Graham’s modest proposal: Let’s be as bold as the French

This just in from our senior U.S. senator:

Graham Presses Obama Administration to Establish Libyan No-Fly Zone

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on the establishment of a No-Fly zone over Libya and what United States inaction means for our own national security.  Graham is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“One test in foreign policy – at least be as bold as the French.  Unfortunately, when it comes to Libya we’re failing that test.

“The French and British are right to call for a no-fly zone over Libya, and they are correct to recognize the forces opposing Gaddafi.  I’m very disappointed by the indecisiveness of the Administration in the face of tyranny.  They are allowing the cries of the Libyan people to fall on deaf ears.

“Allowing Gaddafi to regain control over Libya through force – without any meaningful effort to support the Libyan people – will create grave consequences for our own national security.

“The biggest winner of an indecisive America refusing to stand up to dictators who kill their own people, will be the Iranian regime.  The Iranian regime has already used force against their own people when they demanded freedom.  If we allow Gaddafi to regain power through force of arms, it is inconceivable to me that the Iranians will ever take our efforts to control their nuclear desires seriously.

“The world is watching, and time is beginning to run short.  The Obama Administration should join with the international community to form a no-fly zone while it still matters.

“Then-Senator Obama relished the opportunity to label Iraq as President Bush’s war.  If he does not act decisively in Libya, I believe history will show that the Obama Administration owned the results of the Gaddafi regime from 2011 forward.

“Their refusal to act will go down as one of the great mistakes in American foreign policy history, and will have dire consequences for our own national security in the years to come.  I truly fear the decisions they are making today will come back to haunt us.”


Yeah, that’s kind of what I thought the other day, when I saw that the French and the Brits were taking the lead on trying to coordinate an international response to try to stop Qaddafi from continuing to kick the stuffing out of the Libyan people who have risked their lives to fight our enemy for us (and, of course, for themselves and their country).

I don’t know what the right thing to do is — such things are complex — but the no-fly zone certainly seems like a measured response that would carry some likelihood of doing good. Unlike, say, boots on the ground, which Sen. Graham draws the line at.

Let’s get our money down, now: Who will be the first to criticize the senator’s common-sense assertion? An antiwar liberal Democrat, or one of those extremists in his own party who are pleased to trash the “RINO” at every opportunity. Cue the Jeopardy music…

80 thoughts on “Graham’s modest proposal: Let’s be as bold as the French

  1. bud

    “They are allowing the cries of the Libyan people to fall on deaf ears.”

    Which Libyan people? This is a civil war not some invasion by the Russians or Nazis. Apparently there are thousands of folks who are loyal to Gaddafi and thousands of rebels. If the Brits and French want to enforce a no-fly zone I say know yourself out. We’ll buy oil from whoever prevails.

  2. bud

    “The biggest winner of an indecisive America refusing to stand up to dictators who kill their own people, will be the Iranian regime”.

    But which dictactor do we “stand up to” and which ones do we support as allies? He could just as easily be talking about the Shah circa 1975 who was a dictator that we supported. Or for that matter Saddam who slaughtered his own people in the 80s but was considered an ally. Or is he talking about the despotic Saudis who persecute their people but serve to furnish us with a reliable oil supply.

    Seriously this whole business of “protecting the innocent civilian population” is such an obviously bogus neo-con scam I’m surprised people continue to fall for it. It’s just so transparently nonsensical.

  3. jfx

    OK, I’ll bite.

    “The biggest winner of an indecisive America refusing to stand up to dictators who kill their own people, will be the Iranian regime.”

    That’s ironic, because the biggest winner of a *decisive* America standing up to Saddam Hussein by invading Iraq and overtly implementing regime change was…tada!…the Iranian regime.

    Lindsey’s throwin’ lotsa read meat these days. It is Tea time, after all.

    I like Obama’s measured approach, which seems to be more about forcing the regional entities (Arab League, African Union, European Union) to engage, in a way that ultimately folds back in to a legitimate international process. Yes, we can drop a no-fly zone in a matter of hours, and then spend the next decade funding and enforcing it. But let’s not break and buy Libya just yet. I think Bob Gates has Obama’s ear. If there is, ultimately, an act of war committed to produce this no-fly zone, let it be a thoroughly well-considered act from a resolute group of regional powers. If the US is out front on it, cowboy-style, acting as the World Police, it will at the very least somewhat delegitimize the natural, organic nature of the Libyan rebellion…at least, I’d bet, in the eyes of many Arabs.

  4. Mark Stewart

    Put boots on the ground; maybe not combat soldiers, but what’s wrong with the advisor approach? Plus provide the rebels with the supply of weapons and material to go along with the training.

    This would seem to me to be appropriate, especially when the dictator is using mercenaries against his own people. And ESPECIALLY considering this is the man who bombed Pan Am 103 and has otherwise been the terrorist he claims he is suppressing in his country.

    Rolling here is absolutely the wrong move. Libya is a perfectly clear course of action. If we don’t act now what will we do about Bahrain and Saudi Arabia? Leadership means smacking heads sometimes. Wouldn’t we rather the decapitation be in Libya, for all sorts of geo-political reasons. Otherwise the next storm will be on much more menacing shores.

  5. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    I have listened to hours and hours of BBC World Service reports and othe analyses on that liberal radio network NPR, and it seems pretty clear to me that “Colonel” (why only Col.??!?) Gaddafi is using his strong arm control to bomb his own people and that the only people on his side were bullied or bribed to be there. A no-fly zone could apparently be implemented with very low risk on our part. The proper party to implement it is the United Nations, but China and Russia are, for obvious reasons, loathe to interfere with the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.
    If we don’t act soon, and if Gaddafi prevails, it will stifle beneficial changes throughout the Arab world, and embolden Gaddafi to further terror outrages!

    You go, Lindsey!

  6. jfx

    Mark, I’m not buying your lemonade. You just made the “Vietnam” argument. Advisors, weapons, slippery slope, fight ’em there instead of Waikiki, etc. It’s not true.

    This is a Pan-Arabian ring of fire. Surely we are not going to entertain setting up no-fly zones and dumping advisors, weapons, and billions of US taxpayer dollars into Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, who’d I leave out? Are we? If action in Libya is a precedent for action in the other parts, shouldn’t we play an ultra-conservative hand here?

    He’s a pig of a dictator who uses thug proxies to brutalize his own people. Yeah. Welcome to Arabia, where almost every ruler is a brutal despot, and every Kingdom is state-sponsoring terrorism by dumping money into the hands of religious extremists to bribe them from open revolt. Every insurgent group that we might want to see as the “good guys” is happily going to take all the weapons, money, and advice we might want to give. And then they’ll say, “thank you, may we please have some more money and weapons?” If we want to turn all of the Mideast and North Africa into a mammoth Af-Pak, by all means, let’s jump in with the money and the troops.

    Personally I’d rather see something in the way of true long-term, grassroots self-determination actually have a chance in that region for once. Just once! But that would require some tack other than our incessant, foot-shooting interventionism.

  7. Brad

    And what, jfx, are you prepared to do to help bring about “true long-term, grassroots self-determination … in that region for once?” Just sitting back and hoping for it goes under the heading of the “magical thinking” that a recent writer accused our governor for indulging in (for which he was taken severely to task).

    This is a very specific situation, with a specific set of circumstances that suggest the likely efficacy of particular, measured actions. Your argument AGAINST action appears to be based in what I have long considered one of the least persuasive rhetorical analogies — the unlimited “slippery slope.” Because we see a particular situation calling for certain actions in Libya, you raise the specter of “setting up no-fly zones and dumping advisors, weapons, and billions of US taxpayer dollars into Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, who’d I leave out?” As though one followed from the other, when is no reason to think it would. “Are we?” you ask. Well, no. I haven’t heard anyone but you suggest anything of the kind.

    This is akin to Bud’s point that we can’t ever stand up to a dictator, because then we must stand up to ALL dictators, which is not practical or desirable. Really? Who says anything of the kind? Where is that written? The fact that his being a dictator is AMONG the factors that argue for action in this case in no way, shape or form mandates or even suggests that if you do THIS, in the future you must do the same in other cases involving “dictators.” That simply is not logical, any more than if you take on Qaddafi, you must in the future take on leaders whose names start with a Q. Or a K. Or whatever his name starts with.

    Proper foreign policy decisions turn on an unlimited number of deeply complex issues and considerations, bearing upon the situation, the goals to be achieved, the interplay of values that bear upon the identification of such goals, the likelihood of successful outcomes, the reaction of other possible players, timing, resources… basically, you could throw a whole dictionary of considerations into the mix.

    It’s not simple. If it were simple, we could just open the rulebook and pick option B and know that it is the perfect solution to the given situation. But the world doesn’t work that way.

  8. Steven Davis

    Why are we even getting involved in a “civil war”? This is like getting involved in a family argument. If Qaddafi wins or if Quaddafi loses, I don’t see how it’s going to really be that a big of a change to this country or this country’s citizens.

  9. Bart

    Grassroots you say? Where do you think the unrest started from anyway? Outside agitators? Al Quida? Hamas? Who?

    No, it started in Egypt and spread across the ME. If this is not a grassroots movement, then what is?

