appears that Moammar Qaddafi’s regime is now tottering on the brink of collapse, and the dictator is reportedly considering his own “exit strategy,” which is good news, so long as you don’t worry too much about whether “the aspirations of the Libyan people” might include an Iranian-style radical Islamic theocracy. So we await Obama’s “Mission Accomplished” photo-op for his glorious triumph. Allahpundit ponders the consequences:

With every day of stalemate that passes between a tinpot desert dictator and a U.S./UK/France coalition, NATO’s global credibility as a viable military alliance shrinks — which, as Jonah Goldberg notes, ironically makes victory increasingly important. That’s why Hillary’s demagoging this. Somehow, they’ve bungled their way into making an otherwise unimportant mission a very big deal.

Insofar as we view this whole affair from the standpoint of U.S. interests, it is reminiscent of the war that Mrs. Clinton’s husband waged against Serbia in 1999. For my money, that was the stupidest war in American history. By comparison, the Spanish-American War (“Remember the Maine!”) was an exemplar of sane and responsible statesmanship. 

Whatever the numerous and grievous evils committed by Slobodan Milosevic, no one ever even bothered to claim that the Serbian dictator posed a threat to the United States or its allies. We fought that war at the behest of our European allies, in the name of “human rights,” and as de facto allies of the Kosovo Liberation Army, an Islamic terrorist organization reputedly linked to al-Qaeda. The NATO bombing campaign ultimately drove Milosevic from power, but at the price of profoundly alienating Russia, longtime allies of the Serbs.

Most of the same criticisms could be applied to the Libya war. Qaddafi is a very bad guy, but he had notably renounced terrorism after the overthrow of Saddam. When this war started, Qaddafi was a threat to no one except his own domestic opponents. And who, exactly, are those opponents? Who are these Libyan rebels we’re helping? We don’t know — Hillary herself has said as much. We don’t know who they are or what they want, and thus we have no idea what a post-Qaddafi Libya will look like.

Liberals cannot justify this policy on any terms that they would have accepted from defenders of Bush’s policies. The only justification they can make is the cynical justification Vladimir Lenin offered for his policies: “Who, whom?”

The context of Lenin’s infamous formula is often forgotten. Efforts toward socialist collectivization during the first years of the Soviet revolution had (predictably) produced economic disaster and food shortages. Therefore, Lenin introduced his “New Economic Policy,” a repudiation of what he called the “grievous error” of the attempt to abolish private agriculture and market exchange under so-called “War Socialism.”

Critics saw the hypocrisy of this: If private production and sale of grain resulted in a more plentiful supply than forced collectivism — as Lenin now admitted — wasn’t this a direct contradiction of socialist theory?

Rather than addressing that fundamental criticism, Lenin responded with “Who, whom?” What counted, Lenin said, was not whether any particular action was “socialist” or “capitalist,” but whether the action advanced the cause of the revolutionary proletariat (“who”) in their struggle against the reactionary bourgeois capitalists (“whom”).

Thus, it didn’t matter that the New Economic Policy was clearly a concession to capitalist means of production and exchange. What mattered, Lenin said, was whether the policy would strengthen the revolutionary movement. (After Lenin’s death, Leon Trotsky endeavored to defend the “who, whom” formula, evidently having no premonition that this revolutionary logic would lead to his own exile and assassination by a Stalinist agent.)

By the same logic, whatever policy is adopted by Democrats to advance the cause of liberalism, even a war of opportunity against a nation that posed no threat to the United States, can be justified by liberals, without regard to whether they would support a similar policy were it enacted by Republicans.

Liberals have only one principle — the pursuit of power — and all their high-flown moralistic rhetoric about peace and equality is merely a means to that end.

UPDATE: Professor Reynolds:

Libya is a “dumb war” — because it’s halfhearted, half-assed, and run by committee, and the President can’t even articulate the national interest involved. Obama the candidate said he was smarter than that. Obama the President is proving the candidate wrong.

This criticism requires us to accept Obama’s campaign rhetoric as sincere, rather than just cynically telling liberals what he thought they wanted to hear. He seems very good at exploiting the endless credulity of liberals. Rather than “Hope” and “Change,” Obama’s slogan might as well have been, “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”


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