Barack Obama

President Obama Wishes The Libya Intervention Had Been More Full-Throttled

Lesson learned? Hardly.

|

United Nations

President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly yesterday during the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN's headquarters in New York City. He praised his efforts at using sanctions and diplomacy to try to bring Iran into compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), acknowledged yet again the failures of the Iraq war, and rebuked Russia and China for their aggressive claims of sovereignty, over regions of Ukraine and the South China Sea respectively. 

Obama said that in Iraq the U.S. had "learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land." Unfortunately Obama didn't draw any other lessons, insisting that if the U.S. had worked with other countries "under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts" it could have succeeded. 

That line of thinking led to a breath-taking comment a little later on about the 2011 U.S.-backed intervention in Libya (remember that?). "Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant," said Obama, "our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind." Remarkably, Obama mentioned the "lesson" of Iraq before expressing this opinion, as if the imprimatur of the United Nations or the "international system" or the global establishment media would make the installation of a puppet regime in Libya something other than the installation of a puppet regime in Libya. Perhaps a puppet regime in Libya would be preferable to the democratic chaos in Libya today, but when interventionists talk about the need to "fill a vacuum" they are talking about puppet regimes even if its coded in the language of international engagement. 

As the Iraq War recedes further into memory it's harder and harder to argue that Saddam Hussein, at the very least, didn't "fill a vacuum" in Iraq now being occupied by radical extremists despite the U.S. coalition's efforts to nation build. President Obama's paradigm busting solution to the difficulty (impossibility?) of the task of Western nation-building in countries without a Western history is to "build capacity for states that are in distress before they collapse." Or nation-building before nation-building is necessary. 

You can't overstate how ridiculous this notion is. The United States has one of the healthiest, arguably, democratic societies and governments in the world, yet the president regularly demonizes the opposition party (and it's certainly not just this president). Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner largely on the promise of getting things done for the country unilaterally. Democratic governance is a messy, ugly thing that doesn't work well but, to paraphrase Churchill, works better than anything else anyone's tried.

Now insert into that chaotic process international actors, who will be demonized by some political factions to score points against other political factions. Venezuela has suffered under decades of chavismo with the fledgling opposition trying to reinvigorate Venezuela with democratic, free market norms. Yet paltry funding from U.S. sources for this opposition is used non-stop by the Venezuelan ruling class to demonize and try to delegitimize the opposition. Obama's proposal to "build capacity" in collapsing states before they collapse would play out the same way, with the well-intentioned goals being twisted by the destabilizing forces to deliver a death blow to the teetering government. 

The 2011 intervention in Libya caused a deterioration of the security situation in the North African country. Al Qaeda sprung up where there was no Al Qaeda before. Even the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now operating in Libya. And the outflow of weapons after the intervention helped fuel conflicts from Nigeria to Afghanistan. The lesson of Libya shouldn't have been that deeper interventions are necessary, just as the lesson of Iraq shouldn't have been that more "legitimate" (well-liked?) interventions are necessary.

The idea that someone like Barack Obama can succeed where someone like George W. Bush can not is a toxic byproduct of "principals over principles" politics being applied to foreign policy. It ought to be roundly rejected as idiotic thinking that will only lead to more interventions and more bloodshed and more failures and more extremist groups exerting more control over the world, all with no lessons learned and the world in constant search of a better man for the next intervention.

Advertisement

NEXT: "Is the Constitution Libertarian?" My Baxter Liberty Initiative Lecture on 10/6

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. War Crimes Not Enough! Obama Doubles Down in the War on Boogeymen!

  2. Putin will take it from here.

  3. … the president regularly demonizes the opposition party (and it’s certainly not just this president).

    Maybe, but this president really took it to a whole new level.

    1. More likely, the most recent demonizations are fresher in memory and seem worse.

      1. No, Obama is the most intentionally divisive president in my lifetime, and I am old enough to remember Nixon.

        1. Your opinion does not make it factual. I am old enough to remember JFK, and I think there are plenty of counter examples.

          1. Yeah, sure. Your opinion is not factual, either.

            1. That’s only your opinion, man.

              1. Yeah, well, your opinion about my opinion is just an opinion. So there!

    2. I’m wondering if he doesn’t expect a Republican to win the next election and is trying to pre-emptively destroy their war-boner.

      After all, history has shown us that only Democrats ever start ‘just’ wars.

  4. “You can’t understate how ridiculous this notion is.”

    You can’t overstate it either.

  5. “learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land.”

    IOW – Don’t Do Stupid Shit.

    Not exactly the Monroe Doctrine but a worthy doctrine for the 21st Century nevertheless.

    1. Came to the comments specifically to see which line your script would generate. You never disappoint.

    2. helping fund the attempted overthrow of Assad and inadvertently arming ISIS qualifies as Epic Stupid Shit

      that’s not even talking about Libya, Yemen, et al

      1. You obviously don’t understand gradation.

        “Epic” is the trillions thrown into the Iraq shit-hole.

