Careless Judgment
Daniel Larison* calls out Libyan War supporters for the mess the country has become. My position on the Libyan War was ... complicated. I was at first very much opposed to air strikes in Libya, noting the hollow call for a humanitarian intervention. I then waffled a little on my opposition and started to optimistic about the intervention. The more I read about it, the more I realized there was a chance we could be watching the beginning of a genocide, at which point I reluctantly supported the war, despite knowing a lot of the bad things I opposed could very well happen. Basically this is where I left it:
On moral and legal grounds I think we were justified in the initial phase of this war. Obama has staked the United States and NATO to a limited role in this conflict. I don't completely believe this, but that's what he said. In his speech he somewhat tips his hand about trying to get rid of Gaddafi. He clearly wants it and it's possible that he will break his promise and commit to that action. I don't support that. Maybe I'm naive to think we can protect the civilians without committing to a greater war. We are, in fact, already at war. If that ends up happening, I will say that I did not support that, but I will also have to face that fact that support for a limited defense of human rights may have made it easier to wage a broader war for regime change.
Obviously everything I didn’t support happened and I was naive to think it had a chance of not happening. So now's a good time to look back at the decision to support the war.

A comparison can be made between proponents of war in Iraq and Libya. Ignore the respective justifications for war - WMD, Al Qaeda, innocent Iraqis in Iraq, innocent Libyans in Libya - and both sides essentially made the same mistake - they didn't account for the aftermath. I'm completely guilty of this, having seen the objective of stopping an imminent massacre accomplished I lost interest. That's very easy for an American. It's very easy for Americans to say accomplishing the initial objective was worth the devastation after because we don't have to live it. We can say it was the right choice because things are "better", but of course it's not our decision to make. It's not our lives that will be destroyed.

Can you extract the reasons for going to war from the repercussions? I don't think you can. If what you are trying to accomplish is ostensibly a moral good then how can you? How can you say we want to make the world better by destroying WMDs or defeating Al Qaeda or stopping a genocide but then leave pain and suffering in your wake?

As I've said in the past about Iraq War supporters, it's a cop out to say - when the situation turns bad - that your support was in error because you failed to see how badly the aftermath would be handled. Handling the aftermath has to be part of the decision. (Iraq War supporters have the added burden of being dead wrong about the two biggest justifications for war, but that's not my point.) If you didn't think about it, and didn't make it a large part of your decision, then you've made a mistake in judgement just like if you believed some politician's claim about WMD programs.

It's still hard for me to admit the net effect of the war I supported was negative. I'm not certain that's the case. I'm not certain things wouldn't be just as bad. But I have to admit that I made the same mistake so many others have made in the past when supporting a war. More damning, I was just as careless with my support for war - just as careless about the lives of people thousands of miles away - as others were.



* Daniel Larison, writing at the American Conservative (I know!) is very good. If you're interested in the state of the country now, Larison links to a long article on the Lybian Civil War. It's actually a fairly complicated situation - so much so that a look at the Wikipedia entry is helpful.
 
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