    I am not anxious to see us get involved in another shooting war but a No Fly Zone is not unreasonable. This is the perfect time for the UN to do something other than meet in New York, talk it to death by representatives trying avoid paying parking tickets, and seeking photo ops for the news back home. For once damnit, I would like to see the UN do something constructive.

    It should be a UN sponsored humanitarian effort and supported by all of the countries on the so-called Human Rights Council. So far, the only result we see are marks on the polished floors from an excessive amount of foot dragging. A sharp contrast to the blood of Libyan citizens spilled in the streets, fighting to remove a crazy dictator.

    Obama has been handed a Catch 22 situation. If he does nothing, then he is an ineffective leader and a target for the right. If he takes action and commits to supporting action, he becomes a target of the left. I really do not envy the man right now.

    As Brad said, there is no simple rulebook to open and pick an option to follow.

    Yet, at some point, someone, somewhere who has earned enough respect from other world leaders must step forward and assume a leadership role. I would like for that person to be Obama but so far, admittedly, there does seem to be some hesitancy.

    For once I agree with the critics. The NCAA Bracketology picks could wait or be done out of the public eye. Generally, I give him the benefit of the doubt on vacations and enjoying perks because his job is one of the most difficult in the world.

  10. jfx

    Right Brad. It’s not simple. I thought I was making that point. You’ve presented a false choice between “sit back and do nothing” and “intervene”. I’d thought Mark was linking action in Libya to possible action in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. I was rejecting that linkage. Apologies if I misunderstood, Mark.

    Here’s what I am prepared to do to support self-determination in the Arab world: support the use of military force by Western powers as an option of true last resort, in the presence of a clear, present, and proven threat to our national security and/or global
    stability. Failing that, and failing an international agreement on action, I cannot in good conscience support these open-ended, “limited” campaigns that in reality drag on for years, on our dime, and with negative long-term consequences. The overt Western military footprint in this region is the number one extremist recruiting magnet, and the number one generator of cynicism and complacency on the Arab street. Isn’t this why Ahmadinejad is an especially active provocateur these days? If a Western power acts unilaterally, or with a sketchy coalition, it feeds the same cynical narrative about our material interests in the region, and mutes internal dissent. The people go back to shrugging their shoulders and blaming the Americans and the Jews.

    I don’t think it’s magical to propose that Arabs or Persians or others in the region be forced out of their complacency, and be forced to fully own their regional problems. I am under no illusion that this will produce a desirable result all of the time. Sometimes the people will vote, and they will choose something like Hamas, and it will be a bitter pill. Sometimes a crazy dictator will bomb the crap out of his own people. But I am sure that as painful as it may be, this region must grow out of its violent adolescence and learn to police itself.

  11. Mark Stewart


    You were half right. My point is that in Libya the decision to eject a lunatic is an easy one. It’s only the Chinese who oppose UN action (as they always do) for geo-political reasons. So whatever happens will not be under UN sanction – hence the attempt to get other regional groups in support of a no-fly zone. It would not be difficult to topple the Col.’s regime – there is clearly not a large faction backing him as their was in Iraq. But time is clearly running out on this option.

    Just as clearly, this is no Vietnam, either.

    If K/Q is overthrown, then many other countries are going to have to deal with their own pro-democracy groups in a meaningful way. This would include Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. If K/Q remains in control, then the pro-democracy movement is at an end throughout the region.

    My point about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – and the rest – is that eventually they will either have to begin to reform, or they will fight as the Libyan dictator has done to hang on to power. Then the issue of ejecting a regime will not be so clearly in our national interest.

    Given that Libya has lots of oil reserves, overt action will cause some across the world to see American involvement as just another oil grab. It sets a bad precedence – Kuwait, Iraq, Libya (and not Rhwanda, Kosovo, etc.). Nevermind Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, etc. – people always forget about those.

    So I would advocate heavy clandestine support. The Libyan rebellion must earn its freedom – but they can’t do that without significant behind the scenes support.

  12. Phillip

    I don’t know what Senator Graham is talking about. The US as of today (Wednesday) was working hard in the Security Council to get a no-fly resolution activated, which I think is being voted on tomorrow. So we are trying to get it done, but it’s not up to us alone. It’s very simple, really. Either the UN or NATO or some combination with the Arab League join together to actively participate in a no-fly zone, or it’s not happening. The US cannot and will not and should not do this unilaterally.

  13. bud

    It’s not simple. If it were simple, we could just open the rulebook and pick option B and know that it is the perfect solution to the given situation. But the world doesn’t work that way.

    On that I’m in 100% agreement. But that’s not the argument the pro-war folks are making. They suggest IT IS SIMPLE. Just fly a few F-18 sortees and voila we magically have a successful revolution with a benevolent, democratic Libya. I suggest that what jfx and others are saying is that once we start intervening things can and often do get seriously out of hand.

    Given that Katherine Fenner is on the side of the interventionists does give me pause to some extent. I understand the plight of the people is dire. But I’m not so sure all the people are with the rebels on this. The Egyptian army didn’t side with Mubarik. So there must be some fundamental difference. It’s complicated for sure. Let’s let the British and French handle it since it’s in their hemisphere.

  14. jfx

    Mark, thanks for the clarification. I see what you are saying.

    My worry about the heavy clandestine support is that we have been going that route in Pakistan for the longest time, and it seems largely to have backfired with regard to popular sentiment, as this latest “blood money” CIA agent extraction in the news demonstrates. We get played for money and weapons by two-faced elements within the country, to the point where we get no serious traction on the ground, and are left with the sole palatable option of video-game justice in the form of Predator/Reaper strikes.

    My stomach turns at continuing to dump more weapons and money into insurgencies that hate Qaddafi and Netanyahu with equal ardour. I understand the emotional response, wanting to support the “good guys”, wanting to believe that there are such. It’s messy. I would like to see the Arab League take decisive action against their own rogue monster. They have air forces. They have jets. Etc.

  15. Bob

    I totally support a no-fly zone. However, I wonder why the French and British are “talking the talk” and not “walking the walk.” Both countries are individually capable of the military actions necessary to create and then enforce a no-fly zone. I hope that behind the scenes, France, Britain and the United States are developing a coalition to accomplish that mission.

    The reality is most likely all three countries are afraid of the political consequences. The governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain would not be happy if we assisted the rebels. What is more important, oil (Saudi Arabia) and military presence (Bahrain), or the chance to continue furthering the development of democracies by helping dispose ruthless dictators?

  16. Steven Davis

    Yeah this is exactly what we need, an intervention.

    “Col. Gadaffi, could you tell us a little bit about your relationship with your mother?” “Did your father ever beat you?”

    “I broke a leg bone once.”

  17. Barry

    @ Phillip

    I’ll tell you what he’s talking about. He’s pressing President Obama to start pushing harder.

    It’s the same thing Nicholas Kristoff has been calling for- and I’ll quote his recent column now

    – Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told me that he tends to favor a no-fly zone — along with the jamming of communications — as soon as is practical. “The last thing you want is a 20-year debate on who lost this moment for the Libyan people,” Kerry noted.

    I was a strong opponent of the Iraq war, but this feels different. We would not have to send any ground troops to Libya, and a no-fly zone would be executed at the request of Libyan rebel forces and at the “demand” of six Arab countries in the gulf.

  18. Barry

    more from Kristoff

    “”I don’t think its particularly constructive for our long-term strategic interests, as well as for our values, to say Gadhafi has to go,” Kerry told me, “and then allow a delusional megalomaniacal out-of-touch leader to use mercenaries to kill his people.”

    So let’s remember the risks of inaction — and not psych ourselves out. For crying out loud”

  19. Barry

    more from Kristoff

    If the Obama administration has exaggerated the risks of a no-fly zone, it seems to have downplayed the risks of continued passivity. There is some risk that this ends up like the abortive uprisings in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, or in southern Iraq in 1991.

    The tide in Libya seems to have shifted, with the Gadhafi forces reimposing control over Tripoli and much of western Libya. Now Gadhafi is systematically using his air power to gain ground even in the east. As the International Institute for Strategic Studies, an arms analysis group in London, noted this week, “The major advantage of the pro-regime forces at the moment is their ability to deploy air power.”

  20. bud

    The events of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Iraq (1991) were all brutal repressions of the people of those nations. I can add Tienemin Square, Cambodia circa 1975 and many, many others where brutal dictators slaughtered thier own people. Yet none of those incidents threatened our own security. It’s high time we realize that our intervention into the affairs of other nations is tricky and can and does backfire in unexpected ways. If we could identify some coherent rebel government that we could rely on to pursue democratic, peaceful solutions within Libya then perhaps we could provide some aid. Otherwise it’s a fools game to rush into a situation that could backfire.

    A good example of that is our support of the Taliban in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation of that country. Seemed like a good idea at the time. In the end all we got was big time trouble by way of Osama bin-Laden and Al-Queda. Do we really want to bring into power another Taliban like regime? It could happen.

  21. Brad

    Barry, thanks for the input from Kristof. And here’s the link, folks.