        Inadvertently arming rebels with a few weapons to fight a murderous tyrant is SOP for the USA.

        1. YOUR BRILLIANT INSIGHT BRINGS CLARITY TO AN OTHERWISE MURKY WORLD!!! THANK YOU FOR ENLIGHTENING US PB!!!! PRAISE BE UNTO YOU!!!!!

      2. My acquaintances who used to crow about Obama’s 3D Vulcan chess in Syria are being awfully quiet about it now.

        1. They should double down on it.

          “Russia and Iran will be spending money and blood there for years more, and if we keep it up, tens of thousands of Jihadis will die. Israel, Saudis and Egypt are becoming friendlier, Hezbollah is weakening in Lebanon, and EU is destabilized by the influx of migrants and will probably fall apart on the issue. Advantage: US.”

    3. Well, no. Not if you do it stupidly, it can’t.

      I seem to recall stability being imposed by hundreds of thousands of troops and billions of dollars in other situations, though. Maybe its not only what resources you apply, but how you apply them?

      1. Actually, Iraq was pretty stabile in 2010, the Obama administration flacks were even crowing about what a great foreign policy success it was for them. Until Obama decided to just bugger off on out of there with no further plan.

          1. Isn’t it hard to see the keyboard to type with Obama’s cock stuck in your mouth?

            1. His redacted is not that big.

    4. I wondered which idiot would strike first. Better luck next time cytotoxic .

      1. Shriek has been in full OBAMA DEFENSE MODE today – see Mourning Lynx.

      2. Look, I’ll speak up for him – he lives on western-ish time, and it’s hard to comment on this early shit. Hell, I’m running late to work because I’m sick, otherwise I’d not be typing till PM links.

  6. Stand by for our resident Canadian chickenhawk to stop by.

    1. It’s not his fault that you’re to stupid and emotional to understand his pure rational genius. We should all cheer when he allows us to bask in his glory.

      1. If only I had been lucky enough to have him be the Supreme Armchair Task Force Commander those times I deployed…

        *sighs*

  7. He thinks maybe we should have intervened a little more in Benghazi?

  8. Are you saying that anarchy is the byproduct of the search for the perfect Dear Leader?

  9. “He praised his efforts at using sanctions and diplomacy to try to bring Iran into compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)”

    Since Iran now has the right to enrich its own uranium (something it had forfeited with its decade+ long violation of the NPT), I think it would be more accurate to say that Iran brought Barack Obama into compliance with Iran’s violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

    1. It’s a great deal! An awesome deal! better than any deal the BUSHPIGS could have gotten!!

  10. Do we really want our President to be grovelling in front of the UN like this?

    1. No, but this is what you get when you elect a community organizer as POTUS. He’s a professional groveler, it’s literally his chosen profession.

    2. I’m a little confused about the pearls and the swine in this situation.

    3. Anything that keeps him away from DC and his Executive Order machine is good with me.

  11. “… democratic chaos in Libya today…”

    Holy Krayp!

    The only sort of ‘democracy’ going on among the tribes, warlords, and religious fanatics is ‘votes’ cast with bullets and RPGs.

    It may be a reasonable rejection of the Powell doctrine to say ‘we have no dog in this fight’ or ‘it’s not worth the effort’ but this sort of pretending that what is going on in Libya passes for any sort of democracy is what gives many people the impression that libertarians are kooks.

    1. I think he was using the word ironically.

      1. It is possible, but I think unlikely. Especially given the tenor of the rest of the article – particularly ” Democratic governance is a messy, ugly thing that doesn’t work well but, to paraphrase Churchill, works better than anything else anyone’s tried.

        Now insert into that chaotic process international actors, who will be demonized by some political factions to score points against other political factions…”

        I think he (sort of) means it.

        At least to the extent that he is using the argument as an attempt to dodge the entire issue of whether we remain responsible for a situation largely of our own creation.

        It seems to me he lacks the confidence of his convictions; being unwilling to make the plain libertarian argument that, having made one mistake, we are under no obligation to make another.

        Dressing up might makes right as a ‘democratic’ process is kooky.

        1. Dressing up might makes right as a ‘democratic’ process is not sarcasm, it is kooky.

    2. Sarc meter re-calibration is down at bay 10.

    3. Also, this

      . Yet paltry funding from U.S. sources for this opposition is used non-stop by the Venezuelan ruling class to demonize and try to delegitimize the opposition.

