January 24, 2013

Rand Paul Is Not a Conspiracy Theorist

Hayes Brown thinks Senator Rand Paul is indulging in conspiracy theory mongering because he asked Secretary Clinton about the possibility that the U.S. used its consulate in Libya to funnel weapons into Turkey and eventually Syria:

Paul’s inquiry about Turkey seems less odd if you’re familiar with Glenn Beck-inspired conspiracy theories that have been circulating among right-wing websites since the attacks in Libya.

The theory goes that Ambassador Chris Stevens — who was killed during the attack — was deeply involved in the CIA project of gathering loose arms in Libya in the aftermath of Moammar Qaddafi’s downfall. Stevens then facilitated the movement of those arms from Libya to Turkey, where they then went on to Syria. The secrecy involved in moving those weapons under the table is part of why the Obama administration covered up the truth of the attack, according to the theory, which even Fox News has helped spread.

The Obama administration has repeatedly said that it will not be providing arms to the rebels in Syria, which this theory claims to counter. While the CIA was involved with helping round up the loose arms that were rampant in Libya, there is no evidence that Stevens or the State Department was involved in the operation, nor that the arms were then shipped to Syria.

Look, I do not traffic in "Glenn Beck-inspired conspiracy theories" but this dismissal is just a wee bit threadbare. Is it a self-evidently crackpot idea that the U.S. government would secretly funnel weapons to insurgents in other parts of the world? Um, no. It was a fairly standard American practice throughout the Cold War. In fact, the Obama administration is arming multiple "allies" in both Africa and the Middle East as we speak. It is "coordinating" with Gulf state allies to provide arms to Syria's rebels in their quest to overthrow the Assad regime. Is it really that much of a stretch to think that the U.S. is quietly getting arms to the Syrian rebels directly as well?

The only evidence Hayes musters to dispute the theory is that the Obama administration said it isn't. And we all know that no U.S. administration would lie about this kind of thing.

Seriously, I have no idea what happened in Benghazi any more than Hayes does. I'm not very interested in what the administration's talking points were, or should have been. But if the U.S. was using Libya to smuggle weapons into Syria, it's something the American people should know about.

January 23, 2013

Pushing Back on the Mali Blowback Meme


Anthropologist Bruce Whitehouse dismisses the idea that the overthrow of Gaddafi or U.S. military training led to the chaos in Mali:

This would make sense if most of the US-trained officers in Mali’s armed forces had defected to the rebels. But that’s not the case: Pentagon-sponsored training was provided to a broad cross-section of officers and NCOs in the Malian military, of which the defectors (most of them Tuareg) made up a minority. US-trained personnel fought on both sides of the conflict: at best the effects of their training were canceled out, at worst they were negligible. The problem with the US military’s training program wasn’t that it benefited the wrong people, it’s that it didn’t work. Following exercises in 2009, detailed in Wikileaks, even one of the Malian army’s most elite units got poor evaluations despite lengthy collaboration with US trainers. Whatever “advantage” such collaboration may have provided, it was the last thing the Tuareg — experienced desert fighters — needed to defeat Malian government forces.

Whitehouse also clarifies the nature of the conflict:

Moreover, I’m not sure how accurate it is to call the forces fighting against the French “Malian rebels” or to describe the conflict as a “civil war“–the command structures of AQIM and MOJWA in particular are dominated by Algerians and Mauritanians. Malians widely perceive these groups as foreign invaders, motivated by racism and greed as well as a perverted, even ignorant view of their faith.

We cannot say that the war in Mali is primarily about natural resources, Western meddling, or religion. We can say, however, that it is a direct consequence of state failure, which as I have argued elsewhere came about largely due to factors internal to Mali.

Via: Sullivan.

(AP Photo)

January 15, 2013

Mali Makes the Case for Non-Interventionists


There's been a lot of nonsense talk of late about a potential American "retreat" from the world -- a return to the dreaded "isolationism" of the 1930s. In reality, most of those making the case for a more restrained foreign policy don't want a worldwide "retreat" but simply less meddling in countries whose dynamics the West doesn't understand and can't direct.

Fortunately (or rather, unfortunately) the Western war in Mali is serving as Exhibit A for the non-interventionist case. First, the New York Times' Adam Nossiter explains how the Mali rebellion benefited from the fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya:

Well, when Gadhafi fell, his extensive arsenals in the south of Libya were left totally unguarded, unprotected by the Western forces that brought him down. Gadhafi had fighting for him a number of ethnic nomad fighters from Mali, the Tuaregs. And so when Gadhafi fell, these Tuaregs returned to Mali, where their group had been conducting a rebellion for almost 60 years against the Malian state.

They took with them a lot of the weapons that were in Gadhafi's arsenal. So for the first time in their long history of rebellion against Mali, they were properly armed and equipped thanks to Moammar Gadhafi. And it was those weapons that allowed these nomadic rebels to crush the Malian army in January, February and March of 2012.

Al-Qaida was already installed in the desert and they made a sort of tactical alliance with these nomadic rebels. But the al-Qaida forces, being tougher, took the upper hand, and so now they're the ones in control.

Now, the rebellion in Mali had raged long before the Western intervention in Libya and even without Western help, the forces battling Gaddafi may have prevailed -- or may have provoked enough disorder and lawlessness that these weapons could have slipped from Libya into Mali. Still, the Western intervention clearly accelerated the disintegration of the Gaddafi regime and poured jet-fuel on the fires simmering in Mali. And that has now led to... another intervention.

And it gets worse:

But as insurgents swept through the desert last year, commanders of this nation’s elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials.

“It was a disaster,” said one of several senior Malian officers to confirm the defections.

Then an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against. [Emphasis added.]

It bears repeating that Mali's rebels would be fighting with or without American interference and the rebellion against Gaddafi may have resulted in the eventual collapse of his regime and a southern flood of weapons. But what is unmistakably clear is that American (and Western) efforts have not only failed to improve things, they've likely made the situation considerably worse. Will Congress question the Obama administration over this?

(AP Photo)

November 12, 2012

Obama's Light Footprint Strategy

Would Jackson Diehl have preferred to land 130,000 U.S. troops inside Libya? That seems to be the upshot of his column today:

But ultimately the disaster in Libya derived from Obama’s doctrine. Having been reluctantly dragged by France and Britain into intervening in Libya’s revolution, Obama withdrew U.S. planes from the fight as quickly as possible; when the war ended, the White House insisted that no U.S. forces stay behind. Requests by Libya’s fragile transition government for NATO’s security assistance were answered with an ill-conceived and ultimately failed program to train a few people in Jordan.

