Maureen Dowd / In search of monsters
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WASHINGTON -- The Iraq war hawks urging intervention in Libya are confident that there's no way Libya could ever be another Iraq.
Of course, they never thought Iraq would be Iraq, either.
All President Barack Obama needs to do, Paul Wolfowitz asserts, is man up, arm the Libyan rebels, support setting up a no-fly zone and wait for instant democracy.
It's a cakewalk.
Didn't we arm the rebels in Afghanistan in the '80s? And didn't many become Taliban and end up turning our own weapons on us? And didn't one mujahedeen from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, go on to lead al-Qaida?
So that worked out well.
Even now, with our deficit and military groaning from two wars in Muslim countries, interventionists on the left and the right insist it's our duty to join the battle in a third Muslim country.
"It is both morally right and in America's strategic interest to enable the Libyans to fight for themselves," Mr. Wolfowitz wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.
You would think that a major architect of the disastrous wars and interminable occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq would have the good manners to shut up and take up horticulture. But the neo-con naif has no shame.
After all, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates told West Point cadets last month, "In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it."
Mr. Gates boldly batted back the Cakewalk Brigade -- which includes John McCain, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry -- bluntly telling Congress last week: "Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that's the way it starts."
Mr. Wolfowitz, Rummy's No. 2 in W.'s War Department, pushed to divert attention from Afghanistan and move on to Iraq; he pressed the canards that Saddam and Osama were linked and that we were in danger from Saddam's phantom WMDs; he promised that the Iraq invasion would end quickly and gleefully; he slapped back Gen. Eric Shinseki when he said securing Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops; and he claimed that rebuilding Iraq would be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues.
How wrong, deceptive and deadly can you be and still get to lecture Mr. Obama on his moral obligations?
Mr. Wolfowitz was driven to invade Iraq and proselytize for the Libyan rebels partly because of his guilt over how the Bush I administration coldly deserted the Shiites and Kurds who were urged to rise up against Saddam at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Saddam sent out helicopters to slaughter thousands. (A NATO no-fly zone did not stop that.)
Moammar Gadhafi is also monstrous, slaughtering civilians and hiring mercenaries to kill rebels.
It's hard to know how to proceed, but in his rush, Mr. Wolfowitz never even seems to have a good understanding of the tribal thickets he wants America to wade into. In Foreign Affairs, Frederic Wehrey notes that "for four decades Libya has been largely terra incognita ... 'like throwing darts at balloons in a dark room,' as one senior Western diplomat put it to me."
Leslie Gelb warns in The Daily Beast that no doubt some rebels are noble fighters, but some "could turn out to be thugs, thieves, and would-be new dictators. Surely, some will be Islamic extremists. One or more might turn into another Gadhafi after gaining power. Indeed, when Gadhafi led the Libyan coup in 1969, many right-thinking Westerners thought him to be a modernizing democrat."
Reformed interventionist David Rieff, who wrote the book "At the Point of a Gun," which criticizes "the messianic dream of remaking the world in either the image of American democracy or of the legal utopias of international human rights law," told me that after Iraq: "America doesn't have the credibility to make war in the Arab world. Our touch in this is actually counterproductive."
He continued: "Gadhafi is a terrible man, but I don't think it's the business of the United States to overthrow him. Those who want America to support democratic movements and insurrections by force if necessary wherever there's a chance of them succeeding are committing the United States to endless wars of altruism. And that's folly."
He quotes John Quincy Adams about America: "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy ... she is the champion and vindicator only of her own."
As for Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Rieff notes drily, "He should have stayed a mathematician."
First Published March 14, 2011 12:00 am