Conservatives Challenge Obama Over Libya
The antiwar right vs the neocon-neoliberal alliance
Poor Daniel Larison. Imagine living in his world, a dark,
forbidding universe where the neocons were never discredited,
where the interventionist consensus is bipartisan and unchallengeable, and only
a pitifully small Remnant
understands that there’s nothing conservative about empire-building. Larison,
a writer for The
American Conservative – that heroic bastion of anti-interventionist,
proto-libertarian sentiment on the right – spends a great deal of energy "proving"
that the very movement his magazine seeks to build does not, in fact, exist.
When Rep. Jason Chaffetz started questioning the Afghanistan war, Larison dourly
remarked on the Utah Republican’s probable support for attacking Iran. Now
that Obama has intervened in Libya, Larison is singing the same
"If ever there were a time for populist American nationalists who
can’t stand Obama and claim to venerate and narrowly interpret the Constitution
to protest, this would be it. Of course, this is not what’s happening. Weigel
"’There are individual Tea Party leaders, like Williams or Rand Paul,
who wince at a military intervention undertaken like this. The Tea Party is
libertarian in plenty of ways. But if it has one defining characteristic, it’s
that it’s nationalist. If there’s a way to remove Gadhafi decades after he aided
the Lockerbie bombers, then that’s more important than a debate over the deep
thoughts of the founders. In a Saturday interview with Fox News, Rep. Allen
West, R-Fla., one of the most popular politicians to win the support of the
Tea Party, explained that his problem with the intervention was about grit,
not the Constitution.’
Continuing his sour-faced griping, Larison concludes:
"… I didn’t expect a great outpouring of antiwar sentiment from Tea
Party-aligned Republicans in Congress, but opposing the Libyan war is a fairly
easy call. It doesn’t require a full embrace of Ron Paul’s foreign policy views.
It just requires some minimal adherence to their professed beliefs. The Libyan
war represents everything Tea Partiers are supposed to dislike about Obama and
Washington, and it should offend their nationalist and constitutionalist sensibilities.
The first real test to see what a "Tea Party foreign policy" might
be is here, and with some honorable exceptions Tea Partiers and the members
of Congress they have supported have proved that they are indistinguishable
from the hawkish interventionists that have dominated the GOP’s foreign policy
thinking for the last decade and more."
With Congress on Spring break, and the war but a few days old, the unfairness
of such a summary judgment was underscored by an "update" published
a few hours after Larison’s original post, noting Sen.
Mike Lee’s criticism of the Libyan adventure as foolhardy and unconstitutional.
soon joined Lee in making equally cogent and principled critiques, yet none
were noted by Larison, perhaps because it undermines his view of the anti-interventionist
right as a remnant of an unrecoverable past rather than the wave of the future.
"Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, does not back President Obama’s plan
for military force in Libya. ‘I’ve got real questions for the president,’ he
said. ‘I just don’t believe that you unilaterally use United States’ forces
the way that we have.’
"Chaffetz knows the Libyan people have suffered at the hands of dictator
Muammar Gadhafi, but the congressman does not believe U.S. forces should take
part in ‘policing’ the globe. ‘No doubt that Gadhafi is one of the world’s bad
guys, but the use of U.S. force raises it to another level,’ he said. He criticized
the president for making his case to the United Nations, rather than to Congress
and the American people.
"After the initial phases of the military action unfold, Chaffetz
says, he and other members of Congress will press the issue. ‘Unless there’s
a clear and present danger to the United States of America, I don’t think you
use U.S. forces in North Africa in what is the equivalent of a civil war,’ he
Larison once scoffed at Chaffetz as someone "who
cannot be taken seriously," and yet how seriously can we take a pundit
who refuses to see the progress his own (alleged) cause is making? The reality
is that the anti-interventionist conservative critique that originated in the
pages of his very own magazine, The American Conservative – as well
as in the campaigns of Rep.