      Yes, it’s preferable to give them no assistance whatsoever. That way Chavistas will have easier time marginalizing, imprisoning and killing them, which is all right and proper, but would never, ever, ever accuse them of taking US money to demonize and delegitimize them.
      Also, yes, if you pretend to be ‘realist’ about foreign policy, puppet regime in oil-rich country is preferable to any other outcome. Certainly preferable to a hostile regime in an oil-rich country. Yet I don’t think Krayewski would enjoy Obama telling Qaddafi “become a puppet and we’ll let you gun down the opposition, there are Al-Qaeda in there anyway”.

  12. Obama said that in Iraq the U.S. had “learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land.”

    And it only took him well over a decade to figure that out.

    . . . if the U.S. had worked with other countries “under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts” it could have succeeded.

    Wait, is he saying we *didn’t* do that? That we violated international norm and the principles and laws – that we fought an illegal war? That we violated the laws of war and he’ll be turning himself in to the ICC for war crimes?

    Because I’m pretty sure (no matter how horrible an idea the Iraq war was) that we *didn’t* act outside the ‘mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts’. doubly so since there were a feth ton of other countries that joined in to our little decade long killing spree.

    1. IIRC, we didn’t go to war or deploy troops or anything that would require Congressional approval with respect to Libya. The term Barry used was “Kinetic Military Action.” Totally different.

      1. Now that’s how you do sarcasm.

      2. But here he’s obviously talking about the Iraq occupation (and probably about Afghanistan also) – where we spent a huge amount of money and lives.

  13. In other words, Obama said what Obama always says: Anything good that may have happened is attributable to him and him alone; any bad outcome is always someone else’s fault.

  14. “Perhaps a puppet regime in Libya would be preferable to the democratic chaos in Libya today, but when interventionists talk about the need to “fill a vacuum” they are talking about puppet regimes even if its coded in the language of international engagement.”

    Resisting the pressure to put boots on the ground in Libya was the smartest thing Obama ever did.

    It should be noted that our allies did have plenty of boots on the ground. That was the Qataris. They went in there on the ground, and thank goodness we didn’t.

    If the Qataris left before they should have, then blame the Qataris.

  15. A few points shouldn’t be forgotten:

    1) The Libyan Revolution would have happened with or without us. Whether we wanted it or not is beside the point.

    2) Because no American troops were on the ground, unlike in Iraq, it was easy for us to leave. It’s so easy to withdraw troops–when they were never there in the first place (It would have been even better if the troops that died in the Benghazi aftermath had never been sent there).

    3) When you say, “Perhaps a puppet regime in Libya would be preferable to the democratic chaos in Libya today”, what do you mean exactly?

    Can you speak for the people of Libya? Are you making assumptions about how they feel? I’m glad we declared our independence from England even if doing so led to a bloody Civil War. Do you imagine the people of Libya would rather go back to living under Gaddafi, and if so, why? Even amid the American Civil War, I don’t think anybody ever said, “Gee, I wish we’d stayed under the thumb of George III”.

    When you suggest that a puppet regime might have been preferable, are you speaking from the standpoint of American security? If so, to what extent does the chaos in Libya threaten American security?

    And how can authoritarian puppets be preferable to the chaos after their demise–from a libertarian standpoint?

    1. Two points:

      1) Qaddafi was winning until the U.S. started bombing his bases (and denying him air superiority)

      2) The Americans did more than allow the rebels to take over; they armed people in the region, and some of the people they armed joined ISIS, and some of the people they armed lost their weapons to ISIS.

      A hands off attitude would have been far better for the U.S. from a strategic standpoint.

      1. It also makes no sense to argue from a counterfactual. We did intervene, and all subsequent decisions must accept that fact.

      2. “The Americans did more than allow the rebels to take over; they armed people in the region, and some of the people they armed joined ISIS, and some of the people they armed lost their weapons to ISIS.”

        I think we’re really talking about the Qataris again–rather than Americans.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12……html?_r=0

        http://content.time.com/time/w…..09,00.html

        That was going to happen with us or without us.

    2. I, for one, haven’t bothered considering any of those points because our involvement in there was illegal under U.S. law and the Constitution, and was the point at which I realized we Americans live in an autocratic dictatorship with an unaccountable leader who will do what he wants when he wants and our “representatives” will just bend over for him.

      1. It took till the Obama admin for you to realize that?

        I had my epiphany much earlier.

        1. Bush routinely ignored the law and the Constitution, too, and we’ve been on that trajectory for decades now. Even under Bush and Clinton, however, we went through the motions with respect to deploying troops. Not so, after Libya.

          Between that and Obama’s unilateral assassination of Americans citizens, any shred of belief in the rule of law has dissipated.

      2. Whether something is prudent is always a worthy topic, especially when we’re considering whether to authorize an act of war. How can the question be considered if we’re not asking exactly those kinds of questions.

        And, incidentally, Obama resisted seeking an authorization at the time because Congress wanted to authorize the use of ground troops. Obama thought tat such an authorization would make it harder politically not to send ground troops to invade and occupy Libya like we had Iraq.

