I can’t really disagree with the substance of Ross Douthat’s argument. There are pros and cons to conducting a military intervention in the way that President Obama has chosen to conduct the operations in Libya. I think we all know the upside of getting the approval of the United Nations Security Council, the initial blessing of the Arab League, significant Arab participation, and letting the European powers take on a lead role. But the downside is also substantial.

But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.

Aeschylus said, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” That, too, can become a problem when we choose to pay lip service to the limitations coalition-building places on rhetoric. The one thing everyone could agree about is that Gaddafi should not be allowed to keep his promise to hunt people down in their closets and show them no mercy. And, so, that is really all the United Nations approved. The actions needed to provide permanent security to the rebels of Libya are not formally approved, and no consensus exists for taking those actions. Gaddafi must be removed from power or we’ll be stuck in Libya protecting the rebels in much the same way we found ourselves stuck in Iraq for over a decade protecting the Kurds.

We’re not supposed to have any military personnel of any kind on the ground in Libya, but we have no intention of keeping that promise. We need spotters on the ground for our air strikes. And we need people to deliver arms to the rebels and teach them how to use and maintain them. The result is that we do one thing while pretending to do another. This kind of hypocrisy used to bother me a lot more when I was younger and more idealistic. I don’t worry too much about it anymore. I would rather we go get Gaddafi and remove him from power than that we get bogged down in a protracted civil war because we’re afraid to violate the letter of the law.

But it still grates on my respect for integrity when I see stuff like this:

White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor told Politico that the U.S. mission was to protect Libyan civilians from violence — not to guarantee a change in leadership.<p.

"We still believe that Qaddafi has lost his legitimacy to lead and must go," he said. "However, the goal of this resolution is not regime change. Rather, it authorizes the use of force with an explicit commitment to pursue all necessary measures to stop the killing. These two things aren't contradictory."

No one was shy about saying that Gaddafi must go before the military hostilities started but now it has to be qualified with weasel-words. I understand the necessity for bullshit in war, but the worst thing possible would be if our leadership actually acted on those principles. If we refuse to take the actions needed to take Gaddafi out quickly and instead rely on a slow build-up of rebel forces, while pretending that we don’t have troops of any kind in Libya, then we will create an unholy mess. Gaddafi not only needs to leave office, he needs to do so very quickly. We gain nothing by sacrificing efficiency and speed when we aren’t going to abide by the letter of the law in the UNSC resolution anyway.

If that is how we conduct this war, then we will deserve the criticism leveled at us from the right.

I may have a hard heart, but I wouldn’t have treated the situation in Libya much differently than how we treated last year’s events in Kyrgyzstan or the 2005 disturbances in Uzbekistan, or the ongoing repression in Myanmar and Iran. We do not intervene everytime a government attacks its own citizens or denies them their civil rights. But, that’s not the choice that was made here. And now that we are committed, we need to act decisively, with alacrity, and with a single-minded focus on our national interests. We cannot become involved in any stalemate. I don’t care what we say officially. But we can’t let the requirements of coalition-building interfere with the job we need to get done.

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