On U.S. Military Policy–McCain is No Reaganite

I wanted to call attention to an article I caught on “RollCall” the other day.  And it’s about McCain’s recent comments about the evil “isolationists” (in this case…a pretty decent portion of the American electorate apparently) daring to question military intervention in Libya:

“I wonder what Ronald Reagan would be saying today?” asked McCain, challenging what he termed the “isolationism” of leading members of the GOP for daring to question Obama’s Libya engagement.

McCain then went on to answer his own question:

“He would be saying that’s not the Republican Party of the 20th century and now the 21st century. That is not the Republican Party that has been willing to stand up for freedom for people all over the world, whether it be in Grenada, that Ronald Reagan had a quick operation about, or whether it be in our enduring commitment to countering the Soviet Union.”

Pascoe then goes on to explain that McCain’s assertion has little no connection to reality, at least the reality that Ronald Reagan considered thoughtful military policy. To illustrate this, he pulls a quote from Reagan’s book, “An American Life”:

What would Reagan do?

Our experience in Lebanon led to the adoption by the administration of a set of principles to guide America in the application of military force abroad, and I would recommend it to future Presidents,” Reagan wrote. “The policy we adopted included these principles:

1. The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.

2. If the decision is made to commit our forces to combat abroad, it must be done with the clear intent and support needed to win. It should not be a halfway or tentative commitment, and there must be clearly defined and realistic objectives.

3. Before we commit our troops to combat, there must be reasonable assurance that the cause we are fighting for and the actions we take will have the support of the American people and Congress.

4. Even after all these other tests are met, our troops should be committed to combat abroad only as a last resort, when no other choice is available.

It’s clear to me that the mission in Libya fails in virtually every way on ALL of these counts:

  1. We have heard no argument–from anyone, least of all the administration–on why it is in our national interest to be in Libya.
  2. It’s apparent the Obama administration has absolutely no clue the importance of point number two, which is one point where McCain is always pretty good on–regardless of who is President–and it’s probably the thing that gets him the most riled up on news shows on the topic (“why won’t these Libertarians let us WIN?!?”).
  3. Congress? Who’s that? Really? He’s supposed to ask Congress.  Don’t think the Obama Administration got that memo.  Say what you want about Bush and Iraq; he at least got a resolution from Congress on the topic.
  4. Well…the funny thing about this one is that it’s inexorably intertwined with number one.  In order for something to be the “last resort” it must mean that one is “resorting” to accomplish something or solve something that desperately needs to be solved, in the resorter’s best interest.  Saying that military intervention in Libya was our “last resort” is almost like saying that as a “last resort”, I had to go twenty miles deep in the woods and shoot someone in the head who was beating their wife.  Maybe if it was someone I knew and loved (an “ally”), that would be possible, or someone that I knew was plotting to beat MY wife…or my friend’s wife.  But what were the other “resorts” that the Obama Administration went through?

The long and short of it is, everyone knows that I consider it one of my favorite past-times to beat up on Paulistinians who say we should “bring them all home” and take care of ourselves…that we should use “friendship and democracy” as the signature feature of American foreign policy, not military strength.  There are a myriad of responses to this.  Responses like, “OK, which countries should we remove our bases from? The ones who DO want us to stay…or the ones that don’t?  What about the ones that DO that are RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the ones that DON’T?” “If the whole globe goes to H.E.DoubleHockeySticks in a breadbasket, who are we going to trade with? If that doesn’t matter, then how is that not isolationist?” ETC ETC.

I think the above criteria from Reagan is a good starting point for the conversation on the topic, and leaves us with the overarching question:

What is our “National Interest”?

That’s a whole conversation for another day, but I think it’s clear that “standing up for freedom” is just not enough all by itself.  It wasn’t for Reagan, and it’s not for us.

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