        In other words, we might have been knee deep in Libya like we were in Iraq if he’d sought an authorization. The Republicans at the time sure as hell weren’t about to deny him an authorization on isolationist grounds. They were trying to force hint to send ground troops.

        1. autocorrect just makes us look silly.

        2. Comments like these prove that man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.

          “Obama totally had to wage an illegal war, because it prevented those mean GOP legislators from authorizing ground troops. Nevermind that, as CinC, Obama can completely ignore that authorization and wage the war however he sees fit. It might have meant he took a PR hit, dammit, so illegal war it is! And I’m OK with that! Team Blue 4-EVAH!!”

        3. You know, just cause they authorize ground troops doesn’t mean he, as CiC, has to actually go that course. You know, since it’s his decision and all.

    3. If so, to what extent does the chaos in Libya threaten American security?

      It does not, nor did Qaddafi, so there should have been no American involvement.

      1. Libya was adversely affecting Obama’s insecurities, so Gaddafi had to go.

        1. Again, the revolutionaries in Libya weren’t waiting for Obama to okay the revolution. They were going with us or without us. The French, the British, and the Qataris were going with or without us, too.

          Obama is the worst President we’ve had since World War II, but he isn’t to blame for everything bad that happens. And I’m not convinced that anything we did militarily in Libya had any consequences we wouldn’t have had anyway.

          1. Obama is certainly the least competent president since WW II, but I really don’t think he’s the worst. As crappy as things are, nothing is as bad as Viet Nam on the foreign affairs front and the the ensuing stagflation of the seventies on the domestic front, which were brought to us by Johnson and Nixon. To top things off, these two bozos created the framework of today’s regulatory regime and welfare state. Somewhat mitigating the criticism of their performance, however, is the fact that the US really did face an existential threat at the time.

            1. Yeah, but Obama had their bad examples to learn from–and he chose to double down on the stupid.

              Who’s worse, the guy that does it first, or the guy that does it again?

              1. The guy whose last name is Bush.

                /PB

      2. Let’s be honest. Most of the time since WWII that America has gone to war there really wasn’t a threat to America’s security. Of course, we decided to start defining our security as “anything that happens anywhere”. It’s the commerce clause approach.

        1. Alliances are among the most effective means of self-defense in history. I think there are things that can be done in the service of a defensive alliance that wouldn’t be acceptable otherwise. At any rate, the idea that we should only go to war when it’s in our interests to do so is not a liberating principle–it’s a limiting principle. Vietnam wasn’t in America’s interests. Iraq wasn’t in America’s interests. If we only deployed troops when it was in our interests to do so, we would have had fewer wars.

          I should say that I see Afghanistan as a war of self-defense. Whether that war was prosecuted properly and when we should pull out–those are separate questions. And regardless of how we answer those quetions, that war was justified as a war of self-defense. If government has any legitimate function at all, it is to protect our rights. We have a military to protect our rights from foreign threats. The effective government of Afghanistan collaborated with a terrorist organization that murdered thousands of American civilians. The initial invasion was justified.

          1. I agree with you on Afghanistan. We clearly had casus belli and needed to show we will defend ourselves with overwhelming force. We didn’t have a reason to stay in the vain hope that we could instill a democracy. The results were predicted at the time by anyone familiar with Russia’s invasion in the 1980s.

            Iraq, on the other hand, had done nothing to justify invasion. Even if they had “weapons of mass destruction” (ooh, how scary), they still weren’t a threat to the United States at all.

            I can’t say how I would have felt in regard to Korea and Vietnam as I was not alive when they were actually happening. I think I would have been in favor of Korea (with a declaration of war as required by the constitution) but against Vietnam, but we now know how the Vietnam conflict was sold to the American people and of course how the wars turned out which unquestionably colors our analysis.

            I was completely opposed to bombing Libya and to the current anti-ISIS attacks as there has never been a vote to approve them in Congress (leaving aside the question of whether either constitutes an actual threat to the United States, which in my view they do not). I am unquestionably opposed to the AUMF as it was completely open-ended, giving a blank check to the executive branch to deploy the military against anyone that could even tangentially be tied to the 9/11 attacks. I’m still trying to figure out how ISIS is tied to 9/11, as most of their fighters hadn’t even hit puberty when it happened.

  16. “””Alliances are among the most effective means of self-defense in history.”””

    Alliances are among the most effective means of unnecessarily getting involved in other peoples wars

    “””At any rate, the idea that we should only go to war when it’s in our interests to do so is not a liberating principle–it’s a limiting principle. “””

    We should be limiting the number of wars we are involved in.

    1. “Alliances are among the most effective means of unnecessarily getting involved in other peoples wars”

      Exactly. One only has to look at World War I to see how alliances can drag otherwise completely uninterested parties into a disaster.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.