Forget History (Or Not)


Lawrence Kaplan, the co-author with Bill Kristol, of a spectacularly ill-informed book, The War Over Iraq, insists we try not to analogize the imminent war on the Libyan regime with any past precedents of war against a Muslim country. Well, I'm not. I'm analogizing it to present wars which still grind on in both Iraq and Afghanistan and both of which have spectacularly failed by any reasonable cost-benefit analysis and certainly on the grounds that Kaplan made back in 2003.

Then he cites three no-fly zone experiments, two in Iraq and one in Bosnia, two of which he acknowledges failed. So some history is to be forgotten - everything since 2003 and two failed no-fly zones - but some is to be remembered (the one success in Kurdistan). Hence presumably this parenthesis:

(Deceptive as they mean to be, some historical analogies do hold more explanatory power than others.)

Well, yes. Iraq and Libya are very different countries in very different periods. But the fundamental issues for using the US military to launch a war on either country are the same: What is the exit plan? Who are we actually supporting? How does a no-fly zone work without troops on the ground? Who would be involved in the coalition? How much could this cost? What could be the unintended consequences?

None of these questions is answered in the piece. Nor were they answered by Kaplan before the Iraq war (among Kaplan's confident assertions in 2003 was that there was no serious sectarianism in the country any more). In fact, Kaplan/Kristol mocked those asking the salient questions in the 2003 book. Money quote:

Predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are even more questionable than they were in the case of Afghanistan... Unlike the Taliban, Saddam has little support among any ethnic group, Sunnis included, and the Iraqi opposition is itself a multi-ethnic force... [T]he executive director of the Iraq Foundation, Rend Rahim Francke, says, "we will not have a civil war in Iraq. This is contrary to Iraqi history, and Iraq has not had a history of communal conflict as there has been in the Balkans or in Afghanistan..."

A scholar that mis-informed now lectures us on Libya - and the Obama administration (which would not exist if Obama had backed the Iraq war) follows suit.

Kaplan cites widespread European support for intervening, to which the obvious reply is: let the French and British and Italians organize the Arab League to institute a no-fly zone. Let them pay for it themselves, and be prepared to tackle the entire set of consequences. If Sarko wants his Dubya moment, let him have one. And let's see how the Arab world in the long run views such action by colonial powers.

The US is broke, its military over-extended, in two ill-conceived wars that are still being waged at a staggering human and financial cost. Maybe we should ask Lawrence one simple question: what would you cut from the budget to afford such an open-ended military endeavor? If you cannot answer that one, you really have learned nothing from the disasters - fiscal and military - of the last decade.

More on the war we have just been told is happening here, here and here.

(Photo: Libyan rebels battle government troops as smoke from a damaged oil facility darkens the frontline sky on March 11, 2011 in Ras Lanuf, Libya. By John Moore/Getty.)