It’s easy to mock Michele Bachmann’s position on Libya because in greater context she has opposed every element of the Arab Spring. She is clearly wetting her pants at the prospect that average Arab citizens will have some actual say in the policies of their governments. She has explicitly said that America was better off when we could control Arab countries by cozying up to repressive dictators. She reminds me of a hard-line Soviet watching the breakup of the Eastern Bloc.
Yet, we ought to be a little more humble. I am seeing a lot the same attitude on the left that I saw on the right after we invaded Iraq and toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein. Anyone who questioned the wisdom of the war was laughed out of town. “Are you saying we were better off with Saddam in power?” they asked. “Look at how few casualties we had,” they boasted. “The Iraqi people have been liberated,” they predicted.
No one talks about the initial stages of the Iraq war anymore. Everything that matters happened after Hussein was driven out of power.
What’s disturbing about Bachmann’s position is that she opposes our intervention in Libya for all the wrong reasons. She opposes democracy in Arab countries because she doesn’t like Arab public opinion. She doesn’t care about Libyans. Her opposition isn’t based in any humanitarian concern about the risks of creating a power vacuum in a highly tribal oil-rich state with no democratic institutions or history. She isn’t concerned about our responsibility for flooding the country with weapons that are now in the hands of militias that do not answer to any central authority.
She’s predictably wrong about everything. But it’s way too early to be mocking people who thought the U.S. should stay out of the Libyan uprising. And if Libya turns out a lot better than Iraq did, part of the reason why will be that the president was smart about limiting our risks and responsibilities.