By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
“How can the left call for the ouster of Muammar Gadhafi for the sin of killing hundreds of Libyans when it opposed the war waged against Saddam Hussein?”
With that challenge, Joe Scarborough stirred up a firestorm this week. Writing in Politico, the former Republican congressman, now co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” accused Democrats of sheer hypocrisy for supporting President Obama’s military intervention in Libya after having opposed George Bush’s war in Iraq. “America invaded its third Muslim country in a decade. The American left meekly went along,” Scarborough complained. “Without the slightest hint of irony, liberals defended the president’s indefensible position by returning again to a pose of moral certainty.”
I faced the same charge of hypocrisy on CNN from Howard Kurtz, host of “Reliable Sources.” After quoting my column about Libya — “So, what’s a good liberal supposed to do? Answer: Hold your nose and support it, for now. And hope we get out fast.” — Kurtz suggested that I would have opposed military action against Libya if it were George Bush, not Barack Obama, in the White House.
Are Scarborough and Kurtz right? Is this a case of rampant hypocrisy on the left by a bunch of knee-jerk liberals? No, no, and no.
For one thing, not all liberals are on board with Obama. Many of them loudly oppose the Libyan operation. Code Pink has led protests. Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation accuses liberals of remaining silent on Libya so as not to hurt Obama in 2012. Some progressives in Congress, including Lynn Woolsey, Donna Edwards, Rob Andrews, Jerry Nadler, Marcy Kaptur, Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee have withheld support. Congressman John Conyers told my radio listeners that Obama acted illegally by bombing Libya without a congressional declaration of war. And Dennis Kucinich accused Obama of committing an “impeachable offense.” That’s hardly a knee-jerk chorus of liberal support.
Kurtz and Scarborough are wrong for another reason, too. Liberals like myself, who support our intervention in Libya, don’t do so just because Obama’s a Democrat and Bush was a Republican. Please, don’t insult us. We support the Libyan action, albeit reluctantly, for one good and undeniable reason: There’s a big difference between the way Barack Obama went into Libya and the way George Bush went into Iraq.
Let me count the ways. There was no real threat in Iraq. George Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction as a reason for invading the country. Yet there’s no doubt that Colonel Gadhafi planned the systemic slaughter of Libyan civilians — and no doubt, given his murderous history, he was cold-blooded enough to carry out those plans.
Iraq was a U.S.-led invasion from the beginning. In Libya, we only acted after the Arab League had requested creation of a no-fly zone and after the United Nations Security Council had approved an international military operation to protect the people of Libya from Gadhafi. And when we did move against Libya, the U.S. joined forces with France, the UK, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and other partners.
One other big difference: Eight years later, we’re still bogged down in Iraq, with the United States in the lead, as we’ve been from the beginning, paying full freight and providing the troops. In Libya, after initially taking the lead, the United States military turned over responsibility for the no-fly zone to NATO after only six days — six days! Three days later, we also handed NATO the keys to the protect-the-population part of the operation. Of course, U.S. forces will continue to participate, but, from now on, only in a supportive role.
Does that mean President Obama gets a blank check on Libya? Absolutely not. There are still serious concerns: about his not first seeking authority from Congress, as the Constitution requires; how long U.S. forces will have to stay involved in Libya and what it will cost; and, especially, what is the role of the CIA and will we end up arming and training the Libyan rebels?
Those questions remain to be answered, which is not unusual. That’s the nature of war. But, given what we do know, as President Obama brilliantly laid out in his speech at the National Defense University, there are solid reasons for giving limited support to this limited military engagement in Libya — and still opposing the war in Iraq.
Call me naive. Call me ignorant. Call me wrong. But don’t call me a hypocrite.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.