Peggy Noonan had a smart column last month about what happens once the US “intervenes” militarily in foreign countries. She wrote:
The biggest takeaway, the biggest foreign-policy fact, of the past decade is this: America has to be very careful where it goes in the world, because the minute it’s there—the minute there are boots on the ground, the minute we leave a footprint—there will spring up, immediately, 15 reasons America cannot leave. The next day there will be 30 reasons, and the day after that 45.
Now that America’s intervention in Libya has stalled, a variation of Ms. Noonan’s Must-Stay-Multiplier-Effect (MSME) is taking place. You might call it the Strategic Framework Shift (SFS).
In a SFS, the stated reason for intervention changes before your eyes, in much the same way that a Polaroid snap shot materialises while you wait. And in a roughly similar time frame.
The stated reason for America’s intervention in Libya, we were told, was two-fold: (1) to prevent a massacre in Benghazi, and (2) to assist in the removal of Colonel Qaddafi from power.
The new stated reason for continuing the US intervention in Libya is that it will make us look bad if we don’t keep at it. Specifically, the mullahs in Iran will think us weak.
David Sanger of The New York Times wrote the definitive piece (so far) on the Obama Administration’s SFS in the “Week in Review” section yesterday. Key graphs:
The mullahs in Tehran, noted Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, were watching Mr. Obama’s every move in the Arab world. They would interpret a failure to back up his declaration that Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had “lost the legitimacy to lead” as a sign of weakness — and perhaps as a signal that Mr. Obama was equally unwilling to back up his vow never to allow Iran to gain the ability to build a nuclear weapon.
“It shouldn’t be overstated that this was the deciding factor, or even a principal factor” in the decision to intervene in Libya, Benjamin J. Rhodes, a senior aide who joined in the meeting, said last week. But, he added, the effect on Iran was always included in the discussion.
Joe Klein of Time magazine is one of many not buying the Obama Administration’s SFS. He writes: That is truly embarrassing. We got ourselves mixed up in Libya because the President foolishly said that Gaddafi had to go and if Gaddafi didn’t go, we’d look weak to the Iranians? OK, as Ben Rhodes, insists, it probably wasn’t the “deciding factor,” but if it was any sort of factor, it’s…pathetic. If, in fact, Iran is any sort of factor in our Middle East thinking (as it should be), we should be paying a hell of a lot more attention to Syria, where Iran’s ally Bashar Assad is shooting people in the street, than we have been. Certainly, we should be paying more attention to Syria than to Libya. (Additionally, I’d add that if we have embarked on this Libya mission because the President said Gaddafi had to go, it was an even worse mistake for Obama to say it than I’d been thinking.)
All of this smacks of that old American “credibility” argument that is disproved again and again. As in: if we leave Vietnam, we’ll lose credibility in our struggle against the Soviet Union (actually, we lost credibility in our struggle against the Soviets by launching the foolish Vietnam war; we regained some strength by getting out). We’ve heard this argument over and over–in Iraq and Afghanistan, most recently. Of all the reasons to stay in both those benighted places, “credibility” is the least credible. Stability, in Mesopotamia and South Asia, is a far more plausible reason for staying, if you want to stay.
You can read his full analysis here.
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