Searching for 'monsters to destroy' in Libya

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Opinion Zone,Neil Hrab

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

--John Quincy Adams, July 4, 1821

Wherever you are now, John Quincy Adams, you’ve got to be shaking your head at the news that the US and its allies have rushed into just the sort of foreign adventure you warned against.

The elected leaders of the US, France, Canada, the UK, Denmark, etc. are determined to go to Libya, “in search of monsters to destroy." 

They are searching for other things, too.

Some are searching for photo opportunities around conference tables with other leaders, to look resolute in front of the public, ahead of their re-election campaigns.

Some are searching for the chance to brag and strut around at home about helping bring down Colonel Gadhafi – must be a few votes in that. (Never mind that we don’t know if he’ll end up being replaced by someone worse.)

Some are searching for a way to distract domestic audiences from nagging political scandals. What better way than a “splendid little war” against an odious regime.

And some, if they spoke their minds, will search in the Libyan desert for the right to intervene militarily elsewhere in the world – perhaps in Sudan, one day; perhaps Zimbabwe; perhaps even Iran. Libya is a test case for their new foreign policy doctrine.

Let me expand on this point:

A war in Libya will be a useful precedent for all those pundits, activists and policymakers who have loudly talked for years about sanctioning military intervention through the idea of foreign governments having a “responsibility to protect” civilian populations under threat.

Entire battalions of “analysts” at various foreign policy “think-tanks” have long waited for a conflict like the one about to unfold in Libya, hoping to use it to legitimize more frequent use of military force in international relations. 

They may yet get their wish.

John Quincy Adams anticipated this school of thought in 1821. He warned against the US constantly searching abroad for “monsters to destroy.” He predicted that the young Republic would lose its attachment to liberty in the process.

Heed John Quincy Adams’ words from 1821, Mr. President, before you join the “responsibility to protect” crusade:

[America’s] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace.

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