It’s easy to snipe at Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and George Will does a great job of this in a recent column. Will bristles at McCain’s and Graham’s charge that Republicans who eschew military intervention abroad are “isolationists.”
“This is less a thought than a flight from thinking, which involves making sensible distinctions,” Will declares.
I agree that McCain and Graham are often less than compelling advocates for a robust and assertive US foreign policy. And simply calling someone an “isolationist,” as they are wont to do, is a poor substitute for serious thought and analysis.
Still, McCain and Graham are right and Will is wrong: The United States must take an active interest in what transpires beyond our shores, and act militarily when and where we can to defeat our enemies and promote liberty. And we must do this not because we are vaingloriously “in search of monsters to destroy,” as John Quincy Adams famously put it.
Instead, America must promote liberty militarily when and where we can because we live in an increasingly close and interdependent world where time, distance and geography provide less and less protection.
Certainly, that ought to be a key lesson of September 11, 2001: Terrorists living in caves thousands of miles away can and did plan and execute a devastating attack on our homeland. So we best act swiftly and preemptively to stop them, as well as the countries and cultures that give rise to these sworn enemies of America.
Our intervention in Libya, then — which Will opposes — is best seen as part and parcel of this larger-scale effort. It is best understood as one battle in a larger-scale, long-term war (and I mean war in both its literal and metaphorical sense) to transform the Middle East and North Africa along more peaceable and democratic lines.
Libya, then, is a target of opportunity that emerged unexpectedly, and which a smart and wise America would rightly seize upon. The uprising there offers us the opportunity to rid the world of one of the most menacing anti-American dictators and terrorist sponsors, Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi.
Indeed, as Paul Wolfowitz explains in the Wall Street Journal,
The US has a large stake in the outcome in Libya. Not because of its oil production but because of the dangerous nature of the Gadhafi regime—made far more dangerous by the current conflict—and because of the effect that Libya can have on the rest of the Arab world at a critical time in history…
Gadhafi’s fall would provide inspiration for the opposition in Syria and perhaps even Iran, whereas his survival would embolden the regimes in power there to cling on. The sooner Gadhafi goes, the greater the impact will be.
In Libya itself, the U.S. might gain a much-needed friend in the Arab world. A British diplomat in Benghazi, the unofficial temporary capital of free Libya, has said that it is the first time during his many years in the Arab world that he has seen American flags displayed in appreciation.
Even in Tripoli, still under Gadhafi’s control, people go to the rooftops to whistle in celebration during NATO bombing raids. After a visit to Benghazi last month, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman wrote:
“Imagine walking in the main square of a teeming Arab city and having people wave the American flag, clamor for photographs with a visiting American official, and celebrate the United States as both savior and model.”
Appreciation for the United States in the Arab world is something to be welcomed at any time, but particularly now when demands for freedom are sweeping across the Middle East. Yet here in the United States, there seems to be little appreciation for this or for the brave Libyans who are fighting for their freedom with such courage.
So yes, criticize McCain and Graham for lacking the explanatory power of Paul Wolfowitz and other advocates of the “freedom agenda.” But don’t criticize that agenda itself, because it is wise, prescient and necessary — and needed now more than ever.