    Nicholas Kristof is a great asset to America — I’ve long admired his work. (And he gets back to people, too, which shows his mama, or someone, raised him right.) He approaches his subjects with a sincere, quiet, thoughtful and considerate dedication that reminds me of why we will miss David Broder. In a way, he’s sort of the Broder of this generation. OK, so he covers world affairs rather than the inside baseball of national politics (I almost said “Washington” politics, but then I remembered that one of Broder’s great virtues was his love for getting out of D.C. and writing about politics in the real America — back when there was a difference, back when local and state politicos had not yet started trying to act like they were inside the Beltway.) And maybe that makes him even MORE valuable, in a way, because journalists who write thoughtfully and knowledgeably (or at all, increasingly) about the rest of the planet are rare. Which is not to take away from Broder, of course — the fact that there are so MANY people doing national politics, and doing it in such an unimaginative, thoughtless and canalized manner, made us need Broder more.

    But that’s for a post I need to write about Broder. Back to Kristof….

    He’s the kind of guy you don’t have to agree with (philosophically or politically) to nod your head when he tells you things. Of course, none of us should need that — we should all be able to see the value in people’s ideas when they have value (which is why I decry the mindless partisanship of our age), but we so seldom do. Too few of us are in the habit. And Kristof helps us to do it even when we’re not in the habit.

    That said, it’s particularly useful that Kristof is a respected liberal. Because, since he HAS that ability to get people to listen even when they don’t want to hear something, he can explain to liberals (the modern, post-Vietnam, war-never-solved-anything not-gonna-listen-to-you-warmonging-savages liberals, not the FDR or JFK kind) why it might be necessary to take this action.

    And that’s a valuable thing — to the country, and to the world. Certainly to people in Libya who’d like to be free of Qaddafi.

  22. Barry

    ” Do we really want to bring into power another Taliban like regime? It could happen”

    That’s the problem. Doing nothing in Libya may very well result in a renewed and resilient Muammar Gaddafi. One that is more interested in being Taliban like toward the United States.

    NO ONE is proposing an invastion of Libya. This is one instance where other nations are on record as leading on this issue.

    The issue for the United States at this point isn’t to lead on this issue and take action. The issue is do we join others that have taken the lead.

  23. Mark Stewart


    In Pakistan we are propping up a regime that doesn’t want our involvement (just our money) any more than most of the people of that country do. In Libya, this seems different.

    However, bud’s point about afganistan in the 1980’s is well taken. If we arm the Libyan’s we really won’t know what comes next – just that it will not be Gadhafi.

  24. Herb Brasher

    I don’t think the U.S. has a lot of moral high ground in the area, and I wonder if waiting for a UN mandate wasn’t the best policy. Time will tell, of course, but moving unilaterally in recent years has not always been very wise.

  25. Phillip

    @Barry: Graham still was blowing a lot of hot air. He knew as well as anybody that Obama was on the case. The difference is that Obama approached this the right way: through the UN; it’s clear that feverish work behind the scenes has been going on for some time, on the diplomatic front. This is never as satisfying to the neocons as quickly seeing something “blow up real good,” to quote Billy Sol Hurok (John Candy) from the old SCTV sketch. Today the work paid off, the UN authorization came. If something is to be done about Libya, this was the only approach possible. In any case, neoconservatives like Lindsay Graham, etc., have absolutely zero credibility to be giving any advice on Libya. Their judgment and motivations must be considered suspect.

  26. Brad

    Hammering that home a bit hard, aren’t you, Phillip: “neoconservatives like Lindsay Graham, etc., have absolutely zero credibility…”

    Zero. Absolutely. Kind of redundant, kind of overkill.

    Of course, I think it’s quite wrong, but I wouldn’t say “absolutely,” because we’re not dealing with absolutes. We’re dealing with looking at a situation in which none of the options are particularly attractive, but one in which, balancing what we could do with the likelihood of success and the likely cost of failure, it seems increasingly clear we SHOULD do.

    Your “absolutes” are based on your being “absolutely” sure that Graham was wrong at other times. I believe, with a reasonable certainty (not an absolute one) that YOU are wrong about that.

    But even if we’re not going to agree on that (and based on our interactions over the years, I doubt we will), certainly you can see that this pressure — and that’s what it is — is useful to Obama going forward. If Lindsey is rhetorically pushing him from his perspective, and people like Nicholas Kristof are pushing him from theirs, it makes it easier to assemble the kind of national consensus that a president needs to act.

    Lindsey Graham is playing a useful loyal-opposition role here, is the way it seems to me.

    As for the UN having to decide something like this — well, it so happens that it did, just a little while ago. That’s great. Just as it was great when they passed the resolution that justified our going into Iraq (remember that? a lot of people don’t; they just remember foot-dragging among some members months after the resolution). Always good to have a vote of confidence from a body that doesn’t come together and form consensus on difficult issues very often.

    But if the UN had NOT gone along — and given some of the perverse agendas of some members, it could have broken that way (thank’s to the Arab League, it did not), that would in no way change whether we needed to go ahead and go in or not. The facts on the ground in Libya have an independent existence that do not rely on the agendas of delegates to the UN. In this case, the problem children and a couple of others (Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India) abstained. And so we have decisive action, something the UN is not generally constituted to produce.

    But now that we HAVE this agreement, the actual military action will be taken by the countries that stood ready to do it under some less formal, ad hoc arrangement — this tends to be the Anglophones (and always includes us) and in this case the French. Those are the ones providing the planes and personnel and ordinance, however you authorize it. They are the ones who CAN, and the ones who WILL. The world’s go-to guys.

    And speaking of being go-to guys, I respectfully dispute Herb’s assertion that “I don’t think the U.S. has a lot of moral high ground in the area.” I assert that we’ve got as much as anybody, and certainly as much as anyone in a position to take effective action (which is a small international club, with us as its leading member).

    And no one has the cred we do once the “go” decision is made. As good as the Brits (and, I suppose, the French) are, they’re not nearly able to conduct such operations alone as well as they could with us. Dispute Madeillenne Albright’s assertion that we are the one indispensable nation if you will, but when it comes to gathering up the guns and using them effectively, everybody looks hopefully to see if the US military is going to be there with them with the stuff hits the fan.

    What a lot of people whose default mode is that we should not take military action in a given situation miss is the fact that much of the world — people who like us, and people who aren’t too crazy about us until they feel their in a “this is a job for America” situation get pretty impatient waiting for us act when we’re dithering.They have a situation only the US can deal with, and they curse those damned americans for taking their time.

    No outsider has more legitimacy to act in more parts of the world than the United states does. And if you look at that situation and say you still believe we lack the morning high ground, they you know what the next smart thing to do — figure out how you;re going to get it done without the moral high ground. That doesn’t mean you kick back like Jayne Cobb and say, “Shiny! Let’s be bad guys!” If means you leave the politics aside, and get out there and DO the JOB with all the moral considerations you can muster. Because it’s got to get down; people are counting on you.

  27. Phillip

    Brad, if you think Obama would be influenced by pressure from Lindsay Graham that is uttered when they are already only hours away from finalizing their UN negotiations, I can only say that you still are blinded by your admiration for Sen. Graham and seriously overestimate his importance, at least in this case. Graham’s bloviations are in this instance strictly a matter of “me-too”-ism, to get “on the record” before the UN deal got done, which he had to know was about to happen any moment.

    Since Obama and Hillary Clinton have clearly decided action is necessary, how exactly does this make Graham “loyal opposition”? Wouldn’t somebody like Dick Lugar, the true conservative sans the “neo” tag, in his utterances on Libya, be more deserving of that tag?

    Nice try with the UN resolution comparison…of course the UN never authorized direct action in Iraq, whereas this is a very different animal. While it is true that in terms of military reality, the US will do most of the work followed by British and French, I would caution against sounding just a little too enthusiastic about that fact, as if there is something to be celebrated about the chance to flex America’s muscles above and beyond the immediate dire circumstances of the Libyan people. Getting the imprimatur of the UN and the Arab League for military action was extremely important; getting as many countries as possible to provide real, substantive military support for whatever action is taken is also essential.

    We have to work hard to build a world where these international mechanisms function effectively. Ultimately the UN must become the “indispensible” entity, to turn Sec’y Albright’s phrase another direction. You and I actually agree on this course of action in Libya, though maybe for different reasons.

    But when you say “no outsider has more legitimacy to act in more parts of the world than the United States does,” I would just ask you, how is “legitimacy” conferred, and by whom?

  28. bud

    Phillip, you are so right on this. Lindsey Graham lost all credibility a long time ago. All he ever wants to do is get into a war and continue it indefinitely. How this radical war monger continues to be regarded as a moderate is beyond me.

  29. bud

    What’s wrong with the default mode be to seek a peaceful solution. Seems more practical than having a default mode that says FIGHT! everytime something happens anywhere that oil exists.

  30. Brad

    Again with the hyperbole. The statement, “Lindsey Graham lost all credibility a long time ago” is simply untrue. This sort of flat, over-the-top statement, said about one of the very few really thoughtful and fair-minded people in Washington — one of the very, VERY few who even thinks at ALL about, or studies, an issue before taking a stance (and if you say that’s untrue, and I know Bud will, all I can say is that you either have not spent enough time talking and listening to him and doing the same with other politicians and making a clear-eyed comparison, or you are deaf and blind), is the reason why political dialogue has degraded to the present state of dysfunction in this country.

