On Meet The Press this morning, host David Gregory hammered away at the same question over and over to all his guests.
“Is it in America’s vital national interest that Gaddafi go? he demanded repeatedly of guests as diverse as White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and the demagogic Tea Party Queen, Rep. Michelle Bachmann. He put the same query to commentators David Brooks and Eugene Robinson.
Interestingly, none of them, not even Michelle Bachmann, took the bait.
Eugene Robinson came the closest to saying yes by conceding rhetorically that you could make that argument, but would then have to answer the more difficult question: what do we do about it?
The answer, David, is no, not on your life. An alternative answer is “Hell,no.”
Gaddafi’s Libya is an important oil producer, but not so important that a cutoff of Libyan oil would trigger an oil shortage by itself. Libya’s military might is a factor, but does not affect the larger balance of power in the region, much less the world. Under pressure, Gaddafi has dismantled his weapons of mass destruction, so he is not going to serve as a conduit to Al Qaida or other rogue groups.
The removal of Gaddifi and his murderous regime, no matter how desirable, does not rise to the status of a “vital national interest” of the United States.
Remember, please, that President George W. Bush used that argument in late 2002 and early 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq. His specific formulation was that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq threatened the national security of the United States. It didn’t, of course. But Congress, and the media, essentially accepted that proposition and allowed that needless war to proceed.
Perhaps that is why none of David Gregory’s guests answered yes to his question. Michelle Bachmann must have been tempted, because it offered another opportunity to criticize President Obama, but even she held back. Perhaps even she can recognize the madness of getting the United States involved in another military adventure against an Arab nation.
Bill Daley gave the right answer. He said it was in the national interest of the Libyan people to get rid of Gaddafi. It is first and foremost a Libyan problem, he implied. Let’s not lose sight of that. David Brooks made a valid point that President Obama, having called for Gaddafi to step down, having applied sanctions in an effort to undercut him, now needs to stress the U.S. commitment to democracy and peaceful change. Fair enough, but that is a far cry from sending in the Marines.
Whatever the United States does to hasten Gaddafi’s much-to-be-desired departure, it should do so multi-laterally, with United Nations endorsement and NATO cooperation and carefully. The Libyan revolt is one act in a larger drama, one that is taking place across the entire Arab world.
It is a “vital national interest” that we not blunder into another misadventure in the desert.