A Second War of Choice

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The Obama administration chooses war in Libya.

Andrew Sullivan raises some good questions about the looming war against Libya:

If we are prepared to do this in Libya, why not in Congo, where the casualties and brutality have been immensely greater? Or Zimbabwe?

There is no intellectually defensible rationale for intervening in Libya on a humanitarian basis that doesn't simultaneously demand interventions in Congo, and Zimbabwe, and Somalia and Sudan, and so on. Why prioritize Libya?

But perhaps what's more troubling about this whole episode, as Sullivan notes, is that it has proceeded almost entirely without debate. When the Bush administration wanted to wage a war of choice against Iraq, it at least spent several months building a public case. The Bush administration had to resort to some wild rhetoric about the possibility of the United States getting nuked, but at least it was making a case built (however absurdly) on American security interests. What has the Obama administration said? What interests are at stake? Why is American security at risk if we do nothing?

And what of Congress? I know it's considered old-fashioned in national security circles to trot out the Constitution and remind folks that it is the people's representatives who get to decide whether the U.S. wages war or not, but it remains the case nonetheless.

And I should add that just because I think the intervention is ill-considered doesn't mean I think it's going to end in a calamity (although it clearly could). There's no reason to believe the U.S. can't deliver a beating to Gaddafi's thugs and force them away from the rebel strongholds without having to intervene on the ground. But unless the Obama administration articulates some clear red-lines about the scope of American involvement, we're on a clear path toward regime change in Libya. For better or worse.

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