Jonah Goldberg

Suddenly and sadly, the Libyan war may be one of the most consequential adventures in recent American history.

Libya's not important because it is vital to our national security. Nor is it a particularly significant country. It's important solely because the Washington establishment, led by President Obama, made it important.

If you set out to take Vienna, Napoleon advised, take Vienna. Similarly, if you invest America's and NATO's prestige in an obstreperous North African backwater, you'd better recoup a worthwhile return on that investment.

If Muammar Gadhafi is left in power, he will pick up where he left off and finish the slaughter we said we started this war to prevent, and he'll likely return to his international terrorist ways.

The spectacle of a U.S.-NATO humiliation will echo around the region and the world. Other tyrants -- like Syria's Bashar Assad, already busy slaughtering his people -- will reasonably conclude that the West's bark is worse than its bite.

And then there are our friends. If America pulls out without something like real victory (i.e., Gadhafi in a bag), NATO could be dealt a mortal blow. Our allies, who've spent the last decade fighting alongside us in Afghanistan and Iraq, will wonder if America's resolve will always melt so quickly when she's not giving the orders.

But staying the course is not so attractive either. Obama insists that the War Powers Act doesn't apply to Libya because the bombing campaign and drone attacks don't rise to the level of "hostilities." No one really believes this nonsense. And so Obama has managed to do what no Republican president ever could: destroy the War Powers Act.

In and of itself that might be a good thing, given that the act, which curtails the commander in chief's power, is a constitutional affront. But nothing in this partisan atmosphere happens in isolation. In a riot of irresponsibility and hypocrisy, Republicans are racing to embrace a law they've long reviled just so they can, accurately, charge Obama with irresponsibility and hypocrisy.

This climate of dysfunction has Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wagging their fingers at their own party for succumbing to "isolationism." Graham says Congress should "shut up" about Libya.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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