Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Libya is not Iraq. Liberal interventionism is not neoconservatism.

One of our former contributors, Jim Arkedis, has an excellent piece up at Foreign Policy responding to the assertion, notably by Stephen Walt, that neoconservatism and liberal interventionism are essentially the same, and that the intervention in Libya is essentially the same as the invasion of Iraq.

If you've read this blog recently, you'll know that I side with Jim on this -- and that I'm a liberal interventionist who supports the intervention in Libya (albeit with reservations). Indeed, I argued yesterday that the "war" in Libya is decidedly not a neocon war.

I encourage you to read Jim's piece. (Instead of calling them (or us) liberal interventionists or liberal hawks, he uses "progressive internationalists." My sense is that "internationalism" is too broad, but it suggests that war is an option but not the preferred option, as it would seem to be for the neocons, so it's not a bad term to use.) Here's a taste:

Progressive internationalists recognize that U.S. foreign policy is now a holistic enterprise that must first summon all sources of national power to deal with what goes on within states as well as between them -- direct and multilateral diplomacy, development aid to build infrastructure and civil society, trade to promote growth, intelligence collection, and law enforcement, to name a few -- and only then turn to force as the final guarantor of peace and stability.

Neocons, however, disdain multilateral diplomacy and overestimate the efficacy of military force. Their lopsided preoccupation with "hard power" creates an imposing facade of strength, but in fact saps the economic, political, and moral sources of American influence. By overspending on the military and allowing the other levers of American power to atrophy, neocons misallocate precious U.S. national resources in two ways -- leaving the United States with too little of the "smart power" capacities desperately needed in war zones like Afghanistan and an overabundance of "hard power" capacities it will never use. The trick is to carefully cultivate both, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen have championed since Obama took power.

I think that's right, and I said much the same thing, if less elaborately, yesterday:

Libya isn't a neocon war. It isn't about American hegemony, American unilateral aggression, or American national self-interest (say, in terms of oil). It's a "war," or whatever you want to call it, sanctioned by the U.N. and the Arab League, that is, a war not waged by a U.S.-led "coalition of the willing" alienating even close allies but a war effectively waged by the international community. And it is largely a humanitarian war, a war to protect innocent civilians from being slaughtered and to provide cover to rebels seeking to bring down one of the must ruthless dictators in the world.

[Bill] Kristol may be cheering it on, but it isn't his war, and in fact it is a war that is decidedly the antithesis of what he generally purports to support. It's up to him to support it or not, of course, but the success of this war, and he does think "we will" win, would only mean a further defeat for neocon ideology, the refutation of all that he stands for.

It is essential, I think, that we not let all military intervention be understood in neocon terms and that those of us who support intervention, usually as a last resort in extreme cases, defend the principles that guide us from the attacks of those who would lump all intervention, and all war, together. 

Instead of being driven by the reckless pursuit of global American hegemony, after all, nor even by a purely realist sense of national self-interest, we are motivated by internationalism and humanitarianism. And, to me, there's something fundamentally noble about that.

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