Newsham: A selfish intervention

Better Dead Than Red

From the start of our intervention in Libya, critics from across the political spectrum have lambasted American involvement in what is now recognized as a civil war. The blatant hypocrisy of intervening in Libya while doing nothing to address the shotgunning of Bahrainis or the sniping of Yemenis by their own governments hasn’t been missed. Nor has our failure to address the conflict in the Ivory Coast, where the Red Cross reports 800 people were just massacred this week.

Proponents of intervention are on the defensive, following the lead of President Obama. In his March 28 speech, he defended our inconsistent humanitarian intervention, saying that we have a responsibility to intervene “when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are.”

Pro-intervention arguments are perhaps most succinctly summarized in the title of Nicholas Kristof’s April 2 column in the New York Times: “Is it better to save no one?” Kristof’s column claimed we have stopped the rapes of “thousands of Eman al-Obeidys” from happening, referring to the woman who recently burst into a Tripoli hotel to recount to reporters her rape by Qaddafi’s forces. What Kristof et al probably don’t realize is that they are literally parroting an argument of the Bush administration for toppling Saddam in 2003. Kristof admits that “there’s no doubt that we cherry-pick our humanitarian interventions.” But in a sad example of intellectual laziness, he neither questions nor offers any rationale as to why we chose Libya.

David Brooks says the Obama we’re seeing isn’t Obama the litigator, a “cool, hyper-rational calculator,” but “the same sensitive, idealistic man who wrote ‘Dreams From my Father.’”

But this isn’t the Obama we want or need. We don’t need a consensus builder on every single issue; sometimes, we need a strategist. Times like these don’t call for heavy-handed declarations at the first sign of conflict that Qaddafi “has lost all legitimacy and must leave.” They demand a leader who understands the interplay of diplomatic forces among not just the elites, but the citizens of the Middle East.

Our government has not done its due diligence toward our actions in Libya. Despite a 2007 West Point report that showed eastern Libya, including the rebel strongholds of Benghazi and Darna, to be one of the largest contributors of foreign insurgents to Iraq, we very nearly proceeded to arm the rebels, as we did with the Taliban in the 1980s. Just as it seemed we had abandoned such a risky notion, Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain authored an op-ed supporting full-blown regime change in Libya. Some people never learn.

The pro-interventionists’ overarching theme is that to allow Qaddafi’s threatened violence to materialized would have been a blot on the soul of America and the West. But this is nonsense, not to mention hypocritical. We have let dozens of massacres slide before, and are still doing so today elsewhere. We have empowered and supported ruthless dictators, enabling their regimes of terror. Our “interests and values,” as Obama put it, are not merely threatened, but directly assaulted every single day in places like North Korea, Venezuela, the Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan and Russia — even by our own actions, as we topple democrats and empower despots.

At home, millions of Americans are mired in poverty, surviving on food banks. Broke states are cutting Medicaid for those who will die without it. Abroad, thousands of children starve to death every day. Sub-Saharan Africa is facing an AIDS crisis of epic proportions. These are humanitarian interventions that can be solved without Tomahawk missiles and hundreds of expensive sorties that we choose to ignore every single day. Why is it that only violent deaths spur us to action, while deaths of neglect merit no response?

We’ve managed to push the deaths of neglect to the back of our minds to enable us to sleep at night. But Libya is harder for us to ignore. When it comes to intervention, nothing beats the feeling of seeing the bombs fall: David Brooks has never written with such unrestrained glee about the “fabulous” antiretroviral drugs delivered to Africans as he has about the psy-ops and sabotage currently being deployed against Qaddafi loyalists.

Let’s be clear. We’re not intervening for the people of Libya. We’re doing it for ourselves.

Jack Newsham is a freshman in Morse College.


  • The Anti-Yale

    Watch David Brooks’s eyebrows at the beginning of his Friday debates with Mark Shields on the PBS News with Jim Lehrer. Body language tells a lot. He is a scrutinizing, mirthless, censorious, Old Testament JUDGE.

