Most often bad writing is indistinguishable from bad thinking. Sometimes, though, strong writing obscures and may even contribute to weak thinking. Case in point: today’s biting and eloquent attack by the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier on what he considers to be Obama’s empty if not fatuous demand—unaccompanied by any serious US actions-- that Qaddafi’s violence against the Libyan people “must stop.”
What does Wieseltier think Obama should actually do? Well, maybe the U.S. should deploy “the small number of troops that would be required” to end Qaddafi’s rule; and if we are really prevented from doing so by our past history, then “let a multilateral expeditionary force be raised and a humanitarian intervention be launched….Europeans, Africans, even Egyptians may join the campaign.” At the least, there should be a no-fly zone: “let NATO planes fly over Tripoli to shoot down any Libyan aircraft that make war on the Libyan population.”
Where has Wieseltier been in the last twenty years or so? Hasn’t he heard about the fate of “the small number of troops” that supposedly was going to end the civil war in Somalia in 1993? Hasn’t it occurred to Wieseltier that Obama already has his hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan? What is the likelihood that Europeans, Africans or Egyptians would actually agree to form a multilateral military force to intervene in Libya if so requested—demanded?—by Obama? One percent? If they did, what are the chances that they would get there in time—say, in the next few days-- to make a real difference in the outcome in Libya?
As for a NATO no-fly zone, it doesn’t appear that it would have a significant impact, for there have been very few Libyan airforce attacks on the rebels, and today’s New York Times coverage of the fighting mentions none. In any case, if “NATO” was willing to shoot down Libyan planes, why wouldn’t it have acted on its own by now? Is it waiting for a U.S. demand, which would then embarrass the Europeans into a military intervention? Bear in mind that in neither NATO nor the U.S. were willing to intervene militarily in Bosnia, right on the doorstep of Europe, until over a year after the Serbs had begun their campaign of ethnic cleansing if not outright genocide in the spring of 1992.
Not content with castigating Obama for his caution in Libya, Wieseltier adds Cairo and even “Tehran two years ago” to his list of Obama’s “diffidence about humanitarian emergencies” and popular uprisings that we “disappointed.” I don’t recall any U.S. verbal diffidence towards the anti-regime uprising in Iran in 2009; on the contrary, we supported it wholeheartedly. Of course, we didn’t intervene militarily, but I don’t recall Wieseltier or any other minimally sane observer suggesting that we should.
Finally, Wieseltier is quite confident that there would be no anger in the Middle East over yet another U.S military intervention in the region; on the contrary, he writes, “the complaint has been…that the United States has not intervened.” He does not name any states or political leaders who are so complaining.