    Yes, Bud, I get it — he has “lost all credibility” with YOU. But frankly, that says more about you and your tendency to leap to conclusions about people than it does about Lindsey Graham. And I’ll further grant that he has “lost credibility,” although perhaps not ALL of it as you say, with the extremists in his own party, to whom it is actually considered intelligent and perceptive to describe him as a “liberal.”

    But you know, that still leaves a whole lot of us with whom he has NOT lost credibility, much less ALL of it, either “a long time ago” or last week or today or at any other time. Therefore, the statement “Lindsey Graham lost all credibility a long time ago” is demonstrably untrue. And unnecessary to making a rhetorical point.

    Why not say, “I disagree with him on this or that?” I mean, really?

    Sorry, but this is much on my mind after the forum I attended last night at Furman. The panel of media types I sat on was interesting, but the really GOOD part was the discussion between Vincent Sheheen and Bob Inglis (“the Local Losers Club,” as Inglis characterized it) about the state of political debate in the nation today.

    Sheheen and Inglis are two men I admire and respect quite a bit, just as I do Graham, and it’s appalling that our visceral, anti-intellectual, ad hominem style of politics makes it so hard for people like them to continue to serve in public life.

    I don’t know how they maintain their cool and equanimity in the face of the onslaught of nonsense that did in their candidacies last year — that moronic campaign against Sheheen that was all about Obama, and the insanity of a Tea Party candidate painting Bob Inglis (probably the most purely conservative, fiscally and culturally, person SC has sent to Congress in a generation) as not being a “real conservative.” It would make me really angry. Actually, it does make me really angry on their behalf. And on ours.

  31. bud

    Perhaps a more nuanced way of assessing Lindsey Graham would be to simply say that given his long list of foreign policy opinions that I personally find abhorent and which were ultimately born out to be incorrect I can no longer respect his judgement on such matters even though many still do.

  32. Doug Ross


    How is it that two people with such divergent political opinions as bud and I can somehow arrive at the same conclusion about Lindsey Graham?

    I find him to be one of the most calculating, self-serving, spotlight seeking politicians we have had during my 20+ years in this state. Lately, he seems motivated more by saying whatever he must say in order to get re-elected. His bluster ratchets up during campaigns and cools off afterward. He was an attack dog on immigration reform until he got his butt handed to him by the people he represents. Rather than displaying “cool and equanimity”, he called his opposition “racists”. And then he went scurrying back into the corner when his plan fell apart. Nobody is ever going to accuse him of having the courage of his convictions.

  33. Phillip

    I can’t speak for Bud, but for anybody who does not drink the neoconservative Kool-Aid, the cheerleading for action in Libya (even though I happen to agree in this case) is invalid coming from those who just reflexively endorse US adventurism and interventionism anyway. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, as they say, but it doesn’t make it a working timepiece.

    I completely agree with you that “it’s appalling that our visceral, anti-intellectual, ad hominem style of politics makes it so hard for people like [Sheheen, Inglis] to continue to serve in public life.” One of the saddest things about that phenomenon, as a matter of fact, is when somebody who I think fundamentally is a person of integrity, Sen. Graham, gives in to the temptation to grandstand or worse, surrender to the lowest common denominator politically, though I certainly understand that he is trying to survive politically within his own party.

    I’m not as totally down on him as Bud—but I would hate to see him go from a figure of respect to a figure of mockery the way John McCain has in the past decade.

  34. Brad

    Doug, a couple of points. First, I think that if you or Bud, either of you, spent an hour talking with Graham — listening, asking him questions and fairly assessing his answers — you would have to modify your opinion. Or at least I would hope so. Because Graham is one of the last people I would describe the way Doug just did. But Doug and I perceive things differently. Doug sees a person who can honestly, truly (and while being intellectually consistent) agree strongly with one group one day, and with that group’s bitter opponents another, as dishonest and manipulative. I do not, because I’m like that myself — I am so uncomfortable in either of these ridiculous ideological boxes that I’m sure I would be labeled as a paradoxical hypocrite by Doug if I were running for, and trying to stay in, office. Even though I would be entirely honest in what I was saying. Of course, Doug also considers it to be an INHERENTLY bad thing to try to stay in office. Whereas I think its very much in the interests of the nation for someone like Graham to stay in office as long as possible.

    THAT creates cognitive dissonance between Doug and me all by itself.

    But the substance of these issues that so turn Bud and Doug away from Graham, in a visceral way, also has to do with the fact that I see white while they see black.

    For Bud, it is absolute, incontrovertible TRUTH, not ever to be denied or even argued with, that Lindsey Graham was, is and always will be wrong about Iraq. I disagree. That disagreement makes it kind of hard for Bud and me to see the same person when we look at Graham.

    Doug is extremely indignant over Graham’s suggestion that racism is a part of the powerful emotion aimed at illegal immigrants. He thinks this was unforgivable, a rhetorical excess, a case of demonizing the opposition that forever bars Lindsey Graham from respect in polite society. He thinks the senator committed the kind of ad hominem offense I don’t allow on this blog.

    I disagree. Lindsey Graham didn’t say the issue was about nothing but racism. Of course it isn’t. But he’s completely right to say that’s part of it. That might make people uncomfortable, but it’s an inescapable conclusion. You can’t live as I have for 57 years in this country, most of it in the South, and not learn that there are certain tones, certain emotion with certain flavors, that are evoked when race or ethnicity or culture are involved. I mean, you hear a certain tone, and you don’t even have to hear the words, and you know that race just entered the room, and you look around and Yep, there it is. This is just a part of life. It’s like the thing that people jokingly call Gaydar.

    And the powerful emotion over illegals — which goes SO far beyond anything that a rational person could possibly expect to find in terms of indignation over such a technical status offense as not filling out the proper paperwork before crossing a line on the map — reeks of that quality. You hear it, smell it, taste it; it permeates space wherever the topic comes up.

    Call it racism, xenophobia, stranger-fear, an evolutionary survival mechanism causing hate the next tribe over for competing for finite resources, whatever. It’s definitely there. And while it might not have been diplomatic for Graham to have said so, it certainly doesn’t make him wrong.

    So… factor in those two things, and you see how Bud and Doug would see something very different when they look at Lindsey Graham…

  35. bud

    Brad you’ve vastly over-simplified my objections to Graham. It’s far more than his incorrect views on Iraq. He was especially obstinate in his objections to healthcare reform. And on the immigration issue he’s flip-flopped mightily. I think Doug has it right when he sees Graham as an opportunist. He’s smooth as silk and very intelligent. That would make him difficult to debate. But that just makes him a good politician and no way lends itself to my respect for him as my senator. And I certainly can’t have any respect for the stand he’s taken on the issues.

  36. Doug Ross


    It’s not just the illegal immigration issue that turned me against. I agree 100% with bud on Graham’s hawkishness being bad for the country. I also think Graham is 100% wrong on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

    And I have no problem with differing opinions. It’s the delivery and the timing and the backtracking in the face of opposition that makes me think Graham is far less than what you think he is. Add into that his false bravado pretending to be a red meat eating ultraconservative during election cycles. If you find that quality attractive (win at all costs), so be it.

    As for the illegal immigration issue, consider the tone of Graham in 2007 speaking before the group La Raza:

    “”We’re gonna tell the bigots to shut up…”

    with this quote in 2010:

    ““People come here to have babies,” he said. “They come here to drop a child. It’s called “drop and leave.” To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.”

    So what happened to the guy who was going to tell all the bigots to shut up? He and McCain dropped that rhetoric as soon as they realized it might impact their own personal ambition.

  37. Brad

    Phillip and I bypassed each other there. I think we were typing at the same time or something. And I want to address his comment… it reminds me of something I had meant to say to Bud.

    Bud says “What’s wrong with the default mode be to seek a peaceful solution. Seems more practical than having a default mode that says FIGHT! everytime something happens anywhere that oil exists.”

    Phillip refers to “those who just reflexively endorse US adventurism and interventionism anyway.”

    Let’s take a step back here, and understand each other. I’m hearing something I often hear from my more peaceful friends: You just ALWAYS want to go to war! And you know, I think they believe it.

    Here’s what I believe, and it’s probably a good thing to tell you because we never get to this point, since we spend so much time on the areas where we disagree: War is a horrible thing — in the emotionally manipulative phrase of the antiwar movement of more than 4 decades ago, it is unhealthy for children and other living things.

    The idea of a single person dying in combat, intentionally or unintentionally, is a sickening thing to me. I feel the entire universe reeling when I contemplate it. I’m not just talking about women and children and old men and other noncombatants (or rather, people who SHOULD be noncombatants, even though it doesn’t always seem to work that way in this imperfect world). I’m also talking about the uniformed enemy who was coming at you firing his weapon. He had people who loved him and cared about him, a mother to whom he was the world’s greatest treasure…

    You know what? I haven’t posted all day, so I’m going to turn this into a separate post…

  38. Herb Brasher

    Well, I will still respectfully disagree with you. Moral high ground has to do with how we are perceived by the rest of the world much more than our impression of ourselves. It is not measured in military might, but includes especially the value of wisdom and in willingness to learn from others.

