Earlier this week conservative Washington Post columnist George Will posed 16 skeptical questions to proponents of a no-fly zone over Libya (whose ranks now include former president Bill Clinton). Among Will's queries:
* Presumably we would coordinate aid with the leaders of the anti-Gaddafi forces. Who are they?
* Libya is a tribal society. What concerning our Iraq and Afghanistan experiences justifies confidence that we understand Libyan dynamics? [...]
* The Egyptian crowds watched and learned from the Tunisian crowds. But the Libyan government watched and learned from the fate of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments. It has decided to fight. Would not U.S. intervention in Libya encourage other restive peoples to expect U.S. military assistance?
In response, do-something conservative David Frum, who as I write this is arguing about regulation and limited-government hyperbole on Twitter, posed nine questions of his own. They include:
* If Muammar Qaddafi violently suppresses the Libya uprising while America stands by, will Arab and Muslim opinion really believe that we were "neutral"? Or will they believe that we tacitly support Qaddafi – as they believed through the 1990s that we tacitly supported Saddam Hussein? [...]
* Iran crushed its uprising in 2009, with impunity. Hezbollah has seized power in Beirut. Hamas holds Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood is rising in Egypt. Who looks like the ascendant power in the Middle East today? Iran or the United States? [...]
* If you are the president of Venezuela and you lose an election, how will you react when President Obama tells you that you "must" honor the election results?
The exchange, I think, is a revealing snapshot of both where conservatism (and America) has been, and where both are destined to go. It is my contention that we cannot literally afford a conception of U.S. foriegn policy, with the miliary might to back it up, that considers warmaking on a sovereign country that hasn't invaded another to be a prerequisite for maintaining credibility in the eyes of the next dictator who cancels elections. It's going to take a long and certainly messy period of unclenching to get used to the idea that Washington isn't omnipotent.