  • River Tam

    > Let’s be clear. We’re not intervening for the people of Libya. We’re doing it for ourselves.

    Mr. Newsham makes a fool of himself with this line. Ann Coulter writes this week:

    > Indeed, President Clinton bragged: “This is America at its best. We seek no territorial gain; we seek no political advantage.” Democrats see our voluntary military supported by taxpayer dollars as their personal Salvation Army.

    > Self-interested behavior, such as deploying troops to serve the nation, is considered boorish in Manhattan salons.

    > The only just wars, liberals believe, are those in which the United States has no stake. Liberals warm to the idea of deploying expensive, taxpayer-funded military machinery and putting American troops in harm’s way, but only for military incursions that serve absolutely no American interest.

  • River Tam

    > They demand a leader who understands the interplay of diplomatic forces among not just the elites, but the citizens of the Middle East.

    Mr. Newsham is confusing international politics with high school Model UN.

  • jnewsham

    In quoting Coulter, are you saying that conservatives (or non-liberals, whatever) maintain Iraq was a war for American interests?

  • River Tam

    > In quoting Coulter, are you saying that conservatives (or non-liberals, whatever) maintain Iraq was a war for American interests?

    Uh, yes. I didn’t realize this was surprising at all. I guess you’re a little young to actually *remember* the war in Iraq.

    From the mouth of George W Bush:

    * I believe in the transformational power of liberty. I believe that the free Iraq is in this nation’s interests. I believe a free Afghanistan is in this nation’s interest.

    * Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could detract from the war against terror. To the contrary, confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror.

    * Iraq is no diversion. It is a place where civilization is taking a decisive stand against chaos and terror, we must not waver.

  • Omar_Mumallah

    Excellent piece Mr. Newsham, took the words right out of my mouth!

    RiverTam, I would argue that Liberals like Clinton also intervened on behalf of American interests, though using humanitarianism as a cover. Bush did the same, which I think was Newsham’s point. I don’t see much of a substantive difference in this regard between the American Liberal and the American Neo-conservative except for perhaps a greater concern for internationalist trappings on the Liberal end.

  • jnewsham

    I guess you’re a litte too slow to realize that in reality, the invasion of Iraq has harmed America’s image, its military capabilities, and most importantly, that it has ended the lives of over 4,000 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis. You also seem to have difficulty remembering last Tuesday. From the mouth of Barack Obama:

    “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen.”

    “We must always measure our interests against the need for action.”

    “America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him.”

    EDIT: Don’t perceive my comment as support for the Libyan intervention. I think it just as misguided and just as hypocritical as the intervention in Iraq. I cited the above passages to respond to River Tam’s holding that Iraq was in our national interests, while assailing “liberal wars” as misdirected wars conducted by irrealistic utopians.

  • River Tam

    Mr. Newsham,

    You completely misunderstood my point. I did not at any point suggest that Barack Obama was not acting in the American national interest. I do not think that liberals are unrealistic utopians (generally, liberals are much more likely to criticize themselves as utopians than are conservatives – the world liberals imagine is not utopian to conservatives). I also never used the phrase “liberal wars” despite you putting it in quotes.

    The Coulter quote was not directed towards Obama – it was directed towards you.


    River Tam

  • jnewsham

    Sorry–“just wars [in whose causes] liberals believe.” Happy?
    Why do you believe that we’re intervening in Libya?
    Also, never did HS Model U.N., but here’s an example of what happens when you focus on the elites and not the citizenry:

  • ignatz

    jnewsham is correct that “this isn’t the Obama we want or need.” The Obama we really need is the Obama who will be defeated in his bid for re-election.

  • River Tam

    Mr. Newsham,

    Linking to the NYTimes is not the same as thinking.

    River Tam

  • jnewsham

    Says the woman who quoted at length from Ann Coulter.

    @ignatz: So you want him to do a bad job?