    American foreign policy is too often perceived by the rest of the world as an extension of British colonialism, and we don’t have half of the savvy that the Brits had in dealing with other cultures and peoples. In fact, we often don’t even know where those other countries are, let alone how their people think.

    People may have problems with its Bollywood cultural context, but the film, My Name is Khan is very helpful in understanding how we have come across to the rest of the world, especially in the last decade.

    It is within that context that I would still say that we have lost moral high ground, and we need to tread carefully.

  39. Brad

    Nah, never mind… not today. I started, and it got so involved I realized I’d never finish it today.

    So let me try to wrap up my point succinctly here…

    Anyway, I believe all those things. I have a personal horror of killing another human being. As someone who was never called to serve, and could not have served if I’d tried to enlist (the rule about asthma), I’ve nevertheless thought a great deal about whether I could kill an enemy in combat. I feel obliged to think about such things, partly because I think that’s an important thing to ask about oneself, and partly because I DO sometimes advocate military action, and if I’m going to do that, I’m obliged to think about the very personal moral implications. Because whether I do it or someone does it on my behalf, I bear a moral burden.

    The answer to the question is that I don’t know. No one knows, who hasn’t been in that position. But I THINK I know this: Yes, under a hypothetical “typical” combat situation (as if there’s any such thing as a “typical” combat situation) — an armed, determined enemy is opposing me on a battlefield with the intent of killing me (or, more to the point, my comrades), I would fire upon him with deadly intent. I’ve read and thought a great deal about what actually happens to men in combat, and how and why they react as they do, and yes, I believe I would kill in such circumstances. (Note that I don’t say, in describing my hypothesis, that the enemy is a communist or a nazi or a terrorist or wants to harm my country. I know that those are not the reasons soldiers pull the trigger. They do it to protect and support their comrades who are there with them, to protect themselves, or simply as a result of the conditioning of training.)

    But then, after the shooting is over, I’m pretty sure I’d pay a terrible price for what I did in the context of the moment — call it the heat of combat, or whatever. Most men DO pay such a price. Maybe I’d be one of the cold ones who didn’t — some don’t — but I have no particular reason to think so. I think I’d feel a lot of conflict between the rational and the emotional — depending on the circumstances, I would HOPE that I’d be able to rationally justify the killing to my own intellectual satisfaction, knowing the circumstances. But the visceral horror over killing another man would still be there. Perhaps I would never be able to get over that deep, personal conflict. Many don’t.

    OK, I need to get to the succinct part.

    I believe all those things. I am not a war lover. However…

    My lifelong study of the world, of history, of good and evil and the way things work, has persuaded me that there are circumstances in which things happen that are sufficiently bad that one is morally obligated to put a stop to them if one possibly can. And sometimes, they are bad enough that the use of force is necessary and justified — even imperative, if such force is at your command. NOT to act is as great an evil as complicity in the thing you are obligated to stop.

    The United States possesses the power to take such action, to a greater degree than any nation in the history of the world. There is no tyrant or bully or criminal in the world that the United States cannot stop one way or another. (No, not all at the same time, but hey, if we could take them one at a time, yes. The world just doesn’t work that way.) That doesn’t mean force is always justified. One must look at the likelihood of success, and take the particular circumstances into account, weighing in particular whether unintended consequences could be a greater evil than the original one.

    My antiwar friends start to object at this point, saying “You take too much upon yourself! We have no right to make such decisions for the world! We should mind our own business!”

    I think the opposite. I think that if there is a horrible situation that we reasonably believe we have the power to stop — Qaddafi crushing his opponents is one such instance — we don’t have the right to look away.

    If we were Switzerland, or Ecuador, or Mozambique, yeah, we could look away and live with ourselves. Because we simply would lack the power to act effectively.

    But the United States does. And not because it’s a big old bullying superpower that has decided to invest in guns instead of butter, but because we are simply the biggest richest power in the history of the world. If we didn’t have the military we have, we have the checkbook to go out and buy it. But as it happens, that’s pretty much a moot point, because the United States has been the primary underwriter of first Free World, then global, security for my entire lifetime, and we were headed that way for a long time before that.

    We can’t throw away this power that we have, any more than a policeman, observing a mugging, can throw away his gun and badge and walk away from it. That is, he COULD, but it would be wrong.

    So we have to accept the responsibility, and try to act upon it as wisely and morally and effectively as we can — however we feel about it.

    Now, back to where we started…

    Bud and Phillip think that warmonger Brad Warthen has a default mode, and it is FIGHT.

    But the truth is that, of the thousands upon thousands of things going on in the world in a given year that effect the United States or that the United States affects (oh, and my isolationist friends — you can’t stop that from being the case, either; the effects of action or inaction exist whether you try to wish them away or not, because the world is just that interconnected), there might be one or two in which some use of force might be seen as justified by a reasonable American citizen who believes the things I believe and who is not a blood-loving, people-hating warmonger. Just one or two.

    But the thing is, those one or two things are the only things we end up talking about. And we disagree. And you end up thinking that’s all I want to do is take us into war. But that’s not the case.

  40. Brad

    Oh, one more point — not only do we have an obligation as citizens of the most powerful nation on Earth to occasionally consider using that power to promote good and oppose evil, but we are also citizens of a republic, which means that we are obligated to take responsibility personally (through the mechanism of representative democracy) for the course of action our nation chooses. The ancient Romans, and others who lived in powerful nations in the past, didn’t possess that responsibility; the emperor did what he wanted.

    So when you see me step up and advocate for military action by the United States (or for single-payer health care, or any other public policy), it’s not because I’m some wacky jingoist who just gets a thrill out of watching red-blooded Americans kick hell out a them furriners. As I think some of my critics imagine.

    No, I’m just a citizen of the republic who therefore has an obligation to advocate for what I think is the right course for the country. Just as you who disagree have an obligation to advocate your for your own position.

    There. I think it’s out of my system now.

  41. Mark Stewart

    It’s easy to hold to the power of conviction writing on a blog. Being a politician and being answerable to a wide group of people – like the entire state for a Senator – is infinitely harder. If one is really going to serve one’s constituency, then one must be willing to both compromise and learn from experience; that might even mean flip-flopping on occasion in the fulfillment of one’s vision.

    I think Brad and Doug are both right about Graham to some degree. The conservatives in this state don’t make it easy on him, which may be the cause of some of his smooth opportunism to use bud’s words; but then again he is sometimes his biggest opponent all on his own.

    The power of leadership is often most about one’s ability to define a vision of where we ought to be headed. It’s a very different thing to see and accept a politician make seemingly contradictory statements than it is to believe that their vision of the future has wavered as a result of compromise. This is disquieting to people in a subliminal way.

    I don’t KNOW where Lindsey Graham sees our future. I think I do most of the time. But with other leaders it is clear, even too clear. Not so with Graham. That’s a problem. Intelligent, thoughtful and politically adroit he may be, but the vision thing does sometimes make him ring hollow.

  42. Brad

    Whoa… while I was saying all that, Herb said something else.

    Herb, I’m the marketing guy, the Mad Man, not you. And yet you’re talking public perceptions as opposed to realities…

    You say, “Moral high ground has to do with how we are perceived by the rest of the world much more than our impression of ourselves.”

    I beg to differ. At the risk of sounding like one of the characters in Woody Allen’s “Love and Death,” I say, NOT in a moral sense.

    In a practical sense, yes — and we do need to be practical. If world perception is such that it prevents our actions from achieving the goals we seek, and that is often the case, then we have to take it into account (and reshape it to the best of our ability when there is a problem).

    But that’s about effectiveness and practicality. It’s not about morality. If one is right, and one’s motives ARE pure, you have the moral high ground, even if all six-plus billion people in the world think you are Satan personified.

    Again, I’m not arguing that one ignore world opinion. It’s insane to do so. (And no one ever does, however much my antiwar friends think they do.) I’m just saying that there’s a difference between MORAL high ground, and being in a good position politically and diplomatically with the rest of the world. Two different things.

  43. Steven Davis

    @SusanG – Who is this 12 year old soldier pointing his rife at? If another human being, I’d take him out in a split second. If he was walking around acting like a 12 year old with a rifle I’d probably take it away from him and knock some sense into him.

  44. Steven Davis

    In Vietnam, soldiers had to take out 3 and 4 year old children because they were walking up to US soldiers carrying bombs. Would you shoot a 3 year old if you knew he’d end up killing your buddies if he got close enough? Or would you simply watch it happen.

  45. Brad

    SusanG — I hope not, because the cost to my soul AFTER I did it would be that much harder. And of course, if I had a clear choice on the battlefield (which is sort of wishful thinking in the fog of war), I’m fairly sure I would NOT fire. That’s assuming I had time to clearly think, “Oh, that’s a kid.” In which case, of course, the child soldier would likely kill me and some of my buddies. That’s one of the horrible things about the AK-47 — it’s simple and doesn’t take a lot of upper-body strength to use, and puts out a hellacious amount of firepower. It makes child soldiers deadly.

    If you saw “Band of Brothers,” you saw a dramatization of such a real-world instance. Dick Winters, after a heart-pounding sprint across open territory comes suddenly, alone for a moment, upon about 100 Germans — and reflexively shoots and kills the one nearest to him. Who just happens to be a boy of about 15 who wasn’t even holding a weapon. The boy’s surprised face haunts him.