Ron Paul – is echoing in the halls of Congress. See, for instance, this:
"Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
is calling the decision of President Barack Obama to deploy force again Libya
without first seeking congressional authorization ‘an affront to the Constitution.’
"Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, chairs the House Armed Services
subcommittee on tactical air and land forces. In a statement Monday, he said
‘The United States does not have a King’s army.’
"’President Obama’s administration has repeated the mistakes of the
Clinton administration concerning bombing in Kosovo and the George W. Bush administration
concerning invading Iraq by failing to request and obtain from the U.S. Congress
unambiguous prior authorization to use military force against a country that
has not attacked U.S. territory, the U.S. military or U.S. citizens,’ he said.
‘This is particularly ironic considering then-Senator Obama campaigned for the
Democratic nomination based upon his opposition to President George W. Bush’s
decision to invade Iraq.’
"While Muammar Gadhafi ‘is a tyrant despised throughout the Middle
East and North Africa,’ Bartlett said, and ‘his brutal and merciless attacks
against his own citizens are horrific," it is ‘self-evident’ that the situation
in Libya ‘is not an emergency.’
"’The Obama administration sought and obtained support from both the
Arab League and the United Nations Security Council to authorize military force
against Gadhafi,’ Bartlett said. ‘The Obama administration also had time to
organize a 22-nation coalition to implement a no-fly zone with military attacks
led by U.S. Armed Forces against Gadhafi’s forces.
"’Nonetheless, the Obama administration failed to seek approval from
the American people and their elected legislators in the Congress. Failing to
obtain authorization from the U.S. Congress means that President Obama has taken
sole responsibility for the outcome of using U.S. military forces against Gadhafi
onto his shoulders and his administration.’"
Rep. Tim Johnson, Illinois Republican, and a tea party favorite, has
this to say:
"Constitutionally, it is indisputable that Congress must be consulted
prior to an act of war unless there is an imminent threat against this country.
The president has not done so. In fact, this is the same man who questioned
President Bush’s constitutional authority to commit troops to war.
"Our country has no business enmeshing itself in another country’s
civil unrest. We were not attacked. Our national security interests are not
at stake. It is the American people, through their elected representatives,
who are constitutionally empowered to take this kind of action. Not the president.
"We have spent $443.5 billion in the war in Afghanistan since 2001.
We have spent $805.6 billion in Iraq in that time. We are already beyond broke
for largely unacceptable reasons, and the president has just added to that dubious
legacy, committing American lives and dollars without our consent and no end
game in sight.
"The first night of this attack, we fired 112 Tomahawk missiles. Each
of these missiles can cost up to $1.5 million. That’s $168 million for one night’s
assault. Estimates to maintain the no-fly zone, depending on how much of the
country we want to dominate, can cost $30 million to $100 million per week.
Our commitment to that goal is to date open-ended."
The conservatives who are speaking out against the Libyan action are not just
angry because the administration went to the UN
Security Council instead of the US Congress to seek authorization, they
are also attacking the underlying policy, the dangerous "responsibility
to protect" doctrine. This is explicitly rejected by Barlett and other
conservatives, who note Libya "has not attacked US territory, the US military,
or US citizens."
If this is now the standard, then the War Party has lost the tea partiers,
a group that includes Bartlett, Lee, Chaffetz, and Justin
Amash – who is introducing
legislation to defund the Libyan war. In the absence of a similar protest
on the left, these tea partiers are the most vocal and visible opponents of
the Libyan war. Together with Ron
Paul, they are leading a new generation of conservative Republicans to do battle
with the interventionist consensus that dominates Washington.
A couple of weeks ago, Glenn
Greenwald – another writer, like Larison, with whom I share certain ideological
sympathies – wrote
a piece on the Tea Party and US foreign policy that was somewhat sympathetic
to the idea that their less government philosophy leads logically to support
for civil liberties on the home front and anti-interventionism in the foreign
policy realm. Yet there was, to be sure, a certain condescending air that permeated
Glenn’s piece, and in the course of it he remarked that the libertarians and
paleoconservatives constitute small factions "without much political influence."
