It is a statement of the late American empire's status as a fundamental moral failure that many commentators divide the world of opinion between liberal hawks, neoconservatives, and realists. All three of these dispositions take it for granted that the United States maintains the privilege to meddle ceaselessly in the affairs of foreign countries, including killing their citizens at whatever time and with whatever means our military and intelligence services decide. The only difference is what means they endorse, what kind of conflicts they prefer, and what rhetoric they use.
For myself, I believe in the flawed but indispensable values of human liberty and democracy, and for this reason I am opposed to the world's superpower enforcing its privilege on the poor and powerless of the world. The greatest impediment to democracy and liberty in the history of the world is the power of foreign countries. That is what this country is doing openly in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, and doing more quietly in countless other countries. Please, have the courtesy to admit: if you support this intervention in Libya you are supporting the willful imposition of our preferences on the Libyan people. You are undermining their self-determination and their liberty. Perhaps, someday, the cognitive dissonance will overwhelm your ability to deny that.
Since I began writing about this, I have been buffeted with the patient yet aggrieved teachings of decent liberals who are far too certain of their own decency. They have lectured me about many things, but at the heart of it is the same dynamic: the insistence that they are so wise and so well-meaning that they are able to be stewards of the Libyan people. That such a situation is literally unimaginable to them-- that the idea that a foreign power might occupy this country and dictate terms is so foreign that it can hardly be rationally countenanced-- is a large part of why they can so glibly advocate such a course of action. For all the talk of humanitarianism (and never forget, war itself is a humanitarian crisis), lurking and stomping in the lizard brain of liberal interventionism is a failure to see those who we are "helping" as fully human. You would not forcibly choose the color of a friend's curtains; you would forcibly choose the government for millions of people you have never met. You can dress up what we are doing in any way you want but that is the reality. Perhaps this contradiction should provoke contemplation.
Many in the elite media are publicly wrestling with whether to support the war in Libya or not. At issue, for most of them, is whether or not a good outcome is achieved, and again for most of them, a good outcome is one which most flatters English-speaking Western intellectuals. That the very meaning of democracy renders their opinion irrelevant to the question of whether the outcome is desirable seems to go unconsidered. Support for democracy that extends only insofar as we support the outcomes of that democracy is a sham. Whatever the outcome of the imposition of American desires on the Libyan people through force of arms, we will have committed a moral error.
Elite opinion will eventually turn in favor of the Libyan intervention. Elite opinion creates and enforces elite consensus, and the limitless projection of American power on people who can't defend themselves has become a cherished dynamic in our power centers. Taking the Very Serious attitude to its apotheosis, many are now saying that there is literally no alternative to dictating policy to the world through the deployment of soldiers and ordnance.
I am willing to concede my critics frequent references to my piety, moralizing, etc. etc. etc.-- I don't much care. I am willing to risk it. If I am wrong, I am wrong on the side of people taking control of their own lives and of refusing to try to take control for them. I will make that gamble. In this refusal to dictate terms to the rest of the world, I am in a smaller minority than I am regarding any other issue. It has taken a long time, and it has come with a kind of horror, but I have come to realize that almost all Americans are quiet Americans.
I'm not the kind to believe in the inevitability of progress. I think Martin Luther King was wrong; I think the arc of history is long, and it bends in directions we can't possibly have perspective enough to understand. But perhaps there is reason to believe that someday more people will decide that they have had enough of enforcing their whims on people they don't know. It may be possible for all the talk of freedom and democracy to finally run aground against the reality of military projection. Until then, I will remain committed to these principles and in earnest. For me, the stakes are low; I'm just some jerk on the Internet, one who is perfectly willing to be shrill or preachy or whatever else. Meanwhile, Americans in jet planes dictate the future of Libya.