Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On A More Serious Note

I don't know what to make of the US's recent work in Libya.

First of all, please don't get me wrong.  From what I can tell Gaddafi is a complete nitwit.  He's dangerous and loony, I know.  Getting him out of power, should that happen, is likely to be a good thing.  And keeping him from killing innocents is definitely good as well.

But, where does it all end?

We're currently involved in three simultaneous wars, which has to be some kind of record.

And the costs of such things are staggering.  I hear so many politicians complaining about the budget these days.  The single fastest way to reduce the short term deficit would be to get out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and (now) Libya.  The cruise missiles we're firing at Libya are awfully expensive things, not to mention planes and pilots.

More interesting to me than costs, though, is our reputation.  The US was already seen by far too many as a bully.  Some countries want us to continue in our role as "world policeman" while others are terrified of that very same thing.  I can't yet find a way that our involvement in Libya does much good for our reputation overall, even if in the end it benefits the Libyan people.  Just wait until there are a few confirmed civilian casualties as a result of coalition air strikes, for example, to see how badly things might go, even in Libya itself.

And we pick our battles so carefully.  We intervene in Iraq and Libya, but not in North Korea, nor China during the Tiananmen Square uprising?  Why or why not?  What about the other middle east countries currently seeing varying levels of protest?  Should we help the Yemenese people if things take an ugly turn there?  How about Bahrain?  Or Saudi Arabia, where recent descriptions of the overwhelming response to a possible protest astounded me.

I suspect we gave up the moral high ground a long, long time ago, and now all the decisions are simply pragmatic in nature.  We can intervene in Libya because we have cover from the UN, and the Arab League, but can't do anything against North Korea or China because they have nukes.  Libya has oil we want, by the way, as does Saudi Arabia.  The calculus around whether intervention helps or hinders our oil habit must be very interesting at the highest levels of power.

I'd rather we stepped back and honesty answered the questions: Should we be intervening?  Why or why not?

I don't claim to know the answers in any given case.  These are complicated issues, and there are arguments on all sides, but it appears to me as if the US is getting involved in far too many conflicts of late, to our own detriment in various ways.  It's like the default is to start shooting.

Something about that feels wrong.