A new report by the Rand Corporation concludes that “this lighter-footprint approach has made Libya a test case for a new post-Iraq and Afghanistan model of nation-building.” But the result is that, a year after the death of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Libya is policed by what amounts to a mess of militias. Its newly elected government has little authority over most of the country’s armed men — much less the capacity to take on the jidhadist forces gathering in and around Benghazi.

The Rand study concludes that stabilizing Libya will require disarming and demobilizing the militias and rebuilding the security forces “from the bottom up.” This, it says, probably can’t happen without help from “those countries that participated in the military intervention” — i.e. the United States, Britain and France. Can the Obama administration duplicate the security-force-building done in Iraq and Afghanistan in Libya while sticking to the light footprint? It’s hard to see how.

It's worth noting that both Iraq and Afghanistan are far from stable success stories. If Diehl is moved to call Obama's Libya campaign a "disaster" because four Americans were killed by terrorists, he needs to examine how many Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of U.S. policies there.

Even if the U.S. and Western allies were to dump 130,000 personnel into Libya for security-force training and stability operations, there's no guarantee of success. Instead, what would almost certainly happen instead is that a large number of foreign forces offering to "assist" Libya would provoke an indigenous insurgency - just as it did in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Is this what Diehl wants?

The only sensible conclusion to be drawn from this is that the U.S. should have stayed out of Libya in the first place and should keep its current failures in mind when debating forward-looking policy in Syria. It's true that the "light footprint" approach employed by the administration cannot bring stability to these countries, but the "large footprint" approach is too expensive and dangerous. The sensible conclusion to be drawn from this, then, is that the U.S. needs a "no footprint" approach unless absolutely vital interests are implicated.

October 31, 2012

When It Comes to Western Military Interventions, Light Footprints Don't Work

That's the upshot of a new RAND report on Libya (PDF), as Jason Fritz explains:

Light- to no-footprint intervention in support of rebel forces is not a long-term solution for stability.

The U.S. and other NATO involvement in Libya was essentially the provision of air support (with notable exceptions of on-the-ground SOF teams). There are a number of reasons for this approach, much of which is centered around domestic Western politics. But the provision of close and strategic air support to a motley crew of disparate and competitive armed groups is only asking for a disaster. Yes, this method helped bring about the end of the much despised Qaddafi regime, but it is certainly not helping bring about a lasting peace and stability. Much like our initial efforts in Afghanistan, failing to provide the forces necessary in the aftermath of the destruction of a regime creates an environment conducive to warlord-ism and the promise of many years of conflict....

As much as military analysts bemoan the general public's lack of understanding of the effort and violence of a no-fly zone, the longer peace is much harder to accomplish without large numbers of troops on the ground to provide stability after the regime falls. If we are not willing to put troops on the ground before or after our service as a rebel-force air force, then we should seriously contemplate refraining from intervening in the first place. Or at a minimum, not be surprised when our actions do not provide the stability for which we had hoped.

I think framing this as a question between "stability" and "instability" in a situation like Libya isn't the full picture. Once Libya's uprising became an armed revolt, it was an unstable situation. The only way stability was going to be restored was if one side won decisively and enforced its writ upon the whole country. Even a Gaddafi "win" probably wouldn't have been enough: given the tribal nature of Libya there would probably be enough pockets of armed resistance to cause problems.

So while the U.S. intervention clearly didn't (and couldn't) stabilize Libya, that's almost the wrong question. Instead, we really need to ask whether the rebel win, instability or no, has been worse for U.S. interests.

October 30, 2012

Libya and Lying

Mark Steyn waxes outraged over the attack against the U.S. consulate in Bengazhi:

This goes far beyond the instinctive secretiveness to which even democratic governments are prone. The Obama administration created a wholly fictional story line, and devoted its full resources to maintaining it. I understand why Mitt Romney chose not to pursue this line of argument in the final debate. The voters who will determine this election are those who voted for Obama four years ago and this time round either switch to the other fellow or sit on their hands. In electoral terms, it’s probably prudent of Mitt not to rub their faces in their 2008 votes. Nevertheless, when the president and other prominent officials stand by as four Americans die and then abuse their sacrifice as contemptuously as this administration did, decency requires that they be voted out of office as an act of urgent political hygiene.
I've said from the beginning that the administration's conduct with respect to the attack on Benghazi has been condemnable. From the outset, the response was characterized by spin and evasion, mixed with incompetence and, as we are still learning, bad judgement.

Yet it's risible to hear Steyn and others pound the table over the Obama administration's lies while they were quite relaxed during the Bush administration's considerably more egregious untruths over the course of the Iraq war - a conflict that claimed not four, but thousands of American lives (to say nothing of the exaggerations and dubious reasoning that preceded the war). The Bush administration routinley lied about the conduct of the war - where internal reporting indicted a grave and growing insurgency, administration officials went before the public, including the president himself, and gave glowing reports.

Dan Senor, now a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, made this now famous observation to a reporter during the Iraq war: "Off the record, Paris is burning. On the record, peace and stability are returning to Iraq."

If it is a disqualifying offense to lie to Americans about the deaths of four personnel overseas, is it not orders of magnitude more disqualifying to lie about the deaths of hundreds?

Again, none of this excuses the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attack. It's clear that a mixture of poor decision-making and unpreparedness lead to the deaths of four Americans and that the aftermath has been characterized by typical Washington backside covering, spin and evasion. This should always be egregious and intolerable and it's entirely appropriate to investigate, criticize and embarrass the administration. Indeed, it's desirable.

But Steyn, et al. have zero credibility and absolutely no objective interest in these issues outside of advancing the political fortunes of a particular party.

October 18, 2012

Partisan Libya Brigades Embarrass Themselves

As noted earlier, there are several legitimate criticisms to be made about how the Obama administration responded to requests for security at the Benghazi consulate and how it responded to the aftermath of the attack. It's perfectly fair - indeed, responsible - to question the administration's competence on Libya and indeed, to question the wisdom of the U.S. intervention in the country in the first place.

Yet Romney partisans appear eager to draw a broader lesson. Here's K.T. McFarland:

But the real problem isn’t the intelligence failures, or security lapses or even the cover up. It’s the policy. Al Qaeda is NOT “on its heels,” as President Obama claimed at the Democratic Convention just five days before the Benghazi attack. Al Qaeda is larger and stronger than ever, and has moved into whole new regions in North Africa and the Middle East. The Benghazi attack was only the beginning.

Al Qaeda’s trademark is to have an escalating series of attacks until they are stopped in their tracks. They watch to see our reaction after each attack and, if we fail to retaliate, they do something even bolder the next time.

This is demonstrably untrue. Al-Qaeda's "trademark" is to strike at targets when the opportunities and their capabilities allow. Following the 9/11 attack, the U.S. struck back about as hard as possible against the group in Afghanistan and yet attacks followed in Madrid, Bali and the UK, not to mention the stream of al-Qaeda linked violence in Iraq and the various foiled plots ever since the U.S. war began in Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda doesn't voluntarily stop in its tracks for fear of American reprisals - it is stopped in its tracks by good counter-terrorism (be it drones or police work).

