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More Thoughts On Libya

1. We're in it now.  Any outcome where the Gaddafi regime stays in place is an American defeat. Gaddafi will, alongside whatever he does to the Libyan people, become a symbol and inspiration for every destructive impulse in the region.

2.  I have heard no clear harmonization of means and ends by the US government.  Just today, Clinton was much clearer than Obama that the goal was ending the Gaddafi regime and that the UN resolution was one step in the process of Gaddafi losing power.  The Gaddafi regime might be so brittle and whatever element becomes dominant among the rebels might be so competent and decent (in a relative sense) that American involvement is not costly in either lives or other national resources.  It is a real possibility.  But we shouldn't assume that will be the case.  The American people should know that we are willing to do what needs to be done to achieve our (hopefully clearly articulated) objectives.  Our enemies should know that too.

3.  David Frum started the day by suggesting that we might want to downsize our commitment to Afghanistan in order to redirect resources to Libya.  So we should, in practice, abandon our effort to prevent the establishment of an al-Qaeda client state in order to intervene in Libya?  Frum later suggests that American success in Libya might be used as cover for American withdrawal from Afghanistan.  He writes, "With Saddam and Qaddafi overthrown, it may not matter so much that we were unable to build a stable government in poor and remote Afghanistan at an acceptable cost."  And if we get mired in an al-Qaeda-backed insurgency in Libya, I guess we could get out by launching a bombing campaign in Burkina Faso.  Am I taking crazy pills?

4.  And that reminds me.  The Obama administration has used far too little of its energy in making the case for the American counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan and the security stakes for the US. 

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Discussions - 8 Comments

#4 is very shameful. Total abdication of leadership.

Obama's statement yesterday (he finally spoke non-mush!) was a good one, but the problem is that his stated slaughter-preventing goal (which I support--see the thread below) could result in freezing Qadaffi's division of Libya in place. Count on him employing human shields on a massive scale against rebel advances, so as to provoke International head-scratching about how we can allow the rebels to slaughter civilians, or fly planes or drive tanks. I hope Obama is up for this trial, and at least open to certain opportunities for attacking Qadaffi's person directly, or if he doesn't have the stomach for that, at least open getting an agreement to permanently split Libya.

You can see my criticisms of Obama's leadership in the thread below, but I really have to say I LIKE seeing the French and British leadership role on this. Healthy, if the result in some ways of the weakness of our president.

Conservatives are divided on this issue, and probably trending against my position. For a powerful statement of the "Libya's fate does not concern our interest" position, see Andrew McCarthy on NRO. The basic question to keep in mind when considering his argument is what occurs if an actual Hama-style slaughter, but involving far more than the 30,000 Syria's dictator murdered back in the day, gets going. Is it any form of realism to think we can simply watch that when we could prevent it? Realism must mean considering the morals we do have, and the media-environment we and the world do live in. McCarthy's position is respectable--you will not find me DENOUNCING it as I expect many conservatives will denounce the no-fly-zone intervention--but that's my warning against it.

Pray for our leaders.

I think any result that leaves Gaddafi in place is somewhere on the failure and defeat spectrum. Clinton has been clear that the UN resolution is a step towards removing Gaddafi from power. Maybe there is a strategy there in speaking in two (somewhat) different voices.

Having the British and especially the French taking the lead could be a good thing. It is nice to see France seeming like neither an obstacle nor a junior partner. It could, among other things be an assertion of French pride that would be something to be justly proud of and might be a step towards rebalancing global security responsibilities for what is good in the present international order. James Poulos has written about this, about how it would be desirable, but also tricky and perhaps impossible.

My concerns about involvement in Libya are dominated by my sense of limits - especially limits of attention span and will to persevere when things could get difficult, costly, and complicated over a significant period of time. I want the Libya operation to succeed, but I'm not sure either our leaders or the public is ready for the long haul - if there is a long haul. So I pray.

There is reason to hope that this show of resolve will convince enough of his Tripoli forces to overthrow him.

If that doesn't's going to be very tricky, and the goal you're reporting (remove the tyrant) and the official goal (protect civilians from slaughter) are going to confuse Americans...

I hope, but the public has not been prepared for a longer and harder mission and I don't know if the President has either. Those factors more than anything else dominated my concerns about a Libya intervention. Maybe it will turn out quick and easy. Maybe Obama and the allies will show determination and skill if it turns out protracted and difficult.

To be honest, Obama has actually outperformed my (low) intitial expectations when it came to foreign policy. Maybe he won't live down to my fears here.

France has oil interests in Libya and a consequent interest in what happens when peace is restored.

Does there need to be a "long haul" this time? I hope we experiment with a rapid road to peace policy. The idea of "helping the rebels succeed" has to include allowing them to succeed to power. We are really good at waging war. I hope we become good at making a settled peace.

Kate, when it comes to the rebels, I'm willing to say we should mind our own business (or even supply some help) for a wide variety of potential regimes. In that sense, I hope there is no "long haul" for the US. But is isn't out of the realm of possibility that one outcome in Libya is either a terrorist sponsoring regime or a breakdown of state authority that allows terrorist groups to flourish. I'm not saying that is gonna happen (and I have no way judging the odds), but in that case there is a long haul for the US and we should be ready for it.

We can hope that Libyan version of George Washington was not killed in the past weeks of fighting. I think we can assume that it was not the terrorist-sponsoring types who were begging the US and Europe to come to their rescue.

Yes, I know, we all know, that there is a risk of bad government after a revolution. Given Gadhafi, could there be a government in Libya that is much worse? Maybe the French, being closer and having ties of trade, know who is safe to back. Anyway, we are not ready for any long haul over there. We were not prepared for any long haul in Iraq, either. If we had captured Saddam Hussein faster and if Muqtada al-Sadr were not such a pain in the neck, would we have had to stay?

That's what I mean by needing to find a better way to make settled peace. We end up staying everywhere we go. It's not healthy, although if we mess up leaving it is really not healthy for people in the places we leave.

Kate, we can hope but we should not count on it. You are right that we are not ready for any lon haul, but a bad enough regime (or sufficient chaos) and there we are.

I think that you could look at quite a few mistakes made by the US government in Iraq (though some of the mistakes had plausible thinking behind them at the time), though there was going to be some inevitable learning by doing. I think being in a hurry to leave and assuming thing would be easier than they turned out were a significant part ofthe problem.

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