Two of the best columnists writing in America today have written excellent pieces in recent days that caught my eye. The first was by Tom Friedman in the NYT in the wake of Bibi Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, the second is Eugene Robinson’s piece in today’s Washington Post on the futility of the war in Afghanistan.

Friedman’s point was that the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” is moribund because the respective leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas,  are stuck in the past. Each is recycling tired old demands and preconditions that effectively stall any progress towards a solution. Totally true.  Neither has had an original idea in years and both are playing to their respective constituencies. CYA politics, Mideast-version.

No wonder George Mitchell resigned as Obama’s envoy.  He had the patience to hammer at the Northern Ireland problem for six years until both sides agreed to the Good Friday Accord. But two years of beating his head against the Israeli-Palestinian intransigence was enough.  No surprise.

Eugene Robinson’s column today, “Declare Victory — and Go,” is an eloquent appeal to common sense.  “What on earth are we doing?” in Afghanistan, he asks.  “We have more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan risking life and limb, at a cost of $10 billion a month, to pursue ill-defined goals whose achievement” can only barely be imagined.

“We wanted to depose the Taliban regime, and we did,” he writes. “We wanted to install a new government that answers to its constituents at the polls, and we did.  We wanted to smash al-Qaeda’s infrastructure of training camps and havens, and we did. We wanted to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, and we did.”

“The threat from Afghanistan is gone,” he concludes, “bring the troops home.”

That is so clearly the right course of action that it is strange that the Obama Administration does not adopt it immediately.


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.