Friday, June 24, 2011

Conservatives and Liberals Overlap on Libya

Democrats and Republicans have sharply divergent views about most political issues today. The proper role of government and how expansive a welfare state there should be are but two examples. Foreign policy though has turned out to be an exception to this rule in recent weeks.

That much has been evident in the debate over American intervention in Libya. Republicans led by John Boehner have been openly skeptical about American involvement. Of course, Republicans are the party that supported the invasion of Iraq wholeheartedly, at least partly on the rationale that Saddam Hussein was a vicious tyrant who needed to be removed to free the oppressed people of Iraq. Interestingly, Boehner has been joined by several Democrats in his criticism of the administration’s involvement in Libya.

Unlike domestic policy, there is not a clear liberal or conservative answer in many foreign policy issues. Take the idea of nation-building in Afghanistan. A hawkish conservative might support it on the grounds that a democratic, prosperous Afghanistan will be an ally in the war on terrorism and in the region. Since this conservative wants to project American influence, nation-building might make sense as an investment. A liberal could support nation-building too on a humanitarian basis to uplift previously oppressed people. Of course, a mix of both motives could cause the liberal and the conservative to support the nation-building effort.

Conservatives have traditionally opposed social engineering, at least in their rhetoric. They also do not want the government doing things that people should (in their view do for themselves). It would be perfectly understandable for small government conservatives to oppose taking on a costly nation-building effort in another country. Liberals have traditionally been wary of imperialism or assuming that western nations have a right to impose their beliefs or value systems on other countries. That could easily explain a liberal’s unease with nation-building.

This all has the potential to leave us confused. What is the liberal answer to the problems in Libya? What is the conservative one?


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