McFarland then digs a deeper hole:

Compare that to Ronald Reagan’s reaction when Col. Qaddafi bombed a Berlin nightclub frequented by American servicemen in 1986. American soldiers were died and injured as a result. Reagan’s reaction? He bombed Qaddafi’s compound a week later. Qaddafi escaped injury, but he got the point. Don’t mess with America.

The big difference here is that al-Qaeda is not a state or ruling regime with fixed assets to defend. Qaddafi "got the message" because he had an interest in living and retaining power. He had, as they say, "a return address." The same message cannot be delivered to a transnational terrorist organization that rules only tiny patches of territory in lawless states.

This is pretty obvious stuff.

The relative strength of al-Qaeda is hard to judge: groups sympathetic to them may be operating in more countries now, but do they have the capacity to pull of another 9/11? Maybe they do - and that would certainly be a damning failure of Obama's counter-terrorism policy - but McFarland hasn't come close to making that case.

UPDATE: Jeffrey Goldberg is making sense:

The embarrassment of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi is not that it happened. America has its victories against terrorism, and its defeats, and the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three American security personnel represents one defeat in a long war. The embarrassment is that political culture in America is such that we can't have an adult conversation about the lessons of Benghazi, a conversation that would focus more on understanding al Qaeda affiliates in North Africa, on the limitations and imperfections of security, and on shortfalls in our intelligence gathering, than on who said what when in the Rose Garden.


October 11, 2012

The Mess Over the Mess in Libya and Why Republicans Are Barking Up the Wrong Tree


The Obama administration has, as they say, a lot of 'splaining to do over the mounting evidence that they both bungled security at the Benghazi consulate and subsequently played fast-and-loose with the truth of the terrorist attack that killed four Americans there.

One reason, we're told, that the Obama administration has been evasive over the Benghazi attack is that they wished to preserve the image of Libya as a success story - a low cost, bloodless (for America) intervention that deposed a long-despised dictator. If it was revealed that post-war Libya remained chaotic and home to militants sympathetic to al-Qaeda, the entire enterprise would look more dubious. At a minimum, it would be much harder to point to Libya as an unmitigated U.S. success.

But while Republicans have every right to seize on the administration's dissembling, it's very hard for me to find a foreign policy criticism here, outside of banal ones (i.e. that U.S. facilities overseas need better security and that public officials shouldn't lie). Many Republicans - and conservative commentators - supported the intervention in Libya. Moreover, if the GOP platform and Mitt Romney's foreign policy statements are to be believed, Republicans believe Washington needs to be engaged in more direct attacks and subversion of countries in the Mideast.

In other words, if you think the aftermath of the Libyan intervention has been bad for U.S. interests, the Republican answer is to replicate it in more countries.

(AP Photo)

September 12, 2012

Is Obama to Blame for an Arab Winter?

If the Arab spring turns into an “Arab winter,” as Romney put it, and tumult spreads across the region, a backlash could certainly build against Obama’s handling of the uprising, leaving Romney to profit politically. - Alex Altman

It's unlikely that such a critique would need to be coherent to actually work politically, but it's still worth asking where it is that Obama supposedly fell short. Yes, the statement out of the Cairo embassy was ridiculous and mealy mouthed. The U.S. should never have apologized for a film, no matter how puerile and inflammatory. But the charge that President Obama has "mismanaged" the Arab Spring makes one huge assumption and one deeply absurd one.

The huge assumption was that there was a series of policy options available to President Obama that would have avoided these attacks on American embassies. That's doubtful. Under the best of circumstances, the U.S. can't ensure a 100% defense against terrorist attacks - which is what the Libyan tragedy appears to be (not the work of raving fundamentalists, although they provided the cover). The legacy of anti-Americanism and fundamentalist rabble-rousing is also rather entrenched in the Middle East at the moment and it's not clear what Obama was supposed to do to alleviate that over the last two years.

Moreover, how should the administration have reacted to the various uprisings? Should Obama have insisted that Mubarak and Gaddafi stay in power lest the forces of radicalism overwhelm the region? (But then he'd be betraying American values, wouldn't he?) Should he have waved a magic wand and turned states that suffered under decades of corruption, mismanagement and autocracy into functioning, stable, pro-American democracies?

Undoubtedly, the administration has slipped up in its handling of the Arab Spring; it's a momentous, historic event that caught the U.S. largely off guard. But this leads to the absurd assumption implicit in the criticism of the administration: that the U.S. federal government can deftly finesse the direction of Middle East politics in the 21st century. Particularly for those who profess a love of "limited government" it seems rather farcical to claim that the same incompetent government that can't be trusted to balance the budget can reach across the ocean and create a Middle East more to its liking.

Yet in the clown show of contemporary politics, it's enough to lob a series of incoherent criticisms into the air and call it a day.

February 13, 2012

Does a "Responsibility to Protect" Really Protect Anyone?


Leslie Gelb does a nice job framing a question that's been on my mind amidst repeated calls for Western military intervention in Syria:

Faced with evil, Americans always want to be on the side of the angels. So American interventionists, hawks, and human-rights types are banding together, as they did in Libya, to stop President Bashar al-Assad from killing his people. But when interventionists become avenging angels, they blind themselves and the nation, and run dangerously amok. They plunge in with no plans, with half-baked plans, with demands to supply arms to rebels they know nothing about, with ideas for no-fly zones and bombing. Their good intentions could pave the road to hell for Syrians—preserving lives today, but sacrificing many more later.[Emphasis mine]
This is an important point that was overlooked in Libya and will probably be overlooked again with respect to Syria: what constitutes protecting people? If you spare 10,000 civilians in a Benghazi or Homs only to set in motion a series of events that winds up killing and displacing as many if not more people over a five or ten year period, have you actually done anything that's morally commendable? Do lives become less important if they're lost gradually instead of in one mass slaughter?

We have been told that the intervention in Libya was a vindication of the Responsibility to Protect - the doctrine that legitimizes military intervention against a state committing atrocities against its own people - but how can we render any moral judgment on what's occurred in Libya? It's not at all clear that the country can be responsibly governed and continued tribal in-fighting could claim as many lives - or more - than any Gaddafi crackdown.

It often looks like advocates of "Responsibility to Protect" want a pass on this, using the overwhelming humanitarian emergency to overwhelm (or brow-beat) those asking for restraint without tackling the broader issue of how their proposed remedy will save lives over the long term. But it won't go away. If the U.S. steps into Syria and starts arming factions and, perhaps, carving out safe havens and humanitarian enclaves with no-fly-zones it could set Syria up for a protracted civil war. If that civil war claims more lives than those lost to date in Assad's brutal crackdown, can we really be said to be "protecting" anyone?

