Politicians and political operatives tend to be hawks or doves. A term of journalistic art for left-wing hawks: “liberal internationalists”; for right-wing hawks: “neo-conservatives.” I find the terms of historical art invented by Walter Russell Mead to be illuminating: one might refer to left-wing hawks as Wilsonians, to right-wing hawks as Jacksonians, except that neo-cons properly so-called are Wilsonians. Left-wing doves, to channel Mead’s taxonomy again, might be referred to as Jeffersonians, right-wing doves as Hamiltonians. For an overview of Mead’s spectrum, go here.
President Obama has declared war on Muammar Gaddafi on the basis of humanitarian concerns. He has dressed himself up as a Wilsonian. In my view, he does so in good faith. Many academicians assume Obama is like them a Jeffersonian, but there is little evidence beyond campaign rhetoric for that. Obama has often noted his debt to Reinhold Niebuhr, a Wilsonian during WW 2 and the Cold War. In his Oslo speech Obama took pains to develop a just war doctrine.
Will the same alliance in the American polity that propelled the US to topple Saddam Hussein – a three-way of Wilsonians, Hamiltonians, and Jacksonians - succeed in toppling Gaddafi? The current administration does not have the best track record when it comes to establishing benchmarks and attaining them. Still, taking down Geddafi should not be that different from putting a weak old mare out of her misery.
Another question: will the same alliance stick together in the messy aftermath of this military adventure? After all, the so-called Pottery Barn rule will apply: “you break it; you keep it.”
All things considered, though at great cost to the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, things have worked out well in Iraq but not so well in Afghanistan. How will they work out in Libya? They could work out at least as well as they have in Iraq, in light of the cultural, political, and economic givens of Libya. On the other hand, the most basic rule of war is the following: what can go wrong will go wrong.