I know I am defecting from my usual comrades here, but I find myself pretty sympathetic to American involvement in Libya in this situation. It’s hard to argue that a dictator may threaten and carry out mass murder without consequences, and it’s hard to argue that the major military power in the world need not sully its hands with such things. Add to this the fact that past American policy has helped develop regimes like this (and the others falling in the region), and I think the United States bears a moral responsibility/obligation to shield protestors from overwhelming force. I do think, though that Obama should take this as an opportunity to make a couple of moves, none of which seems to be happening:
1.) Establish the use of moral obligation as a standard of political decision making. The division of labor has become: foreign policy (particularly military) and “social issues” (e.g., abortion and same-sex marriage) are defended on moral grounds while social policy has to bear a very different standard having to do with efficiency and budgetary wisdom. I would like to see Obama say: “we were morally obligated to help the Libyan people, and we did. We are similarly morally obligated to provide access to health care at home, and we will do so. When faced with a moral crisis in Libya we did not stop to check on the cost, nor did we let our budget deficit stand in the way of moral action. Let’s have the discussion on moral grounds: is it OK to deny health care to people who can’t pay? Is the deficit more important than food on families’ tables? The truth is that the United States cannot meet its moral obligations with the unreasonably low tax rate we currently have. We need to raise taxes to a sensible level in order to fulfill our obligations at home and abroad and avoid leaving greater fiscal problems to our children.”
2.) Establish a foreign policy standard based on principles of real democracy and human rights. The last time this was even tried was under Carter, and it quickly collapsed. But the Libyan action will be particularly effective if Obama can articulate to the world that the United States will pay any price, bear any burden, in the service of true democratic autonomy and respect for human rights around the world. And then perhaps we won’t leave around messes (Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban) from prior adventures that come back to bite Americans and the rest of the world.