(AP Photo)

January 30, 2012

A Responsibility to Protect Everyone But Americans

To be sure, one should always look at Western intervention in Arab lands with some degree of skepticism. The United States has a tragic history in the region, supporting repressive dictatorships for over 50 years with rather remarkable consistency. But where there is sin there is also atonement. What made Libya a "pure" intervention was that we acted not because our vital interests were threatened but in spite of the fact that they were not. For me, this was yet one more reason to laud it. Libya provided us an opportunity to begin the difficult work of re-orienting U.S. foreign policy, to align ourselves, finally, with our own ideals. -- Shadi Hamid

Putting U.S. troops at risk, even if the risks are small, isn't something that should be done for the sake of our troubled consciences. If the U.S. has foreign policy sins to atone for, shouldn't the sinners be the ones subjected to punishment?

I would also be very hesitant about proclaiming a great moral victory in Libya. It's not just that the interim government has been accused of complicity in torture and reprisals (that much can be expected in any war), but that it's simply too soon to tell what a post-Gaddafi Libya will deliver.

December 28, 2011

The Interesting Ties of Libya's Rebels

John Rosenthal passes along this tidbit from Spain's ABC:

... [A] Libyan rebel commander who played a key role in overthrowing the rule of Muammar Qaddafi previously participated in the May 2010 attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza aboard the Turkish-owned vessel the Mavi Marmara. The operation famously culminated in a deadly clash between Israel Defense Force commandos and “activists” armed with iron rods and knives aboard the ship.

The paper’s source for the story is the rebel leader himself: Mahdi al-Harati, the commander of the so-called Tripoli Brigades, which are widely credited with having played a decisive role in the rebel conquest of the Libyan capital in August. After the seizure of Tripoli, al-Harati was named second-in-command to Abdul-Hakim Belhadj, the head of the newly formed Tripoli Military Council. Belhadj is the historical leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the Libyan affiliate of al-Qaeda.

According to his December 17 article, ABC correspondent Daniel Iriarte unexpectedly ran into al-Harati and two other Libyan associates of Belhadj in Syria, where the Spanish journalist was working on a story on the “Free Syrian Army,” the recently formed rebel force that aims to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

November 21, 2011

Ruling Libya

One of the leaders of Libya's emerging government has an interesting resume:

It was one of the most overtly political declarations by Mr. Belhaj, who is competing with militia leaders from the towns of Zintan and Misurata to become the formal head of the new army. Having fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and been detained for a time at the American base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he would seem a strange partner for Mr. Keeb, an American-educated electrical engineer who is considered moderate in his religious beliefs. Mr. Belhaj is known for his Islamist ideals and ties to the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, which has independently armed some military units, to the consternation of more secular leaders.

The good news, if we can call it that, is that the various armed militias contesting for power may violently block Belhaj's bid, throwing the country back into a state of anarchic civil war.

November 3, 2011

Why Is NATO No Longer Protecting Libyan Civilians?

Tripoli fighters said Tuesday they are concerned about the rising tensions among the various groups, which are increasingly divided along regional allegiances.

"We are concerned, as you can see, every day there is fighting between the rebels, this is something we don't want, we want a united Libya," said fighter Tammam Basheer.

The scene on Tripoli's streets these days -- heavily armed men brandishing guns and racing across the city with no central command and little or no accountability -- has raised concerns among residents.

"There are no security forces, everyone is running their own group, their own brigade, and they all control Tripoli," said Tripoli militia member Taha, who did not provide a second name. - CNN

We heard a lot about the Responsibility to Protect when Gaddafi was killing Libyans, but we're hearing a lot less about it now that ordinary Libyans are killing each other. What happens if Libya devolves into a chaotic civil war? All the rationales that propelled NATO to intervene - the endangerment of civilians, the stability of the country's oil exports - would still be in place.

November 1, 2011

Creating Safe Havens Where There Were None


Among the things the invasion of Iraq accomplished was the creation of a large-scale al-Qaeda safe haven and insurgency where previously there was none. While al-Qaeda in Iraq is a shadow of its former self, it still poses a threat to the country's security. Meanwhile, in newly liberated Libya, we see some ominous signs of history repeating itself:

The black flag of Al Qaeda has been spotted flying over a public building in Libya, raising concerns that the country could lurch towards Muslim extremism.

The flag, complete with Arabic script reading "there is no God but Allah" and full moon underneath, was seen flying above the Benghazi courthouse building, considered to be the seat of the revolution, according to the news website

Now, this could be a Photoshopped prank or hoax and certainly one flag does not a Caliphate make, but those championing the Responsibility to Protect or cheering the Obama administration's strategic brilliance might want to wait a few more weeks before taking a victory lap.


October 21, 2011

Is Libya a Model?

"NATO got it right," Vice President Joe Biden said. "This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward."

But the NATO model also was beset by shortcomings, including uneven participation and inadequate supplies, fuel and targeting intelligence. World leaders have yet to decide what role they will play in the next days of Libya's struggle, as the country tries to unite disparate militias and form a government.

Future interventions may not look the same and may not involve NATO. Some could involve little air power and more special operations troops on the ground. Others could involve U.S. forces training indigenous forces.

But the common elements will be a small footprint and little time to plan the mission, administration and military officials said. - Julian Barnes and Adam Entous

I think a lot of the talk about whether Libya is a model begs an important question - a model for what? Both the initial war in Afghanistan and this longer conflict in Libya validate the idea that precision airpower, special forces and large numbers of allied indigenous fighters on the ground can run a regime out of a country. If this is our objective, then clearly, Libya, like the initial toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, is a vindication.

But it is certainly not an ideal model for creating a stable, post-war state in Libya. If we're willing to leave that job up to the Libyans come what may, that's one thing. But I suspect that, like in Afghanistan, the bar for "success" is going to move inexorably toward political settlements and national institution building - areas that the "Libyan model" as presently constituted can't address.

October 20, 2011

"Psychological Pendulums"

Gates offered a last-ditch case against intervention, arguing that Libya had little strategic value. He warned that the U.S. often ended up "owning" what happened, pointing to Kosovo and the no-fly zone over Kurdistan in Iraq. He said he was wary of getting involved in a third Muslim country, and feared "a stalemate."

