Libya, End Zone Taunting, and the Success Curse


Tacking onto Nick Gillespie's post below about the Center for American Progress' end zone taunting and premature "Mission Accomplished!" declaration about Libya, here is something for the debased (but thankfully dwindling) political tribes to remember: There is a Success Curse in military intervention just as there is in natural resources.

Today's Team Blue dethroning of a tinpot dictator lowers the bar for tomorrow's Team Red assault on Iran, which of course will be confirmation that when it comes to the Constitution, President Perry (should he wrest the nomination from the more deserving Texan) is worse than Nixon and Hitler combined. Team Blue will once again regain the White House on an "anti-dumb war" campaign; a scattering of Republicans will then exhume their deference to the War Powers Act, and the U.S. share of global responsibility and military spending will continue its inexorable climb toward 100 percent. This is why some people refer to the bipartisan political class as "The War Party," and with plenty of justification.

Let us recall how Bill Clinton's Kosovo War laid the groundwork for George W. Bush's Iraq:

Like Gulf War II, the 78-day NATO air campaign in Kosovo was waged without the explicit authorization of the United Nations. (Of the two, the Iraq war had much more of a U.N. mandate, through Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a "final opportunity"—one it did not take—to comply fully with all previous Security Council resolutions or else face "serious consequences.") Like Iraq, Yugoslavia was a sovereign country that was bombed into submission for essentially internal infractions. Both wars were expressions of American exasperation at European impotence in the face of dictatorial slaughter. Slobodan Milosevic, like Saddam Hussein, was described as a modern-day Adolf Hitler, eager to practice genocide against minority tribes while scrambling for horrible weapons to menace peaceful neighbors. Supporters of both wars frequently invoked the Munich Agreement of 1938, in which the West appeased Hitler rather than defend allied Czechoslovakia. Opponents of both wars warned that the target countries were colonially conceived multi-ethnic basket cases not conducive to postwar democratization. And the United States led the fight against both dictators despite urgent warnings from antiwar activists and multilateralism enthusiasts that each new bomb would lower the threshold for waging modern war.

I'm happy to see Qadaffi on the run, but I'd be happier still if A) it had been accomplished and owned by the oppressed people of Libya themselves (which would have been less than easy, to say the least), B) if the action didn't require breaking U.S. law and lowering the intervention bar even further; and C) if the trend line in U.S. foreign policy dominance and spending wasn't continuing to drive us toward imperial bankruptcy.

As for the sight of presumably post-pubescent adults having a policy conversation by yelling "SCORE-BOARD! SCORE-BOARD!", it's as good a reminder as any that few phenomena rot the brain more thoroughly than political tribalism.