The demise of the liberal Hawk and disaster in Libya

by Datechguy | June 24th, 2011

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The demise of the liberal Hawk and disaster in Libya

Death, destruc­tion, dis­ease, hor­ror. That’s what war is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided.” Capt James T. Kirk via a Taste or Armageddon

Through­out parts of Libya under rebel con­trol, peo­ple are frus­trated with NATO. Between its slow pace of attacks and the errant strikes that have killed rebel fight­ers, the spec­u­la­tion now is that the West­ern coali­tion lacks the resources and resolve to help the rebels top­ple Gaddafi. NATO and Libya’s Rebels Don’t Jibe Yahoo News June 21st

One of the biggest changes in Amer­i­can Polit­i­cal life since the mid 20th cen­tury has been the demise of the lib­eral Hawk. The peo­ple who believed that War though hor­ri­ble when fought is for a pur­pose is some­times nec­es­sary and should be fought to win.

For a long time Democ­rats, par­tic­u­larly in the south were strong pro­po­nents of national defense. The atti­tude was best illus­trated by an exchange between Sen­a­tor William Rus­sell of Geor­gia and Sen­a­tor Mil­ton Young of North Dakota:

Sen Young: “You peo­ple of the South are much more mil­i­tar­ily minded than in the North.”

Sen Rus­sell: “You’d be more mil­i­tary minded too, if Sher­man had crossed North Dakota.“
The Years of Lyn­don John­son Mas­ter of the Sen­ate pp 182

Slowly democ­rats changed or as they might say pro­gressed. It was some­time between the last few years of the Viet­nam war and the begin­ning of the Rea­gan Era that the polit­i­cal land­scape altered. Democ­rats who had learned the lessons of World War 2 died out and were replaced by those whose school were marches and protests. It is from that tem­plate that a demo­c­ra­tic party that once sup­ported the cold war, found them­selves advanc­ing the Soviet posi­tions ‚call­ing for weapons freezes, defend­ing the San­din­istas etc. It from them that the mod­ern anti-​war democ­rats descend intellectually.

It cre­ated a phi­los­o­phy that was as com­fort­able and with­out risk as a man­sion in a gated com­mu­nity. A strong and happy place where those who would never serve and didn’t know friends or fam­ily who did could be assured of their own self-​righteousness. It was a place where the war­like west was the cause of most of the prob­lems of the world, where utopia could be reached if only we listed to the words of John Lennon. It was a place where the US sol­dier was a strange crea­ture who joined the Army sim­ply to get an edu­ca­tion due to poverty or because of poor upbring­ing. It was a place of bumper stick­ers about bake sales vs bombs, where the enlight­ened could gather con­vinced that the age of the war­rior was soon to pass.

It was in this place that a com­mu­nity orga­nizer was weaned and taught to look at the world and see the beauty of an Amer­ica that was merely one cog in the great cir­cle of nations.

Then came Sep­tem­ber 11th and real­i­ties of the world slapped the face of a slum­ber­ing US. For the left it was dis­as­ter to all they built up. It was bad enough the attack­ers were all of a par­tic­u­lar reli­gion but there were images of some of their allies cel­e­brat­ing the attack. Many who fol­lowed the left aban­doned them and even worse the Amer­i­can sol­dier was trans­formed from a vic­tim trapped by events to a hero, the sym­bol of power and strength, com­manded by a leader who didn’t see shades of grey, who saw good and evil and was not afraid to define them.

The Demo­c­ra­tic left in con­gress was faced with a quandary; those who actu­ally saw intel­li­gence knew what the threat was but their sup­port­ers weaned on a dif­fer­ent brand of his­tory could not and did not acknowl­edge the threat. So Democ­rats in con­gress took a page of the Euro­pean play­book from the 80’s. They pub­licly denounced the Pres­i­dent and seem­ingly fought his poli­cies while mak­ing sure he had just enough votes to advance them. This gave them the best of all pos­si­ble worlds, pre­vent­ing a dis­as­ter while keep­ing the sup­port of their base until the mood of the nation could change.

Such resolve is hard to main­tain and as the decade neared it end the nation was fac­ing eco­nomic trou­bles and when given the choice between an old war­rior and a young leader who promised hope and change, they choose the young leader.

The world greeted Obama’s elec­tion with great antic­i­pa­tion. The left imag­ined a new era of har­mony in the world. The Nobel com­mit­tee, antic­i­pat­ing a golden age awarded him the peace prize within 9 months of his inau­gu­ra­tion and tele­vi­sion writ­ers in Eng­land wrote their scripts in antic­i­pa­tion of world­wide prob­lems being solved.

The pres­i­dent inher­ited two wars, one wind­ing down in Iraq and the 2nd in Afghanistan in need of atten­tion. They would both be chal­lenges but no mat­ter what deci­sions were to be made, he could fairly say nei­ther war was his own and although he would be respon­si­ble for fight­ing them, he could not be held respon­si­ble for start­ing them. When the prospect of a new con­flict might arise, the world could see the dif­fer­ence between the old sim­plis­tic way of fight­ing and the new era of smart diplomacy.

Which brings us to Libya.

With the Arab spring dawned in Egypt the Obama admin­is­tra­tion sup­ported the Egypt­ian peo­ple against our one­time ally Mubarak. The US trained Egypt­ian army showed restraint (per­haps warned by their US advis­ers) and the gov­ern­ment fell.

When the move­ment spread to Libya the sit­u­a­tion was dif­fer­ent. Like Egypt Libya was ruled by a dic­ta­tor sup­ported by a mil­i­tary, but unlike Egypt the US influ­ence was min­i­mal and the dic­ta­tor had no com­punc­tion about killing thou­sands to retain power.

At first events seems to favor the rebels. The closed on the Cap­i­tal of Tripoli. The world sat back see­ing the suc­cess. West­ern Reporters descended on the Cap­i­tal deter­mined to report the end of Gaddafi as the end of his rule seemed imminent.

Mean­while a for­mer gov­er­nor of Alaska sug­gested a NATO no-​fly zone to pre­serve Rebel gains around Tripoli and has­ten the fall of a man respon­si­ble for the death of Many Americans.

But the pres­i­dent of the United states would not be pressed into a war when none was nec­es­sary. He was sure it was the inter­fer­ence of the west that caused the worlds prob­lems and despite the strength of the still Loyal air force Gaddafi was sure to fall any day. He declined to involve the US mil­i­tar­ily but stated emphat­i­cally that “Gaddafi must go”.

Alas nobody told Gaddafi. With the time allowed him to recruit mer­ce­nar­ies from the south he coun­ter­at­tacked. With no air cover and no heavy weapons the rebels were routed. They poured back the length of the coun­try and found them­selves besieged with Gaddafi warn­ing of slaugh­ter if they didn’t surrender.

This was the moment of cri­sis. There was no strate­gic objec­tive for the United States but the pres­i­dent had declared “Gaddafi must go” and if noth­ing was done then Gaddafi would take Beng­hazi and slaugh­ter and the rebel­lion would be over with the Gaddafi régime firmly in power.

We could instead sup­port the rebels. With Amer­i­can Air-​power and mil­i­tary might Gaddafi would not be able to stand. True the rebels were not friends (in fact there was evi­dence that many were ene­mies) but there was no ques­tion that Gaddafi was a foe and his fall sup­ported by the US forces would be a mes­sage to any enemy that the US had a long memory.

But such a strat­egy would involve the direct use of US power by the Obama admin­is­tra­tion on their own behalf. All that he was, all that he was taught, all he came from told him that such US power to over­throw an enemy was an abom­i­na­tion, but could he stand by and let the rebels die? Would not that blood be on his hands?

And here was the mis­take, the mis­take that John­son made in Viet­nam, the mis­take that the left has always made in war. The belief that you can fight a war with­out fight­ing to win.

The pres­i­dent choose to go the route of NATO and the UN. A res­o­lu­tion was voted on and passed and within a week US planes where destroy­ing Gaddafi’s abil­ity to strike from the air and the Rebels on the verge of defeat once again pushed forward.

But the west was not will­ing to com­mit to a fight to the fin­ish. Gaddafi’s forces adapted and over the last sev­eral months the war has see­sawed with the Gaddafi alter­na­tively push­ing for­ward and being thrown back.