The president answered these arguments himself. According to one participant's summary, Obama said: Look, the question of who rules Libya is probably not a vital interest to the United States. The atrocities threatened don't compare to atrocities in other parts of the world, I hear that. But there's a big "but" here. First of all, acting would be the right thing to do, because we have an opportunity to prevent a massacre, and we've been asked to do it by the people of Libya, their Arab neighbors and the United Nations. And second, the president said, failing to intervene would be a "psychological pendulum, in terms of the Arab Spring, in favor of repression." He concluded: "Just signing on to a no-fly zone so that we have political cover isn't going to cut it. That's not how America leads." Nor, he added, is it the "image of America I believe in." - Michael Hastings

President Bush took his lumps for many a facile assertion about the regional impact of removing Saddam Hussein from power, but the rationale offered by President Obama here is just as tenuous. It is also demonstrably false. NATO's intervention in Libya has not rolled back counter-revolutionary forces in Syria or Bahrain (or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt). Gaddafi's death, welcome though it is, won't change that either - whatever momentary fillip it gives protesters in the Arab world is not going to change the balance of forces in the region. In fact, watching Gaddafi's bloody carcass being hauled around may convince the region's autocrats to crack down harder lest they find themselves similarly discomfited.

It's also worth reflecting on the threshold this administration set for risking the lives of American military personnel. It's true that the NATO mission in Libya was fairly low-risk compared to the range of options available, but it still carried serious risks. Imagine if a U.S. plane had been shot down by Gaddafi forces. Would President Obama explain to a mourning family that their son or daughter had to die because the president was concerned about the "psychological pendulum" of the Middle East?

September 30, 2011

Could the U.S. Have Secured Libya's Missiles?

If the great risk of American assertiveness was that it caused supposed “blowback” among impacted populations, the problem with American constraint is one of terrorist facilitation. In Libya we were only ever half in, at best. We took our time and kept our distance—and left weapons stockpiles out for the taking. At the UN last week, Obama cited Libya as “a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one.” It sure is. - Abe Greenwald

So Greenwald is suggesting that had the Obama administration not "taken its time" and "kept its distance" in Libya, NATO would have been able to swiftly identify and secure all of Libya's shoulder-fired missiles. Sounds just a wee bit optimistic to me.

September 19, 2011

Round and Round We Go

AFP reports:

A French company provided Libya in 2008 with a specialised 4X4 designed to protect Moamer Kadhafi while he traveled, and the French presidency signed off on the deal, Mediapart reported online Sunday.

The vehicle, capable of neutralising any electric field within a 100-metre (328-feet) radius, was made by Amesys, a subsidiary of the French technology firm Bull, which earlier this month acknowledged it had dealings with Kadhafi's regime.

"The sale of this material received, in 2007, the support of (then) interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his chief of staff Claude Gueant. The vehicle was eventually delivered in 2008, with the green light, this time, of the (presidency)," Mediapart wrote.

The French presidency declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

September 13, 2011

A Libyan Insurgency?


Spencer Ackerman sees signs that a Libyan insurgency may be taking root:

Fighters loyal to Gadhafi killed 17 guards at an oil refinery near Ras Lunuf on Monday. They drove to the refinery in a convoy of more than a dozen vehicles. Witnesses reported that the attackers used hand grenades to kill the guards.

And the attack occurred less than two hours after Libya’s post-Gadhafi oil minister announced limited oil production had resumed. The refinery itself was undamaged, though it’s unclear if that’s by design or incompetence. Still, the message sent seems clear: Gadhafi loyalists will target the revolutionary government’s ability to exploit the sources of Libyan wealth, weakening its ability to stabilize the country. Then, presumably, comes the restoration.

That last part may be unrealistic, given how deeply Gadhafi is hated in Libya. But in the near term, all that Team Gadhafi needs to do is distance the people from the Transitional National Council. And the revolutionaries may not make that difficult.

One thing to watch here is the regional environment. Insurgencies often rage because neighboring states fuel it, or are unwilling (or unable) to prevent their territory from being used as as a staging ground. Pakistan plays that role in Afghanistan and Syria and Iran played that role in Iraq. Would countries like Chad, Niger or Sudan sustain a Gaddafi insurgency were one to take root?

(AP Photo)

September 8, 2011

Libya's Missing Missiles

Among the consequences of the armed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi has been the disappearance of shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles from Libya's arsenal - i.e. the kind that could potentially down civilian airliners if they fell into the wrong hands. Popular Mechanics tells us the threat may not be as dire as initially reported:

CNN originally reported that shoulder-mounted SA-24s have gone missing in Libya. But arms control experts now tell PM that there’s no evidence of gripstocks for the missiles in Libya. That means that any SA-24s looted from Gaddafi’s stockpiles could be vehicle-fired, but not shoulder-fired. This makes them less of a terrorist threat.

That said, the proliferation of these missiles on the black market is still a large concern, especially in other parts of the world where gripstocks might be available that would allow the weapons to be used as Man Portable Air Defense (MANPAD) missiles. Even in Libya, sources tell PM, there is evidence of shoulder-firing capability for the less-sophisticated SA-7s.

September 6, 2011

Here's the Obama Doctrine

Obama's Libya policy may not amount to a doctrine, but it did establish two principles. Last March, Obama explained that we must intervene when there's a risk of massacres or genocide, but we can never do so alone unless Americans are directly at risk.

At face value, I find this borderline repugnant. America shouldn't be the world's policeman, but neither should we make it a matter of principle to say we won't stop genocide when and where we can simply because no one will join our posse. - Jonah Goldberg

I doubt that the Libyan war established the principles that Goldberg claims here. But I do think the war established a principle, and a very important one at that: the U.S. will no longer be an occupying power.

The Libyan war, combined with the Obama administration's lethal expansion of special forces and drone attacks in Somalia and Yemen, drive this point home. The U.S. will continue to wage what can only be called a "war" on terror, but one that is far more asymmetrical and under the radar. This is almost certainly for the good. While drone campaigns will undoubtedly radicalize some (especially if they're used hyper-aggressively), they're far less radicalizing than a large scale troop presence in a foreign country.

August 30, 2011

Leaping to Conclusions in Libya

Stephen Walt cautions against it:

As I've noted before, we still don't know how the "Libyan revolution" is going to turn out. Even if Qaddafi set a very low standard for effective or just governance, the end-result of his ouster may not be as gratifying as we hope. More importantly, we also ought to guard against the common tendency to draw big policy conclusions from a single case, especially when we don't have good theories to help us understand the differences between different outcomes.

The fact of the matter is it is way too early to judge whether the Libyan war was a success or not. Toppling Gaddafi may appear to be a net-plus for the U.S. given the relatively low cost incurred so far in his ouster, but there are several scenarios that would cast even that joyous event in a harsher light. For instance, if several anti-aircraft weapons make their way from Libya into the hands of al-Qaeda, who then use them to down several American civilian aircraft, the war would have cost the U.S. vastly more than it gained.

Libyan Weapons on the Move


Palestinians in Gaza have acquired anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets from Libya during its six-month civil war, enlarging but not significantly improving their arsenal, Israeli officials said on Monday.

