John Yoo has written a post on the Corner titled “Qaddafi’s Fall Should Embarrass GOP Isolationists” that is equivalent in style to a drunken Eagles fan at
Giants New Meadowlands Stadium doing a celebratory victory dance after an Eli Manning pick six has given the Eagles a 7-6 lead two minutes into the second quarter. Sure you have something to celebrate, but you might want to take a look at the clock and also mind your surroundings.
The stunning collapse of the Libyan regime today should be counted as a half-victory for President Obama, a rebuke to the GOP’s new isolationist wing in the House, and a testament to the responsible leadership of such Senate Republicans as Jon Kyl and Mitch McConnell.
One should understand that by isolationist Yoo means anyone who has ever opposed US military intervention at anytime, anywhere. Presumably included in this list are people who supported military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, a list that includes most House and Senate Republicans, the editorial staffs of most conservative publications, and a majority of conservative voters. Alas we balked at a poorly thought out intervention in Libya, one which involved no clear ally or American interest, and which also involved a Chief Executive blithely ignoring that pesky little thing called Congress.
Anyway, brilliant constitutional scholar Yoo provides this remarkably well-thought out and reasoned argument on behalf of triumphalism.
But I think the new Republican isolationists in the House (and among the presidential candidates) will come out looking even worse. They opposed the president’s constitutional authority to use force abroad to protect U.S. national-security interests, yet they failed to put forward any serious proposals of their own for U.S. foreign policy in the region (aside from pulling out wholesale, I suppose). They not only contradicted the consistent position of Republican administrations on the war-powers issue, but they had no alternatives to put forward on what to do about Libya. These House members had plenty of company from the Democratic party’s antiwar Left, of course — but if they all thought the war was illegal and a bad idea, do they want to give Libya back to Qaddafi now?
My favorite part is where he lied about the position taken by conservative opponents of the war. This “they opposed the president’s constitutional authority to use force abroad to protect U.S. national-security interests” nonsense isn’t strong enough to be considered a strawman. I think the War Powers Act has many faults, but I don’t need the War Powers Act to tell me what the Constitution already does: only Congress can declare war. Simply put, the Commander-in-Chief title doesn’t give presidents carte blanche to engage American troops in prolonged foreign military engagements. At least President Bush had been given full Congressional authority – yes, short of a formal declaration of war, but Congress had acted. There was no such grant of power in this case.
Yoo also conveniently glosses over realities on the ground in Libya. I hardly doubt too many conservatives are shedding tears that Qaddafi is dead. What concerns many of us is that the alternative is looking potentially worse. Much worse. And of course, it might be that this sparks an “Arab Spring” that brings a revitalizing breath of democracy to the country and its environs. We simply don’t know, and that was the point so many of us were making before President Obama committed troops without Congressional approval.
One can argue over the costs, or about the benefits of any individual intervention, but the spreading of democracy, freedom, and markets through persuasion, coercion, and sometimes force provides a principled foreign policy that is consistent with America’s greatness in the past and continues our exceptional role in the world in the future.
Except that you’ve made it clear that we can’t argue about the costs or benefits of any individual intervention without being labeled isolationist. It’s possible to appreciate the merits of democratization in the Middle East without blindly falling into line with every single military intervention in the region. There has to be a middle ground between the Paulist foreign policy vision, one which can more accurately be called is0lationist (and that isn’t really fair), and Wilsonian interventionism on the right.
Finally, as alluded to above, Yoo is doing a victory dance long before the final whistle has blown. It might be wise to pause a bit before you say “Mission Accomplished,” John.