Against Knee-Jerk Realism
Andrew Sullivan’s response to the looming war on Syria has been to tip-toe as close to Peak Sully as possible without quite crossing the line. And in all honesty, I don’t blame him — he put a lot more stock in Obama-the-realist than I ever did, and by that metric, the president is indeed failing and failing hard. (Though Andrew might do well to read former Dish intern Zack Beauchamp on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech.) Responding to a reader’s email, though, he makes an argument about the intervention in Libya that I’ve seen elsewhere and just can’t accept. He says the potential massacre in Benghazi that UN and Nato forces averted (before broadening their mission into full-scale regime change) wasn’t worth stopping:
My point about Libya is not that it was somehow cynical or ill-intentioned. I think it was a genuine concern at a possible massacre. My point is that foreign policy is not about going around the world preventing bad. It is about weighing the interests and values of the United States now and in the long-term. What we created in Libya is a failed state which has helped fuel Jihadism in North Africa. And that may very well lead to more deaths than if Qaddafi were still in power or if the Libyan civil war had not been hijacked by the great powers. Jumping all over the world to prevent massacres is not foreign policy. It’s CNN-driven synapses firing.
I’m sorry, but this dismissal of saving innocents as nothing more than a flighty, vacuous “CNN-driven” firing of “synapses” bothers me. It strikes me as entirely too cavalier and, yes, cold-hearted. These are human beings we’re talking about, after all, and their lives do not become less valuable simply because Sullivan remains (understandably) traumatized by the Iraq experience and consequently wants nothing to do with the Middle East whatsoever.
It’s true that the consequences of Gaddafi’s overthrow may turn out to be worse than a massacre; but it’s just as much the case that they may not — and since these, again, are human beings, I’d argue that stopping a massacre is, when in doubt, the more prudent choice. After all, it’s just as easy to imagine a scenario in which a horrifying series of mass killings by Gaddafi destabilizes the region and draws cadres of jihadist fighters into Libya to seek revenge. We don’t know what could have happened; we only know what did. And, as of this writing, what happened is that a city of 700,000 people was saved from a man who was approaching it with arms while all but reading from the war criminal’s script. I still think that’s a good thing.
(And, for the record, I oppose bombing Syria.)