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.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.