    Dick Winters managed to live with that fairly well as far as we know, until his own recent passing. But it was clearly a justifiable action under the circumstances. Twist the circumstances a bit more, and you have something that a decent man can’t live with.

  46. Herb Brasher

    Brad, my point is that how we are perceived does determine to a great degree whether we achieve our goals. If we are perceived as being trigger-happy and quick to unload tons of weaponry, then it diminishes the respect others have for us und ultimately undermines our leadership.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that we’re using ‘moral’ in two different senses. We both share a biblical morality basis, so dealing with a mad man slaughtering civilians is worthy of punishment. So far, so good; that we agree on. But should we act unilaterally and immediately just because we are convinced it is right?

    I don’t think so necessarily, because of the fact that we have made such a mess of it in recent years and angered the whole Arab world, and continue to do so with certain policies–no we cannot. We can and we did, properly, wait for the Arab League to concur.

    Having made a mess in Iraq by acting unilaterally upon false evidence of WMD, and deceiving Britain into supporting us at the same time, we have lost moral high ground.

    I know you do not support that presupposition about Iraq, but I think it is warranted. I don’t think I agree with your presupposition about having a military, and therefore being obligated to use it.

    I’ve just been watching the House of Commons debate on the UN Resolution on Libya; both sides of Parliament are falling over themselves in congratulating David Cameron on his achievement in going to the UN first and getting a resolution passed. And as far as the US is concerned, for the first time in a long time, we’re building a consensus. Nice for a change.

    Also reading Hague’s biography of Wilberforce. Interesting how that evangelical’s convictions kept him working against war, even against Napoleon, or trying to achieve a peace constantly to the point that he was labeled (by some) a traitor to his country. He couldn’t have gotten away with it, of course, if he weren’t so highly respected as an independent voter and as a person. Wilberforce would never have made it with the Christian right today; he would be way out in left field, probably even as an abolitionist, in today’s world.

  47. Herb Brasher

    My brother in law came up to a Viet Cong teenager with a gun and could not shoot him, but let him go. He’s pretty sure that same kid was part of a group that ambushed his platoon a few days later and killed some of his buddies. He was wounded and ended with a Purplse Heart. Could he have killed the kid? Never, not on your life. Did it cost him and his buddies? Probably, if his guess is right.

    This is where either God exists and cares, or we are on our own in a very horrible mess, in which it ultimately doesn’t matter what we do.

  48. Phillip

    Brad, it’s really just a simple, philosophical difference. I don’t really believe that you prefer war to peace, in spite of my occasionally overheated rhetoric. Your “policeman cannot walk away from responsibility” analogy is actually the perfect encapsulation of our differing philosophies. A policeman’s authority to intervene in a situation is vested in him by an entity responsible for the area he is policing. He in turn is answerable to that authority, i.e., the city whose police department he is a member of. (sorry about the dangling preposition). Who has vested the United States with the authority to be the world’s policeman?

    In the end, all your heartfelt arguments come down to: we have this power, so we have the responsibility to use it for good. That argument ultimately boils down to “might makes right.” Any one nation claiming for itself the power to be both ultimate arbiter of “what is right” as well as the ultimate enforcer of that judgment, is destined to sooner or later become corrupted by its own power. We learned part of the lesson in the wake of the Second World War by the creation of the UN and myriad other multilateral institutions. What we might achieve in the early 21st century is seeing those institutions, especially the UN, reach a functioning maturity.

  49. Mark Stewart

    Phillip, its my understanding that a majority of Libyans were asking for international assistance. That just about addresses your policeman analogy for me.

    Might doesn’t make right; but it does come with a responsibility to protect others.

    While our record is far from perfect (we have at times been the international bully), name another major power in world history which has been more benign in its force projection? That’s why countries’ seek our assistance in times of crisis. All in all, we still have street cred on the world stage. And that is why we must be ever-vigalent against acting either opportunisticly or unethically. But it is no reason to ignore our power.

  50. Phillip

    @Mark: “a majority of Libyans were asking for international assistance. That just about addresses your policeman analogy for me.” Exactly, Mark: “international assistance”, not “American assistance.” The world polices itself. Not America.

    That’s exactly why I am cautiously supportive of this Libyan intervention. Because of the domestic Libyan support and because it is truly an international effort, not just an American geo-political objective with a little window-dressing. If the Arab League nations become truly and substantively involved it would be better still. Obvious differences for example with the last Iraq war.

  51. Brad

    Phillip, that bald statement, “American geo-political objective with a little window-dressing,” which is grotesquely far off from addressing the American foreign policy that I’ve observed throughout my lifetime, deserves an answer. But it would be a LONG one (starting with a discussion of the amount of American blood spilled for the peace, security and freedom of other peoples, a factor that sets this nation practically alone in human history) that I have no time for right now.

    But I have to address this:
    “…we have this power, so we have the responsibility to use it for good. That argument ultimately boils down to ‘might makes right.'”

    NO! If words have any meaning at all, one of those statements does NOT “boil down to” the other. Completely different, even antithetical, concepts.

    “we have this power, so we have the responsibility to use it for good” means precisely what it says. We have the power, and so we do NOT have the right either to use it for evil, or to neglect to use it when we could use it for good. (Nor does it call upon you to use it for “American geo-political objective with a little window-dressing.”)

    “Might makes right” is the philosophy of fascism. That the strong by right should lord it over and crush the weak. This is the view of the Nazis. As opposed to being a MORAL statement, it is the height of immorality.

    Are you following me? You DO see the difference, right? That was some sort of momentary slip, please tell me. Because it was pretty startling.

    By the way, great to see you at the parade yesterday!

  52. Julie Kinnear

    Let’s not forget that in the 1990s it was President Reagan who wanted to bombard Tripoli and put Kadhafi on trial after the terrorist attacks to which the Libyan leader was directly connected happened. But the French leaders refused to support this decision which contributed to Kadhafi’s strengthened position.

  53. Doug Ross

    If Gaddafi is the problem, why do we always beat around the bush and put American lives in jeopardy by displaying our awesome firepower to blow up stuff?

    Just take him out.

    We had the same deal with Sadaam. Dan Rather was able to sit across from Sadaam before the war began.

    If the American policy was to take out dictators from the top down, I bet we’d see a whole lot less of them.

    But, no, it’s not REALLY about doing what it is right. It’s making sure we keep all those defense contractors in business. And, hey, if we kill some civilians in the process, well that’s just the “fog of war” or some other b.s.

  54. Brad

    That’s a whole different issue, and we should really have that discussion sometime.

    My wife, who is a VERY peaceful person, asked a similar question of me before Iraq. You know, because she really, REALLY didn’t want us to go in there — the subject remains one that I steer clear of at home — so she wanted to know, why didn’t we just take Saddam out?

    Which… is kind of like when Michael, the nice college boy of the Corleones, stunned Sonny and Tom Hagen and the others by saying set up the meeting with Sollozzo and the police captain, “And I’ll kill them both.” Actually, it’s more stunning than that.

    There is a PRACTICAL answer to that, of course. Actually, several… One is that it is FAR more easily said than done. Every resource that the dictator has at his command to guarantee his own personal security is put to full use, and that’s usually considerable. Another is that, it seemed to me that in the case of Saddam (if I remember correctly), we were trying to do just that — looking for the opportunity to drop a blockbuster on the very house where he was. It just wasn’t our whole strategy. It was more in the hope of getting lucky, and simplifying the rest of what you have to do, by decapitating the opposition. Finally, it’s just plain much, much more doable to bring down a regime in a conventional manner. Yeah, it’s a lot more trouble in terms of people and materiel and effort involved, but success is more likely. You know you can take down the whole Iraqi military. Finding, reaching out and killing one guy is more dicey. (Or were you suggesting we give Dan Rather a .22 with a silencer? Or just take out Saddam AND Rather during the taping? There are drawbacks to both plans.)

    But the bigger issue, and the one that would be more interesting to have a debate about, is the intangible, metaphysical, spiritual, MORAL question.

    Let’s say you can just snap your fingers and do it — say, to quote the sniper in “Saving Private Ryan,” “…if you was to put me and this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile of Adolf Hitler with a clear line of sight, sir… pack your bags, fellas, war’s over. Amen.”

    Suppose that. Then, if you look at it in terms of simple arithmetic, it’s a no-brainer. Kill one guy, versus killing a bunch of guys (and noncombatants). Obviously, killing one is better.

    Or is it? I have trouble getting past an objection that I admit is not entirely rational. I like to pride myself on pushing emotion aside with reason, but there’s this UNreasoning objection that I have trouble setting aside. I’m sort of embarrassed even to mention it, it seems so illogical, but here it is…

    Deciding, with cold aforethought, to kill ONE actual human being — a particular person, a particular soul (however you may believe that particular soul to be warped and twisted) seems like… well, murder.

