Tom Hayden reminds us of two costs of the Libyan war*:
If the US gets lucky this time, Power will be vindicated. It’s possible that US airpower can protect opposition ground forces on the road to Tripoli until Qaddafi’s regime collapses from within. Even then, the US will have to take part in an unpredictable occupation of Libya until a new set of governing institutions are created, a process that might take months or years. The cost will climb into the billions in deficit spending while the budget crisis worsens at home. Any triumphant new US allies, like the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, will prove to be unsavory. That’s the best-case scenario for the administration.
In the worst case, the human rights rationale will have served as the initial argument for another long, bloody and expensive quagmire in a Muslim country. In a growing stalemate, the US will feel impelled to escalate militarily in pursuit of its policy of regime change. That could “splinter” the US coalition and violate the UN mandate, as Obama himself has indicated. It could lead to a bloodbath in Tripoli while preventing one in Benghazi. It could devolve into civil war and an indefinite power vacuum.
But it’s the domestic costs that are hidden, but still tragic:
And who will remember the home front, and the Obama pledge to focus laser-like on the recession-ridden American economy? Who will address the crisis of aging nuclear power plants? Or the human rights crisis of America’s prison system, the largest in the world?
…Perhaps the greatest problem in Power’s worldview is an elitism that scorns domestic policy and politics, the very domain where she believes the crusade to stop genocide is so often “lost.” Anyone primarily concerned with domestic priorities, in her view,must be an isolationist and thus an obstacle to the global struggle for human rights. One can’t imagine Power worrying very much about, say, rent subsidies or pension funds.
The realities are quite the opposite. In a democracy, war requires the consent of the governed, expressed at the very least with the consent of the Congress and subject to the authorization of the federal judiciary. As Garry Wills points out in Bomb Power, the public and Congress have shriveled before the power of the unitary executive state. It is telling that Obama spent far more time seeking the approval of the United Nations and the Arab League than the US Congress, and has no plans to seek an authorizing vote unless Congress itself insists – an unlikely prospect for now.
Right now, the U.S. is still on the ropes. Habeas corpus exists at the whim of the president. Unemployment barely budged. Global warming–to which the U.S. is a massively disproportionate contributor–is ongoing, and our political system lacks the will to do anything about it. Poverty and income inequality are still massive problems. The political system is for sale to the highest bidder.
Worrying about these problems isn’t self-indulgent navel gazing, for when the U.S. is a basket case, it’s bad for the whole world. It is up to us, and only us, to keep the Republic. Crusades are a distraction.
*Yes, it’s a war. A little one, but a war nonetheless.