2003 12 22
[Libya, again]

Abu Aardvark writes that the Bush administration’s diplomatic breakthrough with Libya does not provide any support for Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war. Exactly right. But he also writes:

On Saturday I suggested that Libya would pose a test of intellectual integrity to the supporters of the application of the “Bush Doctrine” in Iraq. The Bush doctrine declared that war with Iraq was necessary because international inspections could not guarantee American security against the threat of WMD in the hands of rogue regimes, and that only regime change to a democratic system could provide such security. In the case of Libya, the rather clearly non-democratic regime of Moammar Qadaffi remains in place, with a promise to allow international inspections to verify the country’s surrender of its WMD. In other words, Libya is fairly clearly a repudiation of the Bush doctrine, not its vindication. The test of intellectual integrity, therefore, was this: would advocates of the Bush doctrine in Iraq attack Bush for violating his doctrine in Libya by dealing with a dictator and relying on inspections, or would they praise Bush out of partisan loyalty?

I’m not sure this follows.

For starters, no one thinks that Libya was as dangerous as Iraq. And there was more evidence for Libya’s willingness to cooperate with the U.S. than there was of Saddam Hussein’s willingness to cooperate with anyone. So I’m not sure intellectual consistency requires you to take the same position on the two countries. It’s perfectly coherent to say, “Yes, we can let international inspectors poke around in Lybia since the stakes are lower. With Iraq we couldn’t afford to wait.” A difference in the level of (stated) urgency can imply a principled difference in the response.

Nor does intellectual consistency about democracy really seem to require anything as strong as the same basic position on the two countries. After all, proponents of the Bush doctrine were always able to recognize, at least in the abstract, that there would be real practical constraints on what the U.S. could hope to do in the region. Again, it’s perfectly coherent to say, “If it’s feasible, then a democracy is always to be preferred to a dictatorship” and then to go with a dictatorship. That’s because now that the U.S. has invaded Iraq and things haven’t gone particularly smoothly, U.S. capabilities have been reduced to the point at which the project is not feasible.

Consistency restored.

Of course, that’s just one small point. I don’t think that the Bush doctrine is a particularly wise position, and I would certainly not rate it very highly for intellectual consistency. It’s just that Abu Aardvark’s particular line on this doesn’t strike me as very convincing.

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2003 12 20

Matthew Yglesias: Unexpected Victory

Matthew Yglesias writes:

I didn’t even realize Libya was still really an issue, but this is certainly a positive development. It is, moreover, a partial vindication of one of the nuttier aspects of grand strategy à la Bush as one imagines that our demonstrated willingness to invade countries on a rather thin pretext played a role in pushing Gaddafi into line.

The trouble, of course, is that Libya really isn’t that big of a deal as far as rogue states go. If this technique had worked with Iran or North Korea, that would have been a major good thing. As things stand, however, Operation Invade at The Drop of a Hat seems to be backfiring with the DPRK and Iran is still up in the air.

Still, credit where due, and good work for pulling this off.

Whether or not you think this move was inevitable, Yglesias is right that this is a feather in Bush’s hat.

If you want to figure out the influence of Invade at The Drop of a Hat, though, I think you need to take into consideration two main ways that the policy has changed the strategic landscape.

The first seems to be that everyone is now convinced that Bush is just nutty enough to do something if he really wants to. And that might well make hostile regimes more inclined to take him seriously. I’m sure most of the credit for Libya’s recent decision will go to this attribute of Bush’s. The unfortunate downside of this strategy is that sometimes taking someone more seriously means arming against them even more energetically than you might otherwise have. For this and many other reasons, I think the strategy is an incredibly costly one. Still, there may be benefits to this strategy as well as costs, and in this case the benefits are reinforced by two impressive and recent demonstrations of military force.

The second change in the strategic landscape is rather less remarked on the right. It is this: By tying down U.S. troops in Iraq for an indefinite period, the U.S. is now obviously in a much weaker position to strike its enemies. Muammar is an odd fellow, but like almost all world leaders he presumably reads the newspapers now and again. And it must have struck him that Bush is in no position at all to give him the Iraq treatment anytime soon.

If you think intimidation had anything to do with Libya’s decision, then I think this second change to the strategic landscape ought to make you rue Bush’s policies, since their practical effect has been to diminish and constrain America’s military options for the next few years.

This was a breakthrough. It was a breakthrough for Bush. (Disagree? What is Clinton had managed it? Or Dean? Would you really be carping about how much Libya wanted this? No, because it would have been a breakthrough for Clinton even if Libya had wanted it.) In this sense, you might attribute a breakthrough to Bush. But don’t attribute the breakthrough to Bush’s policy of preemptive war.

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