While the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi has stirred concern abroad about the fate of Libya's aging chemical weapons stockpiles, Israel has no indication Hamas or other Palestinian factions have sought these, the officials said.

Instead, Israeli officials have detected an inflow of SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), said one official, describing an overland supply route that opened up between eastern Libya -- after it fell to the rebels -- and the Gaza Strip via Egypt.

August 29, 2011

A Responsibility to Protect


Stewart Patrick argues that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P) that informed the Obama administration's intervention in Libya's revolution has been vindicated, even if it may not be replicated anytime soon:

By setting overall strategy while allowing others to shoulder the burden of implementing it, the Obama administration achieved its short-term objective of stopping Gadhafi's atrocities and its long-term one of removing him from power. This was all done at a modest financial cost, with no U.S. troops on the ground, and zero U.S. casualties. Meanwhile, as the first unambiguous military enforcement of the Responsibility to Protect norm, Gadhafi's utter defeat seemingly put new wind in the sails of humanitarian intervention.

Does it now? The Globe and Mail reports:

About half a dozen mass graves have been discovered so far in Tripoli, and reporters noticed many more bodies lying beside the road. It is assumed that most of these killings were inflicted by pro-Gadhafi forces – but in a few cases, it appears that somebody executed loyalists whose hands were tied behind their backs with plastic cuffs.

In other places, it's unclear who killed whom.

The allegations against Col. Gadhafi's forces are unsurprising; along with his senior followers, he already stands charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

But for the rebels, every new report of atrocities inflicted by their side adds to concerns about whether they can keep control of the country. Loyalists continue to hold major towns, such as Sirte and Sabha, and will become more reluctant to surrender if they believe they will be mistreated.

What I would like to know from the Libyan war's humanitarian champions is the extent of America's "responsibility" to continue protecting Libyans from themselves now that Gaddafi is on the run.

(AP Photo)

The Weapons That Took Out Gaddafi

David Axe put together a good slideshow of the weapons of the Libyan war.

August 26, 2011

More Hubris

Politics is such that people have to say stuff like this when they really shouldn't:

"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with FP. "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."

Despite criticism from Congress and elsewhere, President Barack Obama's strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama's preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said. [emphasis mine]

It's one thing for the Obama administration to take credit for knocking off Gaddafi at a relatively low cost. If Rhodes had confined his boast to that, few could complain. But it's quite a huge leap to predict that this approach will lead to a better outcome in Libya. This implies that somehow this outcome is the responsibility of the United States. Is it? Is Rhodes implying that the U.S. has a continued commitment to see this revolution through to a benign end? Well, maybe not - later in his interview, Rhodes insists that there's no plan for a NATO-led peacekeeping force in Libya.

So what we have here is a kind of contortion about the nature of a post-Gaddafi Libya from the Obama administration. On the one hand, they want credit for fighting on behalf of American values in Libya. On the other, they want an arms-length relationship with what comes next.

Values in Libya

A curious conventional wisdom has emerged in the commentary on Libya’s revolutionaries. “We don’t know who these people are or what comes next,” the popular reasoning goes, “so we can’t let ourselves be too enthusiastic about them, their goals or their achievements.” - Leslie Campbell

But it is a distorted form of realism to believe that the future will be worse than the present. It’s as if the unpredictability of the future has led to nostalgia about what once was, even though Libya’s status quo included a maniacal dictator who plundered his country’s resources, sponsored outrageous acts of international terrorism, and harassed, jailed and killed his political opponents. It is surely unfair to demand that the courageous Libyans assuage our anxiety before claiming their fundamental human rights.

Come again? No one is demanding that the Libyan rebels "assuage our anxiety before claiming their fundamental human rights." We're demanding they "assuage our anxiety" before we fight a war on their behalf. Is this so hard to grasp?

August 25, 2011

How Do We Know the Rebels' Values?


Anne-Marie Slaughter feels vindicated:

Before we focus on what must happen next, let us pause for a minute and reflect on that initial debate and the lessons to be learnt.

The first is that, against the sceptics, it clearly can be in the US and the west’s strategic interest to help social revolutions fighting for the values we espouse and proclaim. The strategic interest in helping the Libyan opposition came from supporting democracy and human rights, but also being seen to live up to those values by the 60 per cent majority of Middle Eastern populations who are under 30 and increasingly determined to hold their governments to account.

It's true that the National Transitional Council has a constitution that espouses liberal values, but what of it? Does that tell us anything about how they'll govern (or whether they'll even be able to govern)? It's not to cast aspersions on the views espoused by the NTC to note that rhetorical commitments to liberal values are easy to make, especially if you need outside help from people likely to be motivated by appeals to liberal values. The NTC's commitments may be genuine, but they are completely untested and could be swamped by rival forces and dynamics.

But there's something even more curious about Slaughter's argument. She insists that we fought for liberal values, but then disavows attempting to see those values enshrined in a post-Gaddafi Libya:

Looking forward, it is really not up to the west, much less the US, to plan Libya’s transition. It is a relief to see so many articles and statements reflecting lessons learnt from Iraq. But the Libyans are far ahead of where the US was when the initial fighting ended in Iraq. The National Transitional Council has a draft constitutional charter that is impressive in scope, aspirations and detail – including 37 articles on rights, freedoms and governance arrangements.

But what if this impressively scoped constitution crumbles under the weight of insecurity or tribal in-fighting? If intervening in Libya's revolution was done to further liberal values, what is our obligation to see that those values get embedded in the country? Slaughter's response is that it's better than Gaddafi's continued rule, but from America's perspective, Gaddafi's rule in 2011 wasn't a pressing national security issue. Gaddafi deserves the hangman's noose for his crimes, but it's not America's place to be the world's judge, jury and executioner when the moral sensibilities of its leading Wilsonians are inflamed.

(AP Photo)

August 24, 2011

Polling Libya

YouGov has a new poll out measuring UK attitudes on the war in Libya:

Public opinion on how well the West’s intervention in Libya and on whether it was right or wrong for the West to intervene have predictably flipped. Support for the West’s intervention had been standing at an August average of 33% thinking it right, 44% wrong – that has flipped to 41% right, 35% wrong. 25% of people had been thinking it was going well, 51% badly – that has flipped to 52% well, 26% badly. 47% of people now think that David Cameron has responded well to the situation in Libya, 33% badly.

If Gaddafi surrenders, 58% want to see him sent for trial at the International Criminal Court, 26% think Libya should try him. If he is found guilty 33% want to see him executed, 49% given life imprisonment. 39% would be happy if Gaddafi was killed in the conflict, 38% would rather he was captured alive so he can be put on trial. Finally on Libya, only 17% of people think we should send in British troops to keep order under the new regime. 38% would be happy to send police advisors, 42% would be happy for us to send emergency cash, food and medical aid.

