Monday, August 22, 2011

The new stage in the Libya War

Maybe the new stage will be called peace, democracy and improved government. Or it may be called a protracted civil war. Let's hope for the best.

Robert Dreyfuss gives an account of The Fall of Qaddafi The Nation 08/22/2011. Juan Cole, who is a careful observer and has also been an enthusiastic supporter of the NATO intervention, writes about the turn of events over the weekend in Top Ten Myths about the Libya War Informed Comment 08/22/2011.

While the fall of Qaddafi's government is certainly a dramatic event, it could be the start of a more problematic stage of US/NATO involvement in Libya's internal politics. The Afghanistan War began nearly 10 years ago, and the pariah Taliban government in Kabul fell to the US-backed Northern Alliance quickly. The 10th anniversary of the start of that war will arrive in a few weeks. There is no end to the war in sight.

The supposedly rapid success of US Special Forces and airpower enabling the Northern Alliance to take Kabul quickly boosted then-Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in his conviction that Saddam Hussein's government could be overthrow with a minimal force. The neocons had visions of the US knocking off one Middle Easter regime after another with relatively little effort. Baghdad fell, the famous statue of Saddam came down. And then the looting in Badgdad started. Rummy cackled on TV at how silly it was to worry about the chaos in the capital city. But virtually all accounts of the Iraq War now agree that the looting in Baghdad was a disastrous turning point for the occupation. American troops are still in Iraq, though they are under pressure from the pro-Iranian government that resulted from the US invasion to get out later this year. The Pentagon is trying to keep troops there indefinitely.


Air war true believers saw the Kosovo War of 1999 as proof that airpower could win wars with virtually no ground troops involved. Serbian troops were able to proceed with ethnic cleansing during the air campaign. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were able to proceed with the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo under the subsequent NATO-protected regime. NATO troops remain in Kosovo today.

US military involvement in Libya isn't over. And this apparently ill-thought-out military intervention could have unpleasant consequences, even if things go well with the new government that will initially be the current Transitional National Council (TNC). As Dreyfus writes, "So who’s in charge in Libya now? We don't know. Qaddafi wasn’t entirely wrong when he said that he was under assault by Islamists, though Islamists were probably not the main component of the opposition and the so-called Transitional National Council (TNC)."

And as he also reminds us, this government was installed with difficulty through the heavy use of NATO firepower in aggressive military operations. It's worth remembering that the UN resolution authorizing foreign intervention gave a green light to establishing a no-fly zone to impede government massacres of civilians. The US and NATO went considerably beyond that:

What does Qaddafi’s departure mean? First, what it doesn’t mean is that the United States and NATO are powerful actors in the region. It took nearly six months for the full might of NATO, bombarding every Libyan tank and armored personnel carrier that moved, decimating Qaddafi’s command-and-control system, and serving as the air wing of the fractious Libyan opposition, to clear the way to Tripoli.
Our policymakers should be restrained about making "Tripoli" into another "Kabul" and assume that this is some hot new model for regime change on the cheap.

Then there is the fact that the Qaddafi regime had cooperated with what should always be one of the very highest priorities of American foreign policy, nuclear nonproliferation:

And we can all hope and pray that the “Libyan model”—an armed opposition backed by US and NATO air power—isn’t the model for Syria or, worse, Iran. At the very least, President Assad of Syria will look at Libya and draw the appropriate conclusion, namely, that he must at all costs prevent the emergence of a Syrian "Benghazi." For Ayatollah Khamenei, the equally mentally imbalanced leader of Iran, he’ll draw parallel conclusions, one of which will be that Qaddafi was foolish to give up his nuclear weapons quest in the 2000s and trust the West, which then seized the first opportunity to impose forcible regime change. Khamenei will likely conclude the Qaddafi would still be in power if he had had nuclear weapons, and although that conclusion would be idiotically wrong — the West would long ago have invaded Libya to stop it from getting the bomb [???] — Khamenei is going to think so, anyway, making a deal between the United States and Iran far more difficult. [my emphasis]

Über-Realist Stephen Walt gives advice on Avoiding a 'Mission Accomplished' moment in Libya Foreign Policy 08/22/2011:

The danger is that we will have another "Mission Accomplished" moment, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy, NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen, President Obama, and their various pro-intervention advisors give each other a lot of high-fives, utter solemn words about having vindicated the new "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) doctrine, and then turn to some new set of problems while Libya deteriorates. And as an anonymous "senior American military officer" told the New York Times: "The leaders I've talked to do not have a clear understanding how this will all play out."

Neither do any of the rest of us. We can all hope that the worst doesn't happen and that Libya's new leaders exhibit Mandela-like wisdom and restraint. Nobody expects perfection, of course; I can live with the "I told you sos" from hawkish liberal interventionists if it all works out reasonably well. But it will be no small task to construct a workable government in Libya, given the dearth of effective institutions and the potential divisions among different social groups. And then there's all that oil revenue to divide up, which tends to bring out peoples' worse instincts.

As in Iraq, therefore, ousting a discredited dictator is likely to be the easy part, and the hard part is just beginning. Aren't you glad the United States and Europe have lots of time and money to devote to rebuilding yet another potential failed state? [my emphasis]
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