A number of seeds and articles have been posted decrying those liberals who have voiced support for our strikes on Libya or who have failed to attack Obama for authorizing this intervention. The story goes, because they were so vociferously opposed to the invasion of Iraq, they are hypocrites for not going after Obama on Libya. Furthermore, some liberals questioned the constitutionality of the Iraq war, so that means all liberals must have opposed it on those grounds.
The whole problem with discussions like this is talking about "liberals” or "conservatives", "the left", "the right", etc., as if those words define the range of valid viewpoints. This construction is an invitation to straw man arguments and deliberate distortions of opposing viewpoints. Each individual is responsible for the coherence of his or her own views and not those of others with whom they associate. Coherent views do not fall neatly into two categories: for all wars or against all wars. You have to look at the reasoning each individual gives for support or opposition to a given conflict. It is unfair and dishonest to attack someone as inconsistent or hypocritical based on what other people who happen to agree with them on other issues have to say.
I opposed the invasion of Iraq not on the basis of a constitutional war powers argument, nor a general opposition to all military intervention. My opposition was based on the following:
1. Saddam did not pose a credible threat to his neighbors, let alone to Americans.
2. He was not at the time actively engaged in attacks on his own people.
3. His potential for expansionist aggression and large attacks on the Iraqi people was sufficiently contained through enforcement of the no-fly zones and UN backed sanctions.
4. Any WMD ambitions he may have still harbored could be dealt with through limited air strikes on weapons facilities, if and when the intelligence indicated.
5. A ground invasion would lead to a long and costly occupation and involvement in a protracted counter-insurgency campaign.
6. Given (5), attention and resources would be drawn away from Afghanistan, detracting from completion of the mission there.
The Libya situation is different on several, though not all of these points. Gadhafi is attacking his own people, no ground invasion is on the table, and the resources involved are minimal enough so as not to detract from other involvements. On the other hand, Gadhafi does not pose a direct threat to Americans or to our allies. However, the humanitarian side is not just a warm and fuzzy, protecting the innocent issue, it is also about preventing a mass exodus of Libyans into two currently fragile neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, and the destabilizing effect that would have across the Mediterranean region.
If the result of the current action is to curtail Gadhafi’s ability to attack his own people and enable humanitarian assistance to reach the Libyan people, while limiting the efflux of refugees, then it can be judged a success. If the rebel forces within Libya are enabled to topple Gadhafi by this action, then so much the better.
If on the other hand this escalates into continued involvement beyond that necessary to maintain the no fly zone, and especially if it escalates to a deployment of US ground forces, then I will judge this to have been a grave error on Obama’s part.