Read the full results here. (pdf)

August 23, 2011



John Yoo thinks non-existent "isolationists" should feel embarrassed by Gaddafi's imminent downfall:

Obama did the right thing to order U.S. forces in, but it was done reluctantly, with the administration claiming it was not really at “war,” limiting the U.S. and its allies to enforcing a no-fly zone only, and then trying to reduce our participation in airstrikes. Obama’s foot-dragging prolonged the Libyan civil war and will reduce our ability to influence the post-Qaddafi regime, which may well have strong extremist elements.

But I think the new Republican isolationists in the House (and among the presidential candidates) will come out looking even worse. They opposed the president’s constitutional authority to use force abroad to protect U.S. national-security interests, yet they failed to put forward any serious proposals of their own for U.S. foreign policy in the region (aside from pulling out wholesale, I suppose). They not only contradicted the consistent position of Republican administrations on the war-powers issue, but they had no alternatives to put forward on what to do about Libya.

Question for Yoo: what national security issues where at stake in Libya? In my view, as well as the view of former Defense Secretary Gates, there were none, at least not "vital" ones. In fact, the Obama administration didn't believe there were either - they framed the intervention almost exclusively on the humanitarian stakes, with some additional nonsense about "spillovers" into Egypt and Tunisia. Now it's true that many in Washington's foreign policy community have different thresholds when it comes to risking other people's lives and tax dollars on foreign wars. It's also true that how "vital" a particular interest is can be in the eye of the beholder. Still, I think it's a stretch to conclude that the security of the United States would have been intolerably threatened had the U.S. not stepped into the middle of Libya's revolution.

Second, seeing as there was no national security threat to the United States, it's absurd to claim that House Republicans should nevertheless have concocted a "serious policy" proposal for how to deal with it. Why? Should they craft one for Zimbabwe too? The House of Representatives can barely govern the United States effectively, we should be gratified that they did not further distract themselves worrying about Libya.

Finally, it doesn't seemed to have dawned on the president's hawkish critics that the only reason the Libya war can even be considered a success is because he ignored their advice. We heard a lot of tedious harping about how the Libyan campaign showed the limits of "leading from behind" - but if anything, it was the opposite. The Libyan war was successful for the U.S. insofar as we incurred no casualties or larger financial costs. If the U.S. is able to stay out of a potentially messy and prolonged post-conflict nation building operation in Libya (something his critics insist he embark on), then Libya may well be marked as success in that we achieved a limited goal with limited means.

(AP Photo)

Pipe Down

But as much as Western diplomats must be careful not to drop the ball in our dealings with the new government, this is a moment for those who claimed Qaddafi’s fate was none of our business to pipe down. The intervention in Libya was neither reckless nor ill-considered, and the outcome is likely to benefit U.S. interests as much as it does those of the people who have been liberated. - Jonathan Tobin

Obviously those who predicted a terrible calamity in the initial phases of the war were wrong. Of course, there's still a lot of uncertainty ahead, but I will own up to a warning (not a prediction!) that the war could degenerate into a stalemate with Gaddafi clinging to a portion of the country while NATO enforced a no-fly zone over the East. That, thankfully, won't happen. There was also concern about an insurgency - something which remains a possibility, but may not come to pass either.

But the idea that anyone should be chastened in their caution because the rebels have appeared to win the day is silly. Taking the country to war when vital U.S. interests are not at stake is not a good idea even if the U.S. manages to skate by without investing much in blood and treasure.

As for the assertion that Gaddafi's overthrow will be as good for Americans as it is for Libyans, time will tell. It appears that the U.S. may earn some oil concessions, which would certainly serve a U.S. interest.

A Warning?

The imminent collapse of Qaddafi’s regime is a major milestone not simply for the long-suffering Libyan people, but for the broader Arab uprising of 2011. Qaddafi’s ability to cling to power through brutality and slaughter had cast a dark shadow over the region for the better part of six months. In stark counterpoint to the relatively peaceful and rapid departures of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, Qaddafi hoped to establish a much different model for the region’s dictators: Rather than succumb to the overwhelming will of the people for political change . . . crush them by whatever means necessary. The example was certainly not lost on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad when confronted with its own popular upheaval just weeks after Qaddafi first unleashed his killing machine.

Now, with Qaddafi’s demise at hand, a major psychological blow has been struck against the region’s other tyrants who have sought to follow in his foot steps. The message has gone out: The effort to stand athwart history, and through blood and bullets deny the just demand of your people for a more decent, accountable government will, sooner or later, fail. The reverberations in Damascus will be loud and unsettling. You can bet that Assad’s head lies much uneasier today. - John Hannah

I'm not a psychologist so I can't offer any confident predictions about how various dictators thousands of miles away may feel. That said, we do have recent experience here. When Saddam Hussein fell we heard similar boasts and indeed there were some beneficial ripples - the Iranians sent feelers to the Bush administration about nuclear negotiations (which were ignored) and Gaddafi went ahead with his decision to surrender his nuclear weapons (although the work on that particular policy victory predated Saddam's overthrow). So it may indeed be the case that for the next few weeks Syria's dictator may be increasingly on edge. But then what?

In his article telling non-interventionists to shut up, Commentary's Jonathan Tobin assures us that the overthrow of Gaddafi is of course not a license to apply the same template to other dictators, but this is precisely what his fellow neoconservatives - such as Hannah - are implying when they talk about a possible demonstration effect.

August 22, 2011

By All Means - Declare "Mission Accomplished"


Robert Farley has some interesting thoughts on the Libyan war:

The course of the war vindicates the “Afghan Model” as a military technique, if not as a political strategy. To review, the Afghan Model is based on the idea that airpower and special forces can help indigenous troops can win wars against numerically and organizationally stronger opponents. Special forces take on training, command, and liason roles, airpower conducts close air support, attrition, and interdiction missions, and the indigenous troops force the enemy to defend strongpoints from fixed locations. This model worked very well in the first several months of the Afghanistan war, but it worked rather less well at the start of the Libyan Civil War. Although airstrikes were able to freeze Gaddafi loyalist forces, rebel offensives initially failed.

With what looks like a rebel victory in the offing, the specifically military aspect of the Afghan Model seems to have been vindicated, if in slow motion. However, the Afghan Model is as much a political as a military concept. Politically, the AM is supposed to minimize domestic opposition in the intervening country, minimize nationalist reaction in the target country, and minimize international upheaval. In Libya, the grade is mixed on all three. Cameron, Sarkozy, and Obama probably received more flak than they had expected, mostly because the war stretched so long. The war likely stretched so long at least in part because of nationalist reaction within Libya. The international community remained relatively quiet, although the violence in Syria and the ongoing collapse of the global economy may have played some part.

