Ross Douthat has a really sober-minded column today showing some skepticism towards today’s calls for intervention. He points out that the interventionists haven’t yet answered the really important questions about the consequences of intervening. Douthat isn’t so much making the case for isolationism as for being judicious about where the U.S. chooses to intervene, and in that sense you might describe his column as less “anti-war” than, to paraphrase a former senatorial candidate from Illinois, “anti-dumb war.” The point is not that the U.S. should do nothing — it’s that as of right now, the case for a more active intervention hasn’t been made.
I would take issue with the conclusion he draws here, however:
It’s a testament to the resilience of American power that we’re hearing these kind of arguments so soon after the bloodiest years of the Iraq war. It’s also a testament to the achievements of the American military: absent the successes of the 2007 troop surge, we’d probably be too busy extricating ourselves from a war-torn Iraq to even contemplate another military intervention in a Muslim nation.
I think the calls for intervention are related to none of these things. The “broad cross-section of politicians and opinion-makers,” Douthat names as being supportive of intervention, from “Bill Clinton to Bill Kristol, Fareed Zakaria to Newt Gingrich, John Kerry to Christopher Hitchens,” all initially supported the invasion of Iraq. Partisan differences don’t always map neatly onto foreign policy views, so party affiliation can sometimes obscure more than it illuminates. The relative ideological diversity of this crowd obscures the fact that whatever their differences of opinion on the appropriate strength of the welfare state it’s not surprising that they would come to the same conclusion on matters of military intervention.
The fact that we’re so seriously contemplating a military intervention in Libya is less reflective of American resilience than it is the limited spectrum of elite public opinion, where the glib willingness to send other people to war is treated as inherently courageous and patriotic. While hawkish pundits may be unsurprisingly resilient when it comes to advocating for the next military intervention, the American people are less so — at least two polls, including one from the right-leaning Rasmussen, show most Americans opposed to an intervention. Yet none of the elite opinion-makers who were wrong about the war in Iraq suffered any kind of public consequences for helping lead the U.S. into a disastrous military conflict under false pretenses. Those who supported the war; who hawked faulty evidence of non-existent weapons of mass destruction; who trumpeted a non-existent link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks; all of them to a person retained their perches at places of public influence.
In the meantime, those who were right that the war would prove far more difficult than its proponents anticipated, who argued the case for intervention had not been proven, were mocked as fools, if not traitors, then later dismissed as mere broken clocks whose ideological consistency had finally lead them to the correct conclusion. Ironic, since we’re still pretending that there’s something remarkable about Newt Gingrich or Christopher Hitchens insisting on the urgency of yet another military intervention in a foreign country.