I understand the objections to Obama's Libya intervention, but those expressed by reformed neocons are also mostly those of "fighting the last war" -- a miserable, illegal, unilateral, vastly ill-advised and fundamentally corrupt war that looked nothing like this intervention; led by a miserable, unilateralist, vastly ill-advised and fundamentally corrupt president who looked nothing like Barack Obama.
Yet this morning Ross Douthat suppresses the rehabilitated urge to compare the right's bloody stupidity with Obama's measured caution. Instead, he finds almost certain doom in the history of liberal interventionism:
[T]here 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.
This finger-pointing and course-correction and "war"-consult from the right, I find insufferable. Ten years ago they assured us that history was no guide -- that we with our awesome military might could refashion the globe into virtually any desirable shape; that U.S. intervention into and occupation of a Middle East hotbed was no problem, centuries of turmoil and conflict be damned. And now they are back, keenly and acutely warning of the sorry history of liberal interventions.
They've no shame, no sense of when to withdraw from the battlefield of public debate. It is of course their lack of genuine shame that compels them to lord their superior understanding of "war" over the rest of us. But there's something else in undisturbed play here, I think. And that is, their ghastly inability to intelligently assess and effectively judge individual character -- especially that of a president.
I can think of not one human being for whom I ever caressed real intellectual respect who believed that George W. Bush was a good and decent man, an honest man, a man of sound judgment and a commander in chief sensitive to authentic national security rather than mindless whims. Not one. That belief, as far as I know, was held -- even if strained at times -- exclusively by those who were uncomprehending of valid history, too.
Well, now they've reformed when it comes to history (they say), yet their congenital inability to assess good character persists. If ever there were an absolute opposite of George Walker Bush in every characterological way, it is Barack Hussein Obama, a good, decent, honest man of sound judgment who requires no barrel of a gun to substitute for his manly shortcomings.
And that is the fundamental difference between today and ten years ago, between this intervention and that war, between one exceptionally bad president and an exceptionally good one: character, which Obama has, and Bush did not.
You see, I trust Barack Obama, so I'm willing to cut him some slack on a matter I cannot, I confess, say I'm enthusiastic about. No thinking person or scrupulous judge of character could have, would have ever trusted George W. Bush.