"I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I've just finished my milk." - Moss, The IT Crowd

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Enough to make your head spin

As someone who opposed invading Afghanistan and invading Iraq, and who now opposes the United States' current participation in Libya's civil war, I have been forcefully reminded in recent days of the old adage about how politics makes strange bedfellows.

I remember the commentators and politicians who were all too eager to stifle debate by throwing around words like "treason"and "comfort to the enemy" to describe anyone who didn't unreservedly support wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the obvious, logical response to an elegantly simple and extraordinarily devastating terrorist plot executed by a non-state actor (Al Qaeda). In some quarters, using support for these wars as patriotism litmus tests continues on. Never mind that the nation of Afghanistan never flew planes into the World Trade Center (and that Pakistan has provided safe haven to Al Qaeda just as much as Afghanistan ever did), or that Iraq and Saddam Hussein didn't even have demonstrable ties to Al Qaeda.

But it's a new dawn, a new day, and a new President. And now that the President dropping bombs is a Democrat, it seems like many of the same people who were happy to beat the drums for war in Afghanistan and Iraq have suddenly discovered the following: (a) wars cost a lot; (b) wars are very hard to end once you start, especially if you have no clear criteria for victory; (c) using advanced weaponry does not guarantee a swift and tidy outcome; (d) involving yourself as a foreign actor on one side of a domestic war can result in unintended consequences for decades to come; and (e) the longer a war goes on, the more people die.

A couple of folks experiencing a change of heart:

Rep. Dan Burton on the Iraq War: "We are in a world war against terrorism, a world war, and this is the major battleground right now. The reason we are not being attacked in large part here in the United States, in my opinion, is because these young men and women are making these sacrifices over there, in the middle of the storm, where terrorism has its genesis, where Iran and Syria and other countries are supporting terrorism. They do not want democracy to flourish over there, because they know their days will be numbered if democracy succeeds. ... Now, if the more liberal Members of this body want to cave in, if they want to assuage the enemy and pat them on the back, then that is what is going to be their legacy to this country and to this world; but I do not want to be a part of that, and I do not think my colleagues on this side of the aisle want to be a part of it either." "Our power in Congress is the power of the purse. If the Democrats have an action item, we should get to the point; let us vote on funding the war in Iraq, and stop making pointless partisan political arguments. ... American resolve does not quit when a situation gets messy, we do not tuck our tail between our legs and run away scared. My colleagues and I are also aware that our legislative agenda does not exist in a bubble; that there are many factors at play. If we do not have the intestinal fortitude in Iraq, how will we be viewed by other countries like Iran?"

Rep. Dan Burton on bombing Libya: "Who's going to pick up the tab for all this?" "The whole northern tier of Africa, as well as the Middle East is blowing up right now and I want to protect peoples' lives, but what makes the Libyan crisis different from Yemen or Syria or Darfur or Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge?" "I don’t think we should be in Libya at all. It sounds like they just jumped into this thing."

It seems Rep. Burton was for intervening in other nations' affairs to impose democracy before he was against it. I'm glad he finally is concerned about the expense, though.

Rep. Eric Cantor in October 2003 on President Bush's plan in Iraq: "It is, I think, absurd to say that this president doesn't have a plan. ... The president took the lead post-9/11 and said we're going to have a national security strategy that, at its center, says rejection of terrorism, no matter where it exists. Going into Iraq is part of the war against terrorism. We have got to make sure that that country never, ever becomes a haven."

Rep. Eric Cantor on President Obama's plan in Libya: "I didn't see victory defined. A lot of us are left asking what the endgame is. A lot of us are asking questions about how long we're going to be there."

Never mind that we know Qaddafi, the acknowledged head of the Libyan government, has acted as a state sponsor of terrorism which has killed U.S. citizens. And never mind that we already knew by October 2003 that the "evidence" for serious Al Qaeda presence in Iraq was garbage. No need to ask what the end game was for Iraq, but that's become of paramount importance for Libya.

Then you've got Newt Gingrich's flip-flop, which is truly impressive in that - rather than just contradicting a rationale expressed years ago for the Afghanistan or Iraq wars - he directly contradicted
himself within the span of a few weeks about the appropriate course of action for Libya.

And last, but not least, you've got Barack Obama's clear duplicity with regards to the importance of checks and balances on executive branch use of U.S. military power.

Granted, you have some prominent people who were in favor of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who are now in favor of wholesale intervention in Libya: for example, Paul WolfowitzBill Kristol, and Joe Lieberman. I don't agree with them, but I at least have to give them points for demonstrating a consistent belief in using U.S. military force to pursue policy goals through wars of aggression against foreign nations.

And then you have a few prominent people who criticized the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and criticize bombing Libya now: Dennis Kucinich, Lloyd Doggett, Ron Paul, and Barbara Lee. I list all four because they're also the only members of Congress I can think of who objected fairly consistently to the U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even so,  the first three (Kucinich, Doggett, and Paul) voted in favor of the Authorization of Military Force which was put before them on September 14, 2001, and was used to justify the subsequent military actions. Only Barbara Lee of California had the courage - and make no mistake, it was courage - to vote against it. The reasoning behind her vote seems prescient now: "It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events -- anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation's long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit. In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration. I could not support such a grant of war-making authority to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at risk."

Unfortunately, the more common stance seems to be "I'm a Republican, so I supported the war in Iraq because I'm a patriot, but I'm against whatever Obama does in Libya" or "I'm a Democrat, so I object (at least now that no one's calling me a traitor anymore) to Bush's war in Iraq, but whatever Obama wants to do in Libya is high-minded and A-OK with me."

There's nothing like military action to concentrate the mind. Apparently there's nothing like it for concentrating hypocrisy either.

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