    Going in with guns blazing, knowing that people will be killed, but still able to tell yourself honestly that you really hope that if you come in making enough noise (“shock and awe”), maybe you won’t have to kill ANY actual people, because they’ll just lay their weapons down and run, or surrender… seems less like murder. (And by the way, you may think going into battle with such an attitude is silly, but it is actually the attitude that most soldiers in history have had — studies have shown that in the past, most soldiers either didn’t fire their weapons in battle, or fired them into the air. Since that was discovered, U.S. soldiers started being trained to overcome that instinct, and be more deadly in combat, which has other, psychological and spiritual, costs, but that’s another complex issue for another discussion.) That is to say, you’re looking at two kinds of homicide, but just as the law makes distinctions between first-degree murder and unintentional homicide and various other degrees between, so does the human heart. One kind of killing (I’m going to kill THAT GUY) is just way more akin to first-degree murder than going in firing weapons with little knowledge of who, if anyone, will be killed.

    OK, so you hear a person say something like that, and you say, “What ridiculous sophistry! That settles it… let’s take out that one guy.”

    But here’s the thing. If you’re Michael Corleone, the issue is clear-cut: Far better for the family, and all we hold dear, if I take out this one guy (or these two guys).

    It’s different for a nation. In a constitutional republic, does a president or a Congress or whatever dare to take it upon himself to use the resources of the United States to commit a specific act of murder? Because it’s not just him doing it. It’s US doing it. So does he have that right?

    Maybe the answer is an easy, simple, “Of COURSE he does — look at the math.” But I’m not sure of that.

    You have to think about the real-world implications. What actually happens to the notion of ANY kind of civilized, diplomatic relations between nations, if it becomes acceptable to take out each others’ leaders? Would any leader ever again meet with representatives of another country with which his country has tense relations?

    You may focus on that word, “acceptable.” The thing is that, while the world accepts the need for the use of military force sometimes, under certain circumstances — there’s just so much precedent for it that nations know they can’t wish it away — killing the opposition’s leaders is still taboo to a great extent. The whole world condemned Saddam for having tried to kill the first George Bush, and generally approved of Clinton firing missiles at him as a punishment, however symbolic and ineffective (which means, the world approved of killing whichever random people stood in the way of those cruise missiles as a way of expressing rage at Saddam, which is another ethical discussion we could have). Similarly, we recoiled at the hasty execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, however little we may have thought of them.

    Maybe that’s a silly superstition, based in some remnant, atavistic notion of the divine right of kings, or some such. But there remains something very disturbing — and disturbing in a way different from the many horrible ways in which conventional war is disturbing — about deciding deliberately to kill a particular person.

    And I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is.

  55. Brad

    By the way, to be clear… if I’m in charge, and I’m sending people into battle anyway, and I get the chance just to take out the guy who’s causing it all, and end the war before it starts (assuming things are that clearcut, which they never are, but just supposing), I’ll say “Take him out.” And worry about the right and wrong of it later. Because lives are at stake.

    The preceding hand-wringing discussion was just my way of trying to come to terms with why we, as “civilized” people, don’t just do that as a matter of course.

  56. Doug Ross


    Our military targets and kills specific individuals all the time. Is that not murder as well?

    You certainly have to jump through a lot of logical hoops to arrive at your conclusion.

  57. Brad

    Herb, I didn’t understand what you meant by, “David Cameron is admitting that Iraq was a fiasco that should never be repeated.”

    What do you mean, “admitted”? What did David Cameron have to do with Iraq? Also, in what way does he consider it to be a “fiasco”?

    Speaking of which, there was a good piece in the WSJ Saturday by Tony Blair, talking about the way forward in the Mideast. It deals with Libya, but more importantly discusses how we should be reacting to events in Bahrain and other parts — including Egypt and Tunisia, where things are far from settled. Good stuff. Smart. I recommend it.

  58. Brad

    Doug, first, I didn’t arrive at a conclusion. I said, “I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is.” Now, if I’m in a leadership position in a hypothetical situation with perfect knowledge that I can avoid war by killing one bad guy, I’ll give it the green light while I’m waiting AROUND for the right answer. But I’ve reached no conclusion as to what the RIGHT answer is.

    As for your assertion, “our military targets and kills specific individuals all the time.” Yeah, we do more of that than we used to, because of the information age we live in. But that tends to be down on the tactical level — we’ve got a chance to get the local Taliban leader; call in the drone. But we’ve never made that sort of national, strategic decision to take out the one bad guy as opposed to a general fight.

    And I think we’re still ambivalent about it, for the reasons I cited.

    I’m remembering an incident that happened on the very first night of the fighting in Afghanistan, back in 2001. The head of CENTCOM, Gen. Tommy Franks, was down there at MacDill and looking at a satellite image (or else someone else was looking at it and telling him about it) of Mullah Omar in a convoy of cars crossing open country. We could have fired and taken him out, thereby decapitating the Taliban. But Gen. Franks, consulting with a military lawyer, withheld the order to fire. And Omar escaped to fight another day. Had we decapitated the Taliban RIGHT THEN, we might have rolled up them and al Qaeda more quickly. Bin Laden might not have gotten away at Tora Bora. The Taliban may not have resurged later. We might not still be having to fight them (just as, if we had not invaded Iraq, we might be in a better situation in Afghanistan now). Or… maybe things would have unfolded the same. I don’t know. Impossible to say.

    But it stands in my mind as an example of the natural, human ambivalence we have to pull the trigger and kill a particular leader. Maybe not a perfect example. But it comes to mind as we discuss this.

  59. Phillip

    Brad, my use of the phrase “American geo-political objective with a little window-dressing” referred to what many, myself included, believe the Iraq invasion of 2003 amounted to, in contrast to (I hope) the current Libyan intervention, which seems (the Arab League public waffling notwithstanding) to have been born from a wider international consensus. As far as being “grotesquely far off from addressing the American foreign policy that I’ve observed throughout my lifetime,” I can only shrug my shoulders, since I don’t think you were alive during WWII, which is where your image of the nobility of American foreign/military policy seems to be frozen in time. A lot of American blood has been spilled since then, I would agree, but it has hardly always been just for the “peace, security, and freedom of other peoples.” Sometimes, in fact, not even really tangentially for those goals. We just don’t agree on that, but the crucial point is: much of the world also sees America differently from the way you do (I should properly say “from the way America sees itself”)…does not share your generally rosy view of America’s global involvement post-1950. And I don’t mean Islamic terrorists or other obviously bad guys. And that stems sometimes from the actual actions America has taken, but it also stems, I believe, in large part from a perception of America as believing itself to be the ultimate arbiter of “good vs. evil” in the world.

    As for my condensation of “might makes right” of course I don’t believe that you think that because we are powerful we must crush the weak. You say “We have the power, and so we do NOT have the right either to use it for evil”—OK that’s easy, we can all agree on that, and then go on to say “or to neglect to use it when we could use it for good.” And there’s the rub. Who defines “good”? Guess who.

    And this is where you (and Mark, judging from his comment earlier) run into your blind spot: 1) America is the strongest country in the world (not by happenstance, incidentally: we work hard at being the most powerful by a huge factor, sacrificing other facets of our society in the process to amass still greater power). 2) We therefore have a responsibility to use that power for good. 3) We feel that we have been a pretty benign dominant power in the world (Mark’s argument…I won’t go down the list of all the peoples of the world that might take issue with this, let’s just posit this point for now because we haven’t sought “empire” in the old-fashioned sense); 4) because of #3, we feel that we are on the side of “good.” 5) Because of all of the above, we, the US, will decide what “Good” is in each case, and will intervene militarily where we see fit, trumping the opinions or decisions of any multilateral or international entities, even in cases that do not directly affect our domestic national defense.

    You made the “policeman” analogy earlier, and I asked the question which neither you nor Mark can answer: “Who has vested the US with the authority to be the world’s policeman?” Because the answer is: nobody. Or the US has vested this power in itself. Even with the best of intentions (at a given moment in history) is that ultimately morally defensible? Mark says we must be “ever-vigilent against acting either opportunistically or unethically.” Agreed of course but is that the only line of defense various peoples of the world (Third World, esp.) have? A hope that the US will police itself, behave itself, restrain itself? Can the world always be sure of that? What if Sarah Palin were to become President, for example? Is that really the best we can do as a planet for global security and peace?

    This is the viewpoint—meant with sincere belief by you in our essential goodness—I understand and respect that—but that I term a kind of American myopia, seeing things exclusively through an American (or Anglo-American) prism, but that much of the world sees as American arrogance, and it buys us a lot of enemies around the world. (This myopia was obvious in one of your earlier posts on Libya, referring to the rebels “fighting our enemy for us, and of course for their freedom” etc.–in other words, I feel that it always comes down to America first for you, and the specific localized or regionalized issue secondarily. As if the rebels are thinking when they shoot a Libyan soldier, Hooray we just killed an enemy of America’s!)

    If the US is the force for good that you believe it is and that I think it has been sporadically but can definitely be moving forward, then America must begin to devolve its military power into the empowering of international mechanisms, and to strengthen itself in other ways while still maintaining sufficient defensive strength and ability to contribute to UN/NATO missions and the like. It’s not that I’m against any intervention—as previously stated, I’m cautiously supportive of the Libya move—but it has to be truly generated by a broad international coalition through the mechanisms that exist for this purpose, and hopefully carried out by an equally broad base of nations’ military and support personnel. I know reality means we do much of the heavy lifting, but this has to change.