Today, as the main voices of protest against an unconstitutional and potentially
very dangerous war come from these very elements, while the Democratic "left"
(pathetically represented by the likes of Nancy
Pelosi) mindlessly cheerleads this latest empire-building excursion, there
are ample grounds to challenge Greenwald’s appraisal – and Larison’s.
Indeed, the freshmen tea partiers and Ron Paul supporters aren’t the only ones
questioning the Libya "rescue" operation. Haley
Barbour, a pillar of the Republican establishment of some considerable
girth and weight, is not only asking
"What are we doing in Libya?" but is also questioning our ten-year
Afghan crusade, and wondering aloud why we can’t cut our bloated military budget.
Indeed, Tim Pawlenty, the neocons’
favorite GOP presidential candidate (to date), was quick to attack
Barbour for entertaining such heresy.
The "isolationist" (i.e. pro-peace, anti-internationalist) sentiment
represented – albeit unevenly, and inconsistently — by the populist tea party
movement is trickling up to the higher tiers of the Republican party leadership,
so that even House Speaker John
Boehner felt compelled to issue a statement questioning the process if not
the policy that led to US involvement in Libya’s civil war.
This "trickle up" process is working slowly, but surely. As the Obama
administration embarks on a course determined in advance by its ideological
premises — a crass self-declared "pragmatism" which amounts to supporting
the status quo unless and until it becomes untenable, and then pursuing whatever
policy will satisfy the dominant factions within his own administration – Republican
opposition is crystallizing. That many Republicans are reacting to this in a
purely partisan manner is irrelevant: some opposition to Obama’s Libyan adventure
may start out as a partisan ploy, but political necessity is quick to harden
into ideological conviction.
Ever since the Kosovo war – indeed, since this web site’s very inception –
Antiwar.com has been plugging away at the conservative pro-war consensus as
an ideological distortion, and pointing to an alternative
view which holds that limited government has to mean limited involvement
in the affairs of other nations. You
can’t have a Republic and have an Empire at the same time. You can’t hope
to cut back the power of government if that government must have the funding
and the executive flexibility to send US troops anywhere in the world without
a by your leave either to Congress or to the long-oppressed taxpayers who are
footing the bill.
That message is finally beginning to sink in. No, we aren’t taking exclusive
credit for this sudden awakening: it’s the result of years of work by many people
on many different levels, but Antiwar.com has, indeed, been a major factor in
this remarkable shift, and I don’t mind saying so.
Let David Weigel, the turncoat former Kochtopus employee who
smeared Ron Paul as a "racist," cite the irrelevant Alan West
all he wants: he and his newfound "progressive" buddies have an interest
in denying the reality of a new movement on the right that opposes foreign meddling
by the US government as well as Washington’s meddling with our healthcare. Having
from Team Red to Team Blue, Weigel makes a living off the discredited and archaic
"left-right" paradigm, which insists that everyone on the right is
a Neanderthalish rube just itching to get him some Muslim scalps: citing him
hardly helps Larison’s case.
The constitutionalist-libertarian movement initially energized by Ron Paul’s
heroic efforts has grown well beyond the organizational confines of Paul’s Campaign
for Liberty and its growing and very active youth section, Young
Americans for Liberty. A broad, grassroots movement has arisen that not
only embraces the economics of freedom long championed by Rep. Paul, but also
insists on the Paulian
insight that our foreign policy of global intervention is an obstacle placed
in the path of taking back our old Republic. Their horror at the presidential
supremacism exhibited by President Obama as he goes to war without a vote in
Congress is rooted in a principled opposition to Big Government per se, and
in a recognition that imperialism is inherently hostile to their vision of a
Larison writes that he’s "still waiting for that new antiwar right." Well, Dan, the waiting is over. So relax, sit back, and enjoy it.
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