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Opposition to intervention in Libya is not isolationism

By Scott Tibbs, July 1, 2011

On the June 19 edition of "This Week" on ABC, John McCain whined about "isolationism" within the Republican Party, especially given objections to President Obama's military action in Libya.

First, we need to define the terms. Merriam-Webster defines isolationism as "a policy of national isolation by abstention from alliances and other international political and economic relations." Is opposition to the attack on Libya isolationist or non-interventionist?

There is a difference between being an isolationist and a non-interventionist, and McCain is more than a little dishonest to pretend the two are equal. I recognize the need for America to be engaged in the world, especially economically. I am a strong proponent of international trade. But, while I am not a pacifist, I believe military action should always be the last resort, and then only to protect national security interests. The attack on Libya fails that test.

On the national security angle, McCain said Muammar Gaddafi has American blood on his hands. This is true, and this is why Ronald Reagan bombed Libya in the 1980's. (Tragically, we failed to end Gaddafi's life.) But Libya has been contained for two decades, and the relationship between the US and Libya has improved. In 2004, the Bush administration lifted economic sanctions and restored diplomatic relations with Libya. So after two decades, why are we going back now? What makes Gaddafi a threat now, when he was not a threat just seven years ago?

Bringing up our hostilities with Libya in the mid-1980's is a shamefully dishonest attempt to distract from the real reason we are there - to prevent Gaddafi from going after his own people. If we are going to have a legitimate debate about military intervention in Libya, let's at least discuss the real reasons for it.

It is also important to uphold the rule of law. The Constitution is clear that Congress declares war, not the President, and Congress tried to take some of its Constitutionally-mandated authority back with the War Powers Act. President Barack Obama has simply ignored his legal obligations under the WPA, dishonestly claiming that our military action against Libya does not constitute "hostilities." I am surprised he can say that with a straight face.

The Hypocrite-In-Chief has also abandoned his own position. Obama said four years ago that "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Pretending that this "kinetic action" does not constitute a military attack does not erase the facts, not does it free Obama from his legal responsibilities.

If we are going to intervene, why not intervene militarily in Sudan, where genocide has been taking place for years? Why not intervene in Syria to stop the abuses of that government? For that matter, why not act militarily against China, which is well known for human rights abuses against its own people?

We simply cannot be the world's police force, nor should we be. This does not mean that we should not use other means at our disposal to pressure governments on human rights. From diplomacy to sanctions, we can advocate for human rights around the world as well as provide a good example for others to follow. But military intervention often breeds resentment, even when done on humanitarian grounds. It should be reserved for self-defense only.