Libya Reax II


I'm waiting for the president to make the case for a third war in a Muslim country, and taking sides in a civil war in a chaotic non-state. For me, the salient precedent is Somalia - a humanitarian intervention that became a nightmare. Meanwhile, a trip around the blogosphere: Jonathan Chait:

[T]he neocon model of standing up to aggression, while frequently wrong, is not always wrong. The model holds that dictators are like bullies, and if you make clear you'll stand up to them, they'll back down. ... Opponents of intervening in Libya all seemed to assume that the threat of force would automatically mean employing force. This may not turn out to be a correct assumption.

So Qaddafi will immediately give up? Who is Jon kidding? Ryan Avent:

[H]aving involved itself here, it's not clear how the mobilising powers will be able to avoid action elsewhere in the Middle East. It is also being reported today that the Yemeni government fired on protestors, killing at least 26 of them. UN action could conceivably empower other protesters in other countries to take a more vocal and aggressive line against oppressive regimes. Which could be a good thing, but only to the extent that UN members are actually prepared to intervene to prevent massacres.

Exactly. This precedent, based on pure emotionalism, begs many questions. Why do we not intervene in Bahrain, where the government is shooting protestors at pointblank range? Why are we standing by while massacres occur in the Congo? Or the current atrocities in the Ivory Coast? There is no logic here - just emotion. Larison agrees:

An arbitrary, rather odd decision to treat the Libyan civil war as the greatest political crisis in the world will create the expectation of foreign support in other internal conflicts. That is likely to encourage rebellions and civil conflict. If a group believes it can win foreign support and political concessions by provoking a sufficiently brutal crackdown, that will make it more likely to rise up against its government, which may lead to humanitarian catastrophes that the “responsibility to protect” is supposed to prevent.

Kori Schake:

Stepping back and letting others do the work certainly isn't a bold or brave moment for American foreign policy, and it will have consequences that our government has been so stingy in support of the cause of freedom. But President Obama just isn't willing to bear much freight for other peoples' freedom. The only thing worse would be him committing our military forces to a fight he has little real interest in.

Ross Douthat:

In a sense, David Frum is quite right that “to a war-weary US public, there is only one argument that will be persuasive re Libya: rapid success.” But the difficulty is that nobody has even defined what success would mean. The survival of the rebellion? Qaddafi’s ouster? Complete regime change? A democratic Libya at peace with its neighbors?

Exactly. Lets say the no-drive zone somehow halts Qaddafi's progress toward Benghazi. What then? Are we obliged to maintain the intervention indefinitely? Are we supposed to stay in the fight until the rebels win and retake Tripoli?

Peter Feaver tries to get inside Obama's head. The most hopeful possibility:

Perhaps the Obama administration has cleverly figured out a way to bring about the neoisolationist fantasy of the 1990s: making the rest of the world shoulder the load of global policeman. Many of the critiques of U.S. military intervention over the past twenty years have been critiques of U.S. involvement, not military intervention, per se. The cases in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and so on were deemed not to be in our interest. Perhaps they required military intervention, but let someone else bear the costs.  

I look forward to the Arab countries (so far totally unspecified) really contributing to the fight when the going gets tough. Ditto the French and British. Do these former imperial powers really want to establish a protectorate in Northern Africa again? Why not just get Italy involved and be done with it?  Andrew Sprung:

The closest analogy from our history in Iraq is not Bush's all-but unilateral invasion in 2003 but the Shiite uprising in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf War. ... That doesn't necessarily make the planned action in Libya less fraught with unknowns than moving against Saddam would have been in 1991 (though the scale of risk is less, since Libya has about 1/5 of Iraq's population and far less military capability than Iraq had in 1991).  But it's not the repeat-folly of 2003 that some are making it out to be, either.

Kevin Drum:

I doubt that Qaddafi has simply folded his tent in the face of a UN resolution. More likely, he's taking a breather to figure out how to continue prosecuting the war in a way that's relatively safe from air power alone. If that's the case, what's Plan B?

We'll see if there is a Plan B. But this kind of impulsive interventionism never has a Plan B. There is barely a Plan A.  Adam Serwer:

The problem is that we still don’t know very much about who the rebels are or what they ultimately want. Libya’s internal politics were opaque to the West even before the war. We don’t know how much international involvement will be required to ensure Gaddafi falls, or what level of commitment the United States, as the world’s only superpower, will ultimately be forced to make. In other words, none of the key questions looming over the crisis have been answered even though we’ve already learned the hard way in Iraq what happens when we fail to plan for the peace before we start a war. All we really know right now is that America is destined to own the outcome in Libya.

Does anyone believe for a second that Obama was elected first over Clinton and then over McCain in order to perpetuate exactly the policies McCain and Clinton support. Has Hillary ever opposed any war in the last twenty years? Tom Ricks supports intervention. Still, he asks:

[W]hat do we do when Qaddafi puts anti-aircraft batteries in mosques, orphanages and chemical weapons depots?

I welcome the fact that the world at last seems willing to exercise its so-called "duty to protect" people at risk from their own governments. The failures to do so in Rwanda and Darfur and so many other charnel houses is a blot on its conscience that will never be erased. But there is no escaping the fact that this new entanglement was decided upon behind closed doors at the UN and with very little public debate here in the United States. None of this will matter if the end comes quickly. But if things go wrong and America is drawn deeper in, the domestic consequences for the president could be far-reaching.

Philip Gourevitch:

[W]hat about American public opinion? What about Congress? Is the Security Council the only place where this should be deliberated? What about some attempt by our Commander-in-Chief to advise and seek the consent of the electorate before we march into battle overseas? What we know about these rebels is that we have a common enemy, and that they cannot fight for themselves. That is how our newest war begins. Nothing about it may ever be so clear again.

(Photo: A captured dead Libyan government fighter is brought by the rebels to the center of Benghazi, eastern Libya, Friday, March 18, 2011. A rebel spokesman said Moammar Gadhafi's forces were still shelling two cities. By Anja Niedringhaus/AP)