    I’m going to try to lay off these geopolitical discussions for the time being; they really come down almost to a quasi-religious difference, like trying to argue for or against the existence of God. Since you do like to speak a lot about “good vs. evil” and morality (re your comments to Herb), you just have to understand that though I’m not religious in the traditional sense, I do think about morality a lot, and with every fiber of my being believe that any one nation that claims the right to decide “good” for the world and to act accordingly, no matter how well-intentioned that nation is, is acting in a fundamentally immoral manner. We just see the world in a very, very different way, and that’s cool.

    As the young folks say, “Peace out.”

  60. Brad

    Phillip, I’ll have to answer you latter when I’m on my laptop instead of this awkward iPad.

    Yes, there’s a fundamental disagreement, but it’s not as you define it. Each time you summarize my arguments so as to illustrate the difference, you mischaracterize what I’m saying.

    So there’s not only a disagreement, but a miscommunication. I’ll try again later. Must run…

  61. Mark Stewart

    I guess the thing that has lead to the discongruence is this notion of the world policeman as an actual role.

    To me, that’s a false construct which does not address geo-political realities.

    I, too, would have problems with America self-identifying itself as the world’s policeman. We don’t have that right – or that responsibility. But geo-politics is something very, very different from civil organization within a society. The two are non-comparable, I believe, despite the UN’s continuing efforts to pretent that this is possible.

    With five permanent seats on the Security Council and a rotating selection of additional power-brokers, the UN probably is more akin to the Chicago of the prohibition era (i.e., there is nothing but graft, corruption, subrosa dealings, etc.) than it is a functioning transparent and law-based civil society in the local political sense.

  62. Brad

    Yeah, Mark, I know what you mean.

    Perhaps a better metaphor is the Good Samaritan — the alternative version…

    Did you ever read The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas? I’ve always been intrigued by the question asked by Marcellus Gallio, the main character, when some Galileans who had known Jesus tell him the story of the Samaritan.

    He says knowing who was the “neighbor” in that case was easy. He posed a different question: What if the Samaritan had happened on the scene WHILE the robbers were beating the man up? Should he have intervened to fight them off? Or stand by, given Jesus’ opposition to violence?

    To me, the answer seems almost as clear — if he had the power to do so, the Samaritan should have fought off the robbers. I thought it interesting that Douglas’ disciples do not directly answer the question.

    It’s a question with great relevance to our topic…

  63. Herb B

    Sorry, very busy at the moment.

    I can only quote Cameron; I think ‘fiasco’ was his actual word, but I’d have to get the transcript to be sure. Basically he was agreeing with several Labour Party speakers who did not want this to be a repeat of Iraq.

    See Phillips’ comments on Iraq, with which I fairly much agree. My views come from a lot of people who live in the region, or are involved in international aid in the region. Tony Blair is definitely a very intelligent man, but represents a post-colonial, but still neo-colonial attitude.

    The US must lie low, and I applaud Obama, I think he is acting shrewdly, but still taking on the ‘Good Samaritan’ role, if we want to call it that. I’m not sure if what letting Clinton be the encouragement is also a calculated thing.

    Must go.

  64. Doug Ross


    The difference in the alternative Samaritan example is to ask whether the Samaritan would consider a) the strength and size of the robbers (a.ka. Russia) b) whether he was feeling healthy enough to engage in the fight (i.e. using deficit spending to fund battles on other continents) and c) whether the robbers were old friends who he might have taught how to steal in the first place (i.e. Osama Bin Laden).

    Then in the course of fighting the robbers, suppose the Samaritan’s wild punch misses and hits the victim, killing him. (i.e. accidental civilian casualties or worse – the pictures that are coming out of Afghanistan of U.S. troops posing with/mutlilating dead civilians earlier this year). Will the Samaritan’s family be as grateful for the effort?

  65. Brad

    Doug, I covered your a) and your b) when I said, quite deliberately, “IF HE HAD THE POWER TO DO SO, the Samaritan should have fought off the robbers…” You have to make a quick assessment of the likelihood of your ability to intervene successfully. Otherwise, it might be best for the victim if you wait to help him when they’re gone — and HOPE they don’t kill him. (The context, in the novel, was that Marcellus was a soldier and quite skilled with the broadsword; there was little doubt in his mind that HE should intervene.) This is actually an important test in Just War theory.

    As for your c)… the simple answer is that if you feel in any way responsible for the thieves and their actions, you are much MORE obligated to act to stop them.

    As for the broader point you’re making — I do get weary of that one, because it is so lacking in legitimacy. I realize, Doug, that you are perfectly sincere in your passionate belief that others are INsincere when they do things that you consider to be inconsistent. This

    I simply don’t look at the world that way. The fact that we had a practical, ad hoc, limited alliance with Saddam at one point in NO way obligates us to ignore when gets aggressive with his neighbors, or with us. In fact if it creates any moral burden at all, it’s that you MUST act to stop him, if you have at all aided him in the past.

    As for bin Laden, what are you saying? That we should NOT have aided the mujahedeen? Really? How do you figure? Seems to me that it accomplished the Cold War goals it was meant to accomplish. Soviet failure in Afghanistan is a factor, and I would think a fairly significant one, in the fact that a few years later, we had WON the Cold War.

    So I guess I’m not following you there.

  66. Doug Ross


    My cynical view is just the other end of the spectrum from your view that every action taken by the military must be considered right and just until there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    As for the end of the Cold War, I have a (admittedly off the wall) theory that the greatest factor in the collapse was television. How are you going to convince Comrade Ivanovich that Communism is the best solution when he’s standing in line to buy a loaf of bread while watching Crockett and Tubbs tool around Miami or Captain Steubing hosting Loni Anderson on the Love Boat?

    You want those tiny giraffes, you gotta make some big changes.

  67. Brad

    Yes, the tiny giraffes! I love it! For those of you going “Huh?”, here’s what Doug is referring to.

    “Opulence. I has it…”

    Now, to correct the statement that you make, which is the same as the one that Phillip has made a couple of times… “your view that every action taken by the military must be considered right and just until there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

    No, guys, that’s not how it works. The reason why you find me approving of military actions, time and time again, while y’all disapprove, is that these things have always been vetted ahead of time. This Libya thing is the “hastiest” we’ve engaged in — and it was that “hasty” because it was so obvious we needed to act that the Brits and the French were ready to do it without us — but usually that’s not the case.

    Even after 9/11, it was a month before we commenced operations in Afghanistan. As for the Iraq invasion, we talked that over for close to a year (as I recall, the first thing I read that convinced me that policymakers were definitely moving in that direction, and that an invasion was practically inevitable, was a Jim Hoagland piece in either the spring or summer of 2002). Actually, if you want, you could take it back to the Iraq Liberation Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1998.

    There is such an aversion to war in this country — always has been, really, but especially after Vietnam — that there is a pretty high bar to get over politically even to get to where it is a real possibility.

    Once you get to the point that US military action is a LIKELIHOOD, you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve surmounted a lot of obstacles. And between then and it becoming a FACT, you’ve pretty much entered and area where yeah, I think it’s the right thing to do.

    I might at that point disagree strongly with strategy or tactics, but if the US has passed all the internal political hurdles to get to that point, then you’ve likely gotten to where I’m for taking some sort of action.

  68. Steven Davis

    So if the British and French do it, we automatically have to put our two cents (actually multi-million dollars) in too.

    I’m all for blowing the hell out of stuff and bad guys with military power, I just don’t see why we had to join in something that was already being taken care and under control of by the French (image that) and the British. I realize that we’re the world’s sheriff, but we need to take a vacation now and again and let the deputy handle things.

    What do we have to gain by entering this civil war?

  69. Herb B

    It is good to help people. It is also good to realize the context in which one lives and works, and which history has given us. In this case, American interventionism has created such a bad background in the region that I think it is good policy to support others in humanitarian efforts (if that is what this is), rather than go it alone. We have simply established ourselves with a cowboy ‘shoot–ready-aim’ foreign policy that we need to go at things differently.

    Of course, how this is all going to play out now is anybody’s guess.

    Had to listen to Sean Hannity yesterday (somebody else was playing it, and I had to be in proximity of it). American domination of the world is the only thing that guy can understand. Man, was that horrible to listen to.

  70. Burl Burlingame

    Sez Doug: “As for the end of the Cold War, I have a (admittedly off the wall) theory that the greatest factor in the collapse was television.”

    Nope, not off the wall. I often said the way to destroy communism was to broadcast “Let’s Make a Deal” over the border.

  71. Doug Ross

    The United States’ involvement in the Middle East/Africa is similar to what happens when Wal-Mart tries to open a superstore in a small town. “We’re just here to help!” doesn’t always translate into good feelings from all the residents.

  72. tim

    Don’t you think that the television paradigm is what’s happening over in the Middle East right now? Instead of television, its the Facebook/YouTube Revolution. What is amazing is that Al Qaeda now looks sort of dull and so ‘yesterday’ vis a vis Revolutions.

  73. Doug Ross


    I agree. And I think we’re going to see similar “eruptions” in the U.S. as the ability to hide information (corporate or government) becomes more difficult and the ability to dispense the information becomes easier.

    Hopefully it will lead to a more open, ethical government over time. My fear is that it will lead to more attempts to suppress information.


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