Never underestimate the stupidity of our rulers.
When Judge Andrew Napolitano of Freedom Watch asked me if I thought President Obama would intervene in Libya, I said, “No, he’s too smart for that.” I attribute my misreading of events to my reading of the President’s general demeanor. Obama projects the aura of a disinterested scientist, the cool observer unmoved by the passions of ordinary people. He conveys objectivity—and, by any objective standard, the case for entering yet another maze of tribal and religious rivalries borders on nonexistent. Even Robert Gates—hardly a noninterventionist—came out publicly against a no-fly zone over Libya. Surely the President would take the advice of his secretary of defense.
I had forgotten the central principle that underlies much of my own writing, and that is the principle of self-preservation—the idea that our rulers are concerned with preserving their own power, and that politics, not the “national interest,” is the real causative factor when it comes to policymaking.
The politics of the Libyan adventure signal a new unity in the War Party, a renewed alliance of liberal “humanitarian” interventionists and neoconservatives. For the latter, the outbreak of any war involving the United States is cause for celebration. For the former, it’s a chance to celebrate Obama as a credible and sufficiently stern-faced Commander in Chief. And this new crusade is an opportunity for both factions to repair their formerly friendly relations, which were sundered during the Bush years on account of the Iraq war, which the “humanitarians” opposed.
Bill Kristol and a platoon of his laptop bombardiers signed an open letter, demanding the President intervene in the name of protecting and extending “freedom,” followed shortly by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s New York Times op-ed making the case from the “humanitarian” angle.
Bill Clinton’s public endorsement and John Kerry’s grandstanding gave the call for intervention some real impetus in Democratic Party circles. Within the administration, Hillary Clinton and her coterie of Amazons—Samantha Power, a senior aide at the National Security Council, and Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations—were instrumental in browbeating the President into acting. So much for that old feminist bromide: “If only women were in charge, we’d have peace.”
From the House of Clinton to the House of Saud, a mighty alliance of interests aligned their efforts toward a common goal, and, in very short order, it was done. I should have remembered my own analysis of the Hillary Clinton appointment as the establishment of a de facto co-presidency, with Obama presiding over the domestic sphere and Hillary given virtual autonomy in foreign affairs.
The principle of political self-preservation explains President Obama’s decision to go against his initial skepticism and take us into Libya’s quicksands. With so many factions on both sides of the spectrum coming at him all at once, the President took the path of least resistance. No doubt the realists within the administration think they can make this quick and easy: The New York Times reports Obama agreed on the condition that the whole operation would be only “a matter of days.”
This is a fatal mistake. The President has been lassoed into a grudge match with a desperate despot, one who’s certifiably crazy and also happens to enjoy some support in the western part of his country. Given the world stage, Qaddafi, the megalomaniacal posturer, will play his role as provocateur and madman to the hilt. His recklessness is bound to escalate the conflict, and it won’t be long before we’re drawn into a full-scale war on the ground.
On Freedom Watch, I also predicted Libya would split in two, with the rebellious eastern provinces reverting to their age-old identity as the emirate of Cyrenaica, and the west recovering its ancient identity as Tripolitania. When the United Nations merged them and the southern province of Fezzan in 1951, and King Idris I was told he would be monarch of all Libya, he protested to the U.S. ambassador that he only wanted to rule over Cyrenaica. The rebels, who fly the flag of the old monarchy, would do well to follow his lead.
That’s highly unlikely, unfortunately. With the United Nations, NATO, and the Arab League behind them, they can ask for the moon. Their demands will increase: from protecting Benghazi to protecting rebel troops as they march on Tripoli. (By the time this sees print, we’ll be halfway down that road already.)
The coalition that came together to push us into Libya will succeed in keeping us there for as long as it takes to restore “order” and institute “democracy.”
A matter of days? More like a matter of years.