Here is a question I would like pollsters to ask American voters about the Libya War:
Is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for?
I haven't seen any pollster ask this question. Indeed, the fact that sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a de facto military goal of the United States in Libya isn't even being clearly acknowledged yet in the U.S. media.
However, we can make an educated guess what he response might be, because a Quinnipiac University poll recently asked some questions that are closely related. Voters say 61 - 30 percent that removing Qaddafi from power is not worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for, the poll reports. They say 48 - 41 percent that the U.S. should not use military force to remove Qaddafi from power. Furthermore, 74 percent of voters are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" that the U.S. will get embroiled in a long-term military conflict in Libya.
This strongly suggests that if American voters were asked, is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for, more than 61% would say no and fewer than 30 percent would say yes. Because sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a military objective that includes removing Qaddafi and more.
Yet, with a super-majority of Americans opposed and without Congressional authorization, that is what we are doing: fighting a war to remove Qaddafi from power and send him to the Hague.
It's very likely that you wouldn't know this if your only source of information were the U.S. press, which hasn't been reporting on the divisions among US allies on what an acceptable agreement to end the war would be. But the British press is reporting it.
Middle East historian and blogger Juan Cole recently wrote a polemic against progressive U.S. critics of the new U.S. war in Libya. In his polemic, he wrote, "I hope we can have a calm and civilized discussion of the rights and wrongs here."
I strongly agree with Juan that it is important for progressive critics of U.S. foreign policy to try to have a calm and civilized discussion about the issues that have been raised by the U.S. military intervention in Libya. In general, it's important to try to have calm and civilized discussions about all issues of public policy, even when - especially when - the underlying issues are matters of life and death. The alternative is nasty polemics, and a principal effect of nasty polemics is to exclude people from discussion who don't want to engage in nasty polemics. In this way the effect of nasty polemics is anti-democratic; nasty polemics tend to demobilize people and cause them to disengage, when what we need is the opposite: more engagement and more mobilization.
In this particular case, the decision of the Obama Administration to engage the country in a new Middle East war without Congressional authorization represents a long-term threat to the U.S. peace movement, because the U.S. peace movement is engaged in a long struggle to try to influence U.S. policy in the direction of less war, and Congress is a key arena in which the peace movement tries to assert influence over U.S. policy. If you take away power from Congress to determine issues of war and peace, you substantially reduce the power of the U.S. peace movement to influence issues of war and peace. Taking away Congressional war powers is to the peace movement like taking away collective bargaining is to the labor movement: a direct threat to our ability to move our agenda on behalf of our constituents.
Surely no-one has been surprised to see Senator McCain engaged in what Defense Secretary Gates has rightly called "loose talk" about the use of U.S. military force in Libya.
But to see Senator John Kerry, the Democratic head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - the man who as a Vietnam veteran joined other anti-war veterans in asking who would be the last American to be asked to die in Vietnam - engage in such "loose talk" - that is a more painful cut.
Of course, this is the same Senator Kerry who voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in October 2002, even though such action was never authorized by the UN Security Council, and was therefore a major war crime in international law - the crime of aggression. And this is the same Senator Kerry who, as a presidential candidate in August 2004, stood by his vote for the war.
Here is a basic fact about the world that mainstream U.S. media - and politicians like John Kerry - generally find distasteful to acknowledge. The Charter of the United Nations rules out the use of military force by one UN member state against another except in two cases: self-defense against armed attack, and actions approved by the UN Security Council.
Obviously, Libya has not attacked the United States, and there is no realistic prospect that it will do so.
Therefore, because it is an act of war, in order to be legal under international law, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya must be approved by the UN Security Council. There is no way around it.
The United Nations Charter is not an obscure document that can be safely ignored when it is convenient to do so. It is the founding document of the United Nations. It is the Constitution of the world.
You can't follow U.S. print media coverage of the war in Afghanistan for any length of time without running into some variation of the following assertion:
"The Taliban Will Never Negotiate, As Long As They Think They're Winning."
No serious effort is usually made to substantiate this claim, which is asserted as if it were a self-evident truth. What you generally don't see, reading the newspapers, is a sentence that looks like this:
"The Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning, and the reason that we know this is...."
Yet, if you look back over the course of the last year, the assertion that "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning" is a very important claim. Why did the U.S. send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan last year? Because "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning." Why are we killing innocents today in Kandahar? "Because the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning."
A claim that is a key buttress of life and death decisions about people we have never met and know little about and who have no say in our decisions, and yet which has never been substantiated, is a claim that deserves sustained scrutiny.
How could it be a self-evident truth that "the Taliban will never negotiate, as long as they think they're winning?" Logically, two possibilities present themselves:
1) It is an immutable fact of human nature that no party engaged in a conflict ever negotiates as long as they think they're winning. The US never negotiates as long as it thinks it is winning; Britain never has; France never has; no guerilla army or insurgent movement ever has.
A major contribution of the "inside experts" Afghanistan Study Group report (read here ; send to your reps in Congress here), released last week to spur Washington debate towards de-escalating the war at the next fork in the road is that its very first recommendation is this:
1. Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion.
The U.S. should fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties.
Predictably, there appear to have been two principal objections so far to this proposal:
1. Oh my God. How dare you suggest that the U.S. should support a peace deal with the Afghan insurgency. You must be some kind of amoral monster.
2. Ho hum. Nothing new here. Everyone already knows this. Why do you tax our patience by stating the obvious as if it were a profound revelation? This is already Administration policy. Move along, nothing to see here.
It should go without saying that these two objections are, as a matter of logic, mutually exclusive. A real peace process leading to a new political dispensation in Afghanistan that ends the civil war could be the worst idea in human history, or it could be a commonplace that everyone already knows and is already Administration policy. But it cannot be both.
A commonly proffered argument against negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan has been: "why should the Afghan Taliban negotiate, when they think they are winning?" For many months, this argument was offered by Administration officials to explain why they would not yet pursue serious negotiations with senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban.
More recently, Administration officials are saying that they have moved significantly.
Washington is eager to make [peace negotiations with high-ranking insurgents] happen - perhaps more eager than most Americans realize. "There was a major policy shift that went completely unreported in the last three months," a senior administration official tells Newsweek..."We're going to support Afghan-led reconciliation [with the Taliban]." U.S. officials have quietly dropped the Bush administration's resistance to talks with senior Taliban and are doing whatever they can to help Karzai open talks with the insurgents, although they still say any Taliban willing to negotiate must renounce violence, reject Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan Constitution. (Some observers predict that those preconditions may eventually be fudged into goals.)
The Administration's shift - if real - is tremendously good news for ending the war. But even if this accurately reflects the intentions of the Administration, the arguments made earlier against serious negotiations are still politically powerful, in part because the Administration made them, and will likely be thrown back in the Administration's face by some of its Republican critics if efforts at a negotiated settlement begin to bear fruit. Therefore, these arguments still need to be countered, even if the Administration is no longer making them.