So we find our­selves in the worst of all pos­si­ble worlds. Rebels upset and Nato’s lack of com­mit­ment, the pres­i­dent insist­ing that the US is not involved in “hos­til­i­ties” and the con­gress unwill­ing to sup­port him, NATO frac­tur­ing and the rebels even sug­gest­ing that Gaddafi could stay in Libya.

The Pres­i­dent had two choices, both bad, both involv­ing risks and nei­ther attrac­tive for Amer­ica. A strong cold war leader would have made a choice and lived with the con­se­quences but instead pres­i­dent Obama tried to com­pro­mise, to vote “present” if you will and now rather than a sin­gle friend or a sin­gle enemy we now have a stale­mate and two sides who don’t trust us.

At the begin­ning of this mess I saw three pos­si­ble con­clu­sions. Where we are is where I expected us to be. If we had either stayed out, or fought the war to win, it would have been over in March or April. Instead there is no end in sight.

If the demo­c­ra­tic party was the party of the past they might have taken James T. Kirk’s advice:

unfor­tu­nately for the world, that Demo­c­ra­tic party is gone forever.

Update: Stacy McCain is slo­ga­neer­ing:

“Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what war is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided.” Capt James T. Kirk via a Taste or Armageddon

Throughout parts of Libya under rebel control, people are frustrated with NATO. Between its slow pace of attacks and the errant strikes that have killed rebel fighters, the speculation now is that the Western coalition lacks the resources and resolve to help the rebels topple Gaddafi. NATO and Libya’s Rebels Don’t Jibe Yahoo News June 21st

One of the biggest changes in American Political life since the mid 20th century has been the demise of the liberal Hawk. The people who believed that War though horrible when fought is for a purpose is sometimes necessary and should be fought to win.

For a long time Democrats, particularly in the south were strong proponents of national defense. The attitude was best illustrated by an exchange between Senator William Russell of Georgia and Senator Milton Young of North Dakota:

Sen Young: “You people of the South are much more militarily minded than in the North.”

Sen Russell: “You’d be more military minded too, if Sherman had crossed North Dakota.”
The Years of Lyndon Johnson Master of the Senate pp 182

Slowly democrats changed or as they might say progressed. It was sometime between the last few years of the Vietnam war and the beginning of the Reagan Era that the political landscape altered. Democrats who had learned the lessons of World War 2 died out and were replaced by those whose school were marches and protests. It is from that template that a democratic party that once supported the cold war, found themselves advancing the Soviet positions ,calling for weapons freezes, defending the Sandinistas etc. It from them that the modern anti-war democrats descend intellectually.

It created a philosophy that was as comfortable and without risk as a mansion in a gated community. A strong and happy place where those who would never serve and didn’t know friends or family who did could be assured of their own self-righteousness. It was a place where the warlike west was the cause of most of the problems of the world, where utopia could be reached if only we listed to the words of John Lennon. It was a place where the US soldier was a strange creature who joined the Army simply to get an education due to poverty or because of poor upbringing. It was a place of bumper stickers about bake sales vs bombs, where the enlightened could gather convinced that the age of the warrior was soon to pass.

It was in this place that a community organizer was weaned and taught to look at the world and see the beauty of an America that was merely one cog in the great circle of nations.

Then came September 11th and realities of the world slapped the face of a slumbering US. For the left it was disaster to all they built up. It was bad enough the attackers were all of a particular religion but there were images of some of their allies celebrating the attack. Many who followed the left abandoned them and even worse the American soldier was transformed from a victim trapped by events to a hero, the symbol of power and strength, commanded by a leader who didn’t see shades of grey, who saw good and evil and was not afraid to define them.

The Democratic left in congress was faced with a quandary; those who actually saw intelligence knew what the threat was but their supporters weaned on a different brand of history could not and did not acknowledge the threat. So Democrats in congress took a page of the European playbook from the 80′s. They publicly denounced the President and seemingly fought his policies while making sure he had just enough votes to advance them. This gave them the best of all possible worlds, preventing a disaster while keeping the support of their base until the mood of the nation could change.

