Can the Libyan No-Fly Zone Tear the G.O.P. Apart?

Bookmark and Share The recent decision by President Obama to have the United States intervene in the civil war taking place in Libya has the potential to unleash a bruising and divisive debate within the G.O.P. that may very well play itself out in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. For many Republicans, nearly a decade of simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have begun to divide the Party almost as much as they divided the nation years after they began. The question of America’s role in the world has always inspired sharp opinions. In 2000 it was Governor and presidential candidate George W. Bush who himself famously stated his desire to make sure that the United States was not in the business of nation building. But then, after 9/11, it was President George W. Bush who created a Bush Doctrine that settled on a policy of preemption.

The circumstances that surrounded Afghanistan and Iraq were unique and there was no question that the leaderless wasteland of Afghanistan was a breeding ground for the terrorist attacks that brought the United States in to a dangerous new reality. Iraq was more complicated. While Saddam Hussein did not directly have any fingerprints on 9/11, whether you want to discount it or not, evidence demonstrated indirect involvement through Hussein’s support of terrorism and the entry in and out of Iraq by known Al Qaeda operatives. Furthermore, despite the lack of a discovery of a hard discovery of WMD’s in Iraq, evidence did in fact make it clear that Saddam had used, was developing and did at least at one point have WMD’s and was willing to use them. There is even evidence that before Operation Iraqi Freedom hit the ground and after a devastating earthquake in neighboring Syria, Saddam shipped his WMD’s out of Iraq under the auspices of shipments of humanitarian aid to Syria. Imagine that..Saddam Hussein and humanitarian assistance.

But no matter where you personally stand on the merits of our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the two wars have given rise to a level of war weariness that transcends Party affiliation. Within the G.O.P. itself, many Republicans have been attracted to Congressman Ron Paul, who touts what is essentially an isolationist position that would have the United States close its eyes and place its hands over ears while yelling “Im not hearing you.” To a degree Ron Paul is right. But only to a degree. 9/11 should have proved to us that the United States cannot ignore events that take place elsewhere. Today’s world is far too small to think that a ripple someone else will not eventually find its way to our own shores. But over overreaction can be just as bad as too little action.

And that is where the debate within the Republican Party begins.

We are already beginning to see the emerging field of Republican presidential candidates go to their respective corners of the political boxing ring on the issue. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, John Bolton and Rick Santorum have jumped on the President for too much inaction in Libya. After the French took the lead in support of rebels opposing Moammar Gadaffi, Mitt Romney has attacked President Obama for relinquishing America’s leadership role in the world to the French. Romnney also recently said I support military action in Libya. I support out troops there in the mission they’ve been given. But let me also note that thus far the President has been unable to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy,” . Romne added “He [President Obama] calls for the removal of Moammar Gadaffi but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and the United Nations.”

But Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, has seemingly broken ranks with his potential Republican opponents. On the involvement of the United States in military action to create and enforce a no-fly zone over the skies of Libya, Barbour said “I think we need to be cautious about being quick on the trigger,”. But Barbour has gone even further by suggesting that we must reevaluate our commitment in Afghanistan. According to him “What is our mission? … Is that a 100,000-man army mission?”.

Barbour connects his lack of interest in military intervention to fiscal responsibility, an argument that will have plenty of legs with a national electorate that has come to realize that our national debt is itself becoming a major risk to our national security. But while Barbour is framing American military and foreign policy on economic grounds, potential candidates like Sarah Palin suggests that we have a responsibility to promote freedom and the benefits that come to all from it, when she poignantly tells “We should not be afraid of freedom.”

At the moment, most of the developing G.O.P. presidential field is content with supporting the United States involvement in the creation of a Libyan no-fly zone, and to criticize the President for both, not acting on it quicker and not having a clearly defined end goal after its creation. But as Haley Barbour shows, that view is not unanimous and as Americans become increasingly weary of deficit spending, “nation building”, and policing the world, Barbour’s unwillingness to get on the no-fly zone bandwagon may distinguish himself from a field of potential candidates whom the electorate may see as leading us into foreign entanglements that cost more than they are worth.

The debate has the potential to divide the G.O.P’s predominantly fiscal conservative base into unbridgeable factions of neo-cons and libertarian Republicans. Such a division already exists, with one side led by Ron Paul and the other largely led by the Republican establishment. But should this emotional divide grow further apart, it could mean the difference between winning and losing the presidency in 2012. Haley Barbour could be positioning himself as the catalyst for compromise that could at least temporarily unite the two sides. And such a compromise over this existing division will be necessary. And not just for the political victory of the Party, but for the strength and security of the United States.

The future of freedom and our nation relies on our nation’s ability to effect positive change in the world that we live in instead of it being effected by the negative influences of the forces opposed to freedom. But as President Benjamin Harrison said; “We Americans have no commission from God to police the world.” While those words are quite true, can we take them to the extremes that Ron Paul does? Ron Paul believes we caused 9/11 and brought it upon ourselves. Such thinking cost him more votes than it got him and it suggests that America has no role to play in defending freedom or even the allies of freedom.

But is it possible for a Republican to rise to the occasion of true leadership by carefully articulating when it is necessary for American use of force in the world?

Until such time as such a Republican rises, the debate that was largely marked by the 2008 exchange between Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani that is seen below, has the ability toput the Party asunder.

Bookmark and Share

And while we are on the topic be sure to click here and take this week’s White House 2012 which asks whether it is wise or not for a potential Republican candidate to support American involvment in the creation of a No-Fly Zone over Libya

%d bloggers like this: