The success of the Libyan revolution and toppling of Muammar Qaddafi has put conservative commentators in an awfully tough position. President Reagan had unsuccessfully bombed Libya in order to kill Qaddaffi, and had failed at exacting any revenge for Libya’s murder of hundreds of American civilians on Pan Am flight 103. President Bush had worked to normalize relations with Libya and claimed Qaddafi’s willingness to give up weapons programs as evidence of the Iraq invasion’s success at scaring the bad guys straight.
But Qaddafi remained a dictator and a routine violator of human rights. Conservatives say the United States has an obligation to intervene militarily to depose hostile regimes such as Qaddafi’s. But it’s awfully embarrassing for them when it turns out that it is a Democrat who does so, and at considerably lower cost than we paid in Iraq. So how did the conservative media respond on Monday?
One approach is to avoid the subject. Visitors to Townhall.com this afternoon were treated to sizable headlines about Vice President Biden’s comments on China’s one-child policy and Representative Maxine Waters’s distaste for the Tea Party, but could be forgiven for not realizing anything had happened at Libya at all. An Associated Press story relegated to a small side box was the extent of their Libya coverage.
Human Events was practically a stereotype of itself. Its first story in the site lead box asked, “How Long Will Sarah Palin Keep us in Suspense?” followed by an attack on Obama as anti–free trade, a story complaining that Obama is on vacation and an apparent attempt at humor arguing that placing hand sanitizer in the voting booth will help Republicans win next fall. The word “Libya” was nowhere to be found on the homepage.
The neoconservative Weekly Standard, which exists primarily to editorialize in favor of militarily toppling Middle Eastern regimes, became suddenly demure. They dutifully reported statements from Obama and leading Republicans on the events without offering any analysis.
Other conservative outlets took it upon themselves to finesse the fact that Barack Obama just helped overthrow a terrorism-sponsoring tyrant into their preconceived notions about foreign policy. It wasn’t easy.
On Fox News Sean Hannity cracked that the Libya operation shows that Obama “agrees with President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive” military action. This makes no sense, unless Hannity is under the bizarre false impression that the United States supported the Libyan rebels to preempt some imagined attack on the United States’s using imaginary weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise, there is no meaningful analogy to Iraq. Hannity also took multiple shots at Obama for being “on the golf course” during these events.
“So Qaddafi has been toppled, but only after a notably weak and unnecessarily prolonged campaign,” Stanley Kurtz writes in National Review. Rather than seeing our strategic objective achieved without a single American casualty as a good thing, he complains of “a reluctance to see American casualties.” Aside from lives lost and dollars spent (cost being a factor that supposed fiscal conservatives never mention when exhorting the United States to invade foreign countries), the other cost of the Iraq War we have been spared thus far in Libya is the wave of anti-Americanism stirred up by a unilateral invasion. That also disappoints Kurtz, who writes disapprovingly that “Obama was determined that Libya should stand as a precedent for multilateral interventions under United Nations auspices, fought according to UN rules of war.” Most preposterously, Kurtz claims that Obama’s success at working with allies to do what Ronald Reagan could not is evidence that our defense has gone soft. “We may have narrowly escaped the disaster of a failed intervention but Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, and other potential adversaries have taken note of the West’s weakness.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial page made the now-moot criticism that Obama took too long to get behind the insurgency. “We and many others had urged the State Department to engage with the rebels from the earliest days of the revolt, but the U.S. was slow to do so.” Compared to, say, the American Revolution victory has come pretty quickly for the Libyan rebels, but not fast enough for the keyboard commandos on Rupert Murdoch’s payroll.
With these kinds of responses to an operation’s success, it’s hard to imagine what criticisms conservatives would come up with if the Libya mission had actually failed. But they’d figure out something, because that’s what partisan hacks do.