What Next for Libya? Various Opinions on the Future of a U.S.-Backed Civil War


Yay? Wait--what?

After six months of protracted fighting, U.S.- and NATO-backed Libyan rebels are finally days, not weeks, away from taking Tripoli and ousting the Gaddafi clan. Now that the initial fighting appears to be over, what happens next in this choose-your-own-adventure novel? Do we stay involved for a decade or two in order to build a successful Western-style Democracy, a la Iraq Afghanistan Grenada? Do we "cut and run"? Does President Obama get to eat cake? The blogosphere has some suggestions. Let's start with the hawks! 

American Enterprise Institute uber hawk Michael Rubin writes at Commentary that the U.S. should resist "flooding" Libya with aid (in a post at AEI, he calls for the U.S. to prioritize re-capturing Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi and securing Gaddafi's papers): 

In the name of reconstruction and development, the Pentagon, State Department, and USAID flooded both Afghanistan and Iraq with money–spurring not progress, but massive corruption. Terrorism may make headlines, but corruption has a far more corrosive effect on society. Aid and assistance can actually do more harm than good.

The State Department and USAID may want to prove their relevance, but they should also do what's right: Send the diplomats back, but keep aid to a minimum. 

NRO's Stanley Kurtz is relieved, to say the least, but still angry at Obama for "leading from behind," (one of the worst things an Obama staffer has ever said about his boss, on or off the record): 

Above all, President Obama prolonged this war by his conscious decision to "lead from behind" — to assist and orchestrate NATO's efforts, but without providing the close-in air support that could have ended the conflict far sooner. In part, Obama's policy stemmed from a reluctance to see American casualties, since low-flying close-air-support planes could have been shot down. And in part, Obama was determined that Libya should stand as a precedent for multilateral interventions under United Nations auspices, fought according to U.N. rules of war, and, implicitly, subject to the authority of the International Criminal Court.

So Qaddafi has been toppled, but only after a notably weak and unnecessarily prolonged campaign. If this is what it takes for America and its allies to dislodge an unpopular dictator in open terrain, our more dangerous potential adversaries cannot be feeling much fear right now.

At the American Spectator, John R. Guardiano argues that wars in failed or failing states aren't actually "over" until those states are stable and democratic:

[T]his, in turn, requires much-derided "nation building."

Of course, no one likes to admit that. We Americans especially prefer quick, neat and tidy wars, with a clear beginning and a clear ending. The real world, though—the world that we now live in—doesn't work that way.


[H]istory has accorded the Libyan people little opportunity to develop democratic habits and mores. And that is why, I think, it is imperative that the United States act with dispatch to aid and assist the Libyan people. "Leading from behind" won't cut it; America needs to set the example and show the way.

John Glaser at (along with Salon's Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney, whose opinions Nick Gillespie noted here, and Adam Serwer of The American Prospect whose post I'll note in a second) steps way, way, way back from this weekend's news to point out that American involvement in Libya is still illegal: 

More than just a military triumph, the US-NATO also lays claims of victory over the intentions of this war. That is, regime change. The US has done it again, managing to hold out long enough for everybody to forget that this war was waged in violation of the law. The US-NATO almost immediately abandoned their stated goals of protecting civilians from Gadhafi's attacks, switching to ousting him.

(Glaser also has some thoughts on nation building, which you can read here.) 

At WaPo Adam Serwer compares premature celebrations over Gaddafi's ouster to the fetes that followed Saddam Hussein's ouster from a dirty spider hole. At The American Prospect, Serwer writes

No matter how things work out in Libya, nothing will vindicate the Obama administration's decision to ignore the advice of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Pentagon and the Attorney General that congressional approval wasn't required for war in Libya. That decision may have serious longstanding consequences when future presidents decide to push the line even farther, pursuing far riskier and more perilous military interventions relying on the precedent Obama has set. Whatever the long term consequences of intervention in Libya, Obama has made it easier for his successors to unilaterally start wars without congressional approval.

In an incredibly morose (and shouldn't we all be?) but thoughtful post, Cato's Christopher Preble raises concerns similar to Serwer's that a loosely defined victory in Libya will forever change America's criteria for when it's acceptable to war: 

What does U.S. intervention in Libya signal for the future of U.S. foreign policy? Will U.S. warplanes soon be flying over Syria? Will U.S. bombs soon be raining down on Iran? Or on any other country that has the misfortune of being ruled by an incompetent or venal government? Once, the answer was clearly no; now we just don't know.

When President Obama chose to intervene in Libya, with authorization from the UN Security Council, but not from the U.S. Congress, he violated nearly every one of the principles of the venerable Weinberger-Powell Doctrine: the war didn't advance a vital U.S. security interest, and it lacked public support, a clear military objective, and an obvious exit strategy. It will be unfortunate if the likely outcome of the war in Libya — Qaddafi's ouster — is used to repudiate the W-P doctrine once and for all. If it does, we are likely to see even more U.S. interventions, in a whole host of places that have not even the slightest connection to U.S. national security.

Writing at Counterfire, John Rees sees Gaddafi's ouster as the perfect opportunity for NATO forces to demand safe haven for Western oil companies and military bases, and that concerned citizens in the U.S., Britain, and France should all 

immediately demand that the imperial powers live up to their own propaganda: Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama all said that this operation was simply about saving civilian lives. The course of military operations proved this false. But, nevertheless, the NATO powers should now get out of Libya. Their task, by their own definition, is over. It should be left to the Libyan people to determine their future. William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, has talked of sending troops to 'keep the peace' in Libya. That should never happen: Iraq surely shows us the kind of failure that awaits any such scheme.

More Reason on Libya