Such resolve is hard to maintain and as the decade neared it end the nation was facing economic troubles and when given the choice between an old warrior and a young leader who promised hope and change, they choose the young leader.

The world greeted Obama’s election with great anticipation. The left imagined a new era of harmony in the world. The Nobel committee, anticipating a golden age awarded him the peace prize within 9 months of his inauguration and television writers in England wrote their scripts in anticipation of worldwide problems being solved.

The president inherited two wars, one winding down in Iraq and the 2nd in Afghanistan in need of attention. They would both be challenges but no matter what decisions were to be made, he could fairly say neither war was his own and although he would be responsible for fighting them, he could not be held responsible for starting them. When the prospect of a new conflict might arise, the world could see the difference between the old simplistic way of fighting and the new era of smart diplomacy.

Which brings us to Libya.

With the Arab spring dawned in Egypt the Obama administration supported the Egyptian people against our onetime ally Mubarak. The US trained Egyptian army showed restraint (perhaps warned by their US advisers) and the government fell.

When the movement spread to Libya the situation was different. Like Egypt Libya was ruled by a dictator supported by a military, but unlike Egypt the US influence was minimal and the dictator had no compunction about killing thousands to retain power.

At first events seems to favor the rebels. The closed on the Capital of Tripoli. The world sat back seeing the success. Western Reporters descended on the Capital determined to report the end of Gaddafi as the end of his rule seemed imminent.

Meanwhile a former governor of Alaska suggested a NATO no-fly zone to preserve Rebel gains around Tripoli and hasten the fall of a man responsible for the death of Many Americans.

But the president of the United states would not be pressed into a war when none was necessary. He was sure it was the interference of the west that caused the worlds problems and despite the strength of the still Loyal air force Gaddafi was sure to fall any day. He declined to involve the US militarily but stated emphatically that “Gaddafi must go”.

Alas nobody told Gaddafi. With the time allowed him to recruit mercenaries from the south he counterattacked. With no air cover and no heavy weapons the rebels were routed. They poured back the length of the country and found themselves besieged with Gaddafi warning of slaughter if they didn’t surrender.

This was the moment of crisis. There was no strategic objective for the United States but the president had declared “Gaddafi must go” and if nothing was done then Gaddafi would take Benghazi and slaughter and the rebellion would be over with the Gaddafi regime firmly in power.

We could instead support the rebels. With American Air-power and military might Gaddafi would not be able to stand. True the rebels were not friends (in fact there was evidence that many were enemies) but there was no question that Gaddafi was a foe and his fall supported by the US forces would be a message to any enemy that the US had a long memory.

But such a strategy would involve the direct use of US power by the Obama administration on their own behalf. All that he was, all that he was taught, all he came from told him that such US power to overthrow an enemy was an abomination, but could he stand by and let the rebels die? Would not that blood be on his hands?

And here was the mistake, the mistake that Johnson made in Vietnam, the mistake that the left has always made in war. The belief that you can fight a war without fighting to win.

The president choose to go the route of NATO and the UN. A resolution was voted on and passed and within a week US planes where destroying Gaddafi’s ability to strike from the air and the Rebels on the verge of defeat once again pushed forward.

But the west was not willing to commit to a fight to the finish. Gaddafi’s forces adapted and over the last several months the war has seesawed with the Gaddafi alternatively pushing forward and being thrown back.

So we find ourselves in the worst of all possible worlds. Rebels upset and Nato’s lack of commitment, the president insisting that the US is not involved in “hostilities” and the congress unwilling to support him, NATO fracturing and the rebels even suggesting that Gaddafi could stay in Libya.

The President had two choices, both bad, both involving risks and neither attractive for America. A strong cold war leader would have made a choice and lived with the consequences but instead president Obama tried to compromise, to vote “present” if you will and now rather than a single friend or a single enemy we now have a stalemate and two sides who don’t trust us.

At the beginning of this mess I saw three possible conclusions. Where we are is where I expected us to be. If we had either stayed out, or fought the war to win, it would have been over in March or April. Instead there is no end in sight.

If the democratic party was the party of the past they might have taken James T. Kirk’s advice:

unfortunately for the world, that Democratic party is gone forever.

Update: Stacy McCain is sloganeering:

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