Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, callers give us their opinions on the U.S. intervention in Libya, and Politico’s White House reporter Glenn Thrush pitches in on the action.
It’s been five days since the United States sent planes into Libya to protect civilians from military attack under Libyan Dictator Muammar Gadhafi. So far opinion on the action, while divided, seems to fall into six major camps, which can be summed up thus:
- Neo-cons: It’s America’s place to lead the world to democracy, by force if necessary.
- Conventional conservatives: War is only appropriate if there is a direct threat to United States
- Liberal Interventionists: We have a responsibility to protect people if a slaughter is under way. National sovereignty is suspended if a dictator is attacking his own people
- Liberal opponents to war: The United States throws around its military power too easily
- Libertarian Isolationists: We need a limited government unless we are really under direct attack.
Thrush said this is an unusually popular war among the left for complicated reasons.
This is a different sort of intervention; this is much more in the line of what Democrats have been calling upon for interventions in the post-war era. There’s a real precedent of humanitarian interventionism on the part of the progressive Democrats. This really even attracts some of the people who were opposed to the Iraq war.
Much of the anger coming from the left about the move to war is due to a feeling that there was not enough discussion about the decision prior to the engagement.
I think the largest camp here, I would describe as the congressional opportunists camp, in which you had a lot of hill Republicans in the last three weeks bashing the White House pretty intensely for moving really slowly, and when the President outstripped them, moving beyond the no-fly zone into this sort of fuzzy idea of a no-drive zone they’ve had to sort of switch their attacks and their now hitting him for having responded too late, [etc.]
He jokingly referred to Newt Gingrich’s changing political position — from vehemently condemning the president for not taking action, to condemning the president for taking action — as political “Kama Sutra. Lots of positions here.”
A caller from Monticello opposes the US involvement in the war, calling it a territorial expansion.
It seems to me more like a capitalist agenda… and it looks like as long as the revolutionary sweeps are continuing to brew throughout middle east, that gives America an advantage to go ahead and step in and reshape these governments the way that they want, and put the people in that they want, so they can always have their hands in the pot for the resources.
A different caller from Putnam county finds it ironic that a country with partisan politics as divisive and as angry as the United States presumes the role of promoting democracy elsewhere, yet said he was totally for the intervention.
As a matter of fact I was praying for Obama to step up and show the character that he has.
A listener from Manhattan said he’s not sure if he’s for or against the action, but he’s disappointed the president hasn’t spoken more in public about the decision.
He hasn’t said to the American people what we’re doing! I’m a big fan of President Obama but I feel left in the lurch here that the country’s gone to war and no one has told us in any way that we can either agree with or disagree with or learn from, why, what’s happening [and] what the possible outcome might be.
Thrush said a lot of people feel that way.
As late as last night, senior administration officials were asked point blank about this. Will he give some sort of oval office address… and the answer was no, which I have to say is quite surprising. I think the answer that the president wants to give on this is not one that explains the policy in the context of a larger doctrine, or of larger goals, but in terms of expedience. The real reason we did this was to stop the pro- Gadhafi forces from taking over Benghazi… the initiative for moving ahead quickly was that Gadhafi was going to consolidate his power in the entire country, and this was a hail-Mary pass to stop him from doing so.
Thrush said in that regard the administration really can’t provide much explanation. The U.S. is in a tough spot because, as command and control of the mission, there is no one immediately ready for them to now hand-off control to.
It’s sort of like we’re in a position where we have rented a car, and we want to drop it off, but there’s nobody at the desk to take the keys or contract, so we’re driving this thing around in the hopes that the French will rescue us.
It’s difficult to try to describe Obama’s intellectual framework for making this move, whether it is to show U.S. leadership, or to protect U.S. interests. Thrush said many different pieces identify different Obama doctrines.
I think the most coherent strand in it, and you’ve heard it in the president’s public pronouncements over the last week as well, is that we can do what we can do, and we should not be taking on every single crisis in the world. There needs to be sort of a pragmatic checklist for action, and his point is that this checklist was met for Libya but not for Bahrain or Yemen.
A caller from Kearny is more conflicted. While he agreed there is a responsibility to protect, he wondered where that willingness to protect was during the genocide in Darfur.
I think basically this is centered around some ethnic situations, but more so financially [based].
A listener in Fort Lee disagrees with war in general.
We have to take a very large picture of it and the European interests should be taking care of what’s going on in Libya and not us…. We should not be there.
A caller from Manhattan, who lived in Libya, was for the intervention of the United States because it might head off a future Libyan Civil war, yet wondered why the U.S. didn’t simply assassinate Gaddafi.
It is important for the new government that is going to happen... to clearly say that whoever used to follow Gadhafi will be forgiven, because we know a lot of people belong to Gadhafi, and they’re very faithful to Gadhafi. So later on, if he gets killed, they know they are going to get killed. So they are going to start fighting and that’s going to cause a civil war. So my opinion is it is really important, yes, to get rid of him, but meanwhile get a government that represents the whole country.
Thrush said while of course, no one knows what is going to happen, the intervention and the freezing of Gadhafi’s assets may be effective.
They think that if they corner [Gadhafi], and they’re able to bolster the rebels, that this is a long-term sustainable endgame. Of course we saw similar strategies in Afghanistan and we know how that turned out.