Is the U.S. Really Responsible for Post-War Libya?

A troubling consensus is emerging that the West must take responsibility for the transition in Tripoli

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While the West celebrates the "fall" of Tripoli to the rebel Libyan forces, it's important not to get too carried away in the grandiloquent utopianism that has marked much of the push for the war. There is a real danger of the endorphin rush of toppling a dictator as hated as Gaddhafi continuing long past his downfall, leading to poor judgment about the future.

What strikes me the most about the war in Libya is how profoundly unimaginative it has been. Even while NATO smarts from its bitter experience meddling in one civil war in Afghanistan, several of its largest member states pushed for immediate involvement in another one in Libya. As the American policy community wrestles with how to responsibly reduce or eliminate its military presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan, a substantial portion of it insisted on moral necessity of engaging in Libya.

Even today, as the various think tanks, policy groups, and planning committees put their heads together to figure out what to do next, there seems to be some emerging consensus that "we," that is the West, must somehow take over responsibility for what will come next.

While this may surprise many of those, in particular on the left, who trumpeted this intervention as a triumph of do-gooder liberal interventionism, it should be entirely predictable. This was a war that was sold to the American people six months ago by promising our involvement would only last days, not weeks. It was a war widely advertised as a new way of multilateral intervention, where even the Arab League stands in unity with the UN and NATO to oust an abusive thug, yet it still fell largely upon the United States and the largest few European states to actually get anything done.

Because the U.S. in particular, but also many European countries (especially Italy) never really planned for this war as a long-term feature of Mediterranean security, it has been waged in a very ad hoc manner, without a good sense of a political strategy for winning it, or for securing the peace once the Gaddhafi regime fell. Just last night, I discussed this problem with Daniel Serwer of SAIS for Bloggingheads. Here's the video:

This lack of planning is galling, considering the inevitability of what will come next: if we are really honest with ourselves, we should admit that the rebels, the Transitional National Council (TNC) in particular, will likely be unable to write and ratify a proper constitution. As Daniel noted in our dialog above, there may be a huge problem enforcing any semblance of "law and order" (however defined, assuming anyone is willing to chip in the police officers needed to do so), which is absolutely vital for a proper democratic process to take place.

Libya has been devastated not just by the last six months of war, but by decades of unjustifiable misrule by Gaddhafi and his regime. The International Community is already coalescing around this idea that they "own" Libya in some way, or at least the aftermath of the fighting. And what does the International Community do when it feels a sense of ownership over a crisis? It sends in the aid workers. The governance consultants. The security firms to secure them. The fleets of white Toyota Land Cruisers with blacked out windows, trailed by black Chevy Suburbans sunk low on their suspension from all the armor, stuffed full of heavily-armed foreigners holding hair triggers to keep their principles -- those development consultants -- alive.

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Joshua Foust is a fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from He is also a member of the Young Atlanticist Working Group. More

Joshua's research focuses on the role of market-oriented development strategies in post-conflict environments, and on the development of metrics in understanding national security policy. He has written on strategic design for humanitarian interventions, decision-making in counterinsurgency, and the intelligence community's place in the national security discussion. Previous to joining ASP, Joshua worked for the U.S. intelligence community, where he focused on studying the non-militant socio-cultural environment in Afghanistan at the U.S. Army Human Terrain System, then the socio-cultural dynamics of irregular warfare movements at the National Ground Intelligence Center, and later on political violence in Yemen for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Joshua is a columnist for PBS Need to Know, and blogs about Central and South Asia at the influential blog A frequent commentator for American and global media, Joshua appears regularly on BBC World, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua is also a regular contributor to Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor.


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