Liberal “committee” war is fought “at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence”? Note that the longest war in this nation’s history is still being prosecuted in Afghanistan, and while not a solo incursion, it has, since its beginning, never been considered a liberal war in Douthat’s framing. And the war in Iraq, the second longest war in U.S. history, was an affront to the consensus-building measures the president took prior to the weekend’s airstrikes against Libya, which continues at a presumably slower-than-glacial pace. For tactical incompetence in each, try “Iraq” AND “Afghanistan” in Lexis, 2003 to present.
Liberal wars’ “connection to the national interest is often tangential at best?” Again, the “coalition of the willing’s”’ move into Iraq springs to mind. As history has born out, the argument for our national interest there turned on a lie. And tangential might prove the more logical impetus than untruth.
Douthat then writes, “The NATO bombing campaign helped topple Slobodan Milosevic and midwifed an independent Kosovo. But by raising the stakes for both Milosevic and his Kosovo Liberation Army foes, the West’s intervention probably inspired more bloodletting and ethnic cleansing in the short term, exacerbating the very humanitarian crisis it was intended to forestall.”
That assessment is probably correct. But again, with the backing track of non-liberal wars playing as you read, it’s hard not to counter with Iraq. Was the humanitarian crisis in that country eased or exacerbated by the ongoing war there?
None of this is to say that Barack Obama has it right in Libya. Or that the French or British do. Or that things will turn out rosier in this latest “liberal war” than they have with the two started under president Bush. As Douthat pretty comprehensively points out, historical precedent should have us all nervous.
The point is that war in general rarely turns out well—liberal, conservative, unilateral, or otherwise. By targeting this notion of a “very liberal intervention”—perhaps fulfilling his need to be the Times’s conservative voice at all junctures—Douthat distracts us from this larger point.
We all have reason to worry when bombs are falling, regardless of the ideologies that might be dropping them. And we have particular concerns in Libya, where the mission, our interests, and our chances for whatever would constitute success are cloudy. If you’re looking for some direction on how you should be worrying about Libya, try Marshall before Douthat.