The other political aspect of the Afghan Model involves post-conflict stability. If Libya crumbles back into civil war in the wake of Gaddafi’s fall, it won’t reflect well on a strategic concept that promises large returns at minimal risk.

One thing the U.S. should understand by now is that a military victory does not necessarily beget a political one. The question is - what will NATO and the U.S. be satisfied with - a military victory that sees Gaddafi run out of town, or up a pole, (a victory which it appears they have secured) or a political victory in Libya?

Rather curiously, many of the people who opposed intervening in Libya's civil war are now warning against a "mission accomplished" moment. I think that's a mistake. If the U.S. does not want to get deeply entangled in what could be a very problematic and violent aftermath in Libya, this is precisely the time to declare mission accomplished. Thanks to the "Afghan Model," the U.S. and NATO have very little exposure on the ground - unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, they will not have to face the prospect of an ignominious withdrawal under fire. In other words, for those who objected to American intervention in Libya's civil war, the downfall of Gaddafi is a perfect excuse to extricate ourselves before it turns into a problem that the West cannot solve.

(AP Photo)


Now is a good time to remember the many Americans, and other innocents, killed by this awful regime. Their families should feel some satisfaction that justice may finally be finding the murderer of their loved ones. - Jeffrey Goldberg

Indeed. But this does raise an interesting question. Of all the reasons proffered up for NATO's intervention in Libya's civil war, what role did a desire for revenge play in the minds of Western policymakers?

August 20, 2011

The Libyan End Game


It's increasingly looking like the end is near for Gaddafi, if this NY Times piece is accurate.

But toppling Gaddafi isn't the whole story. The question now turns to what will follow the collapse of his rule - and what role the U.S. and NATO will choose to play in the aftermath. Having played a role in what looks like Gaddafi's imminent downfall, what is our obligation to secure the new regime against a potential insurgency? It's quite possible that the Libyan aftermath proceeds fairly smoothly, with minimal need for an outside stabilization force to restore order - and here's hoping - but if it doesn't? Has anyone considered these possibilities and are Americans aware of the administration's thinking on this?

(AP Photo)

August 12, 2011

How Much Has Libya Cost the U.S.?

Micah Zenko breaks out the calculator:

The cost of military operations is difficult to determine, since the Pentagon has not been forthcoming regarding Libya. Nevertheless, five data points are available either from official releases or media leaks that can be used to extrapolate current expenditures: March 30, $550 million; April 11, $608 million; Mid-May, $664 million; June 3, $714 million; and June 30: $820 million. It is unclear if these numbers include replacing known aircraft loses, including the crashes of an F-15 on March 21 (roughly $30 million) and a MQ-8 Fire Scout on June 21 ($9 million). However, it can be assumed that U.S. military operations costs in Libya per month are between $60-$80 million, with total current costs around $1 billion.

Worth every penny...

August 2, 2011

Gaddafi Wants Chavez's help

   El líder libio, Muamar al Gadafi (d), recibe con un abrazo al presidente venezolano, Hugo Chávez, durante el encuentro que sosuvieron en Doha, Qatar, el martes 31 de marzo del 2009.

How do you spell "fungible assets?" The Miami Herald reports:

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi sent emissaries to Caracas over the weekend to ask president Hugo Chávez to help his regime sell crude oil through Venezuela in international markets, thus evading internationally imposed sanctions, western intelligence sources said.

The small delegation — headed by Planning and Finance Minister Abdulhafid Zlitni — arrived Sunday on a private jet and Chávez confirmed its presence in the South American country.

“Gaddafi has sent us an emissary,” Chávez told a government television channel. “They bring a letter for me. That is good. The world needs to know it. As soon as you have it translated,” he told his foreign affairs minister, Nicolás Maduro, who was at the television studio, “bring it to me.”

The intelligence sources told El Nuevo Herald that the emissaries plan to request that Venezuela take control over more than a dozen tankers, each with a capacity to store more than 160,000 tons of oil, and the possibility to market more than 1.5 million barrels of Libyan crude oil through the South American country.

“[Gaddafi] is proposing that […] Venezuela assume ownership of the ships to continue operating them through Venezuela,” said one of the sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “If this is done, it would be a violation of all sanctions.”

The sources said that the Libyan government also has given orders to ask the Venezuelan government to supply water and fuel to two Libyan boats stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as purchase nearly 5,000 tons of additives for producing gasoline.

The request also considers the possibility of selling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil products that Libya has not been able to place in the market after the United Nations unanimously approved sanctions against Gaddafi’s regime due to its bloody repression against dissidents, the sources said. [Emphasis added]

Venezuela was slapped with sanctions in May by the U.S., as you may recall, for shipping $50 million worth of fuel additives to Iran between December 2010 and March this year.

Read the rest at at Fausta's blog.

August 1, 2011

Not Quiet on the Rebel Front

More encouraging news from John McCain's "heroes" in Libya:

Rebel fighters challenging the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi fought a pitched eight-hour battle overnight and Sunday morning against what their leaders called a “fifth column” of Qaddafi loyalists. The fighting raised fresh questions about divisions, distrust and deception in the rebel ranks in the days after the killing of the rebels’ top military leader, a general who defected from Colonel Qaddafi’s army early in the rebellion.

I wonder how much longer NATO will continue fighting on behalf of an organization about which it knows far too little.

By Their Facebook, You Will Know Them

As evidence begins to mount that Libya's rebels are a somewhat problematic bunch, Jackson Diehl gives us some insight into why there was such enthusiasm for supporting them in the first place:

What’s striking about Libya — and about Syria and Egypt — is that there’s little sign of those dark forces in the leadership of the revolutions. Egyptians and Syrians on Facebook instead speak a common language of secular, liberal democracy and human rights. A generation raised on the Internet wants, above all, to join the rest of the 21st-century world.

Libya’s transitional council is no different. Its first leaders published an eight-point manifesto March 29 declaring that “there is no alternative to building a free and democratic society and ensuring the supremacy of international humanitarian law and human rights declarations. This can only be achieved through dialogue, tolerance, cooperation, national cohesiveness and the active participation of all citizens.”

Facebook pages and manifestos aimed explicitly at cultivating outside support - this is the basis on which Diehl and others would commit the United States to another country's civil war.

July 27, 2011

Gaddafi's Incentives

Mr Cameron and his allies had clearly not bargained for such obstinacy when they first embarked on their Libyan adventure. With the onset of Ramadan rapidly approaching (it is due to start on Monday, depending on the visibility of the new moon), Gaddafi’s intransigence has seen the coalition resort to ever more desperate measures. This includes the French supplying arms to the rebels – a clear breach of UN resolutions – and the Americans sending a secret delegation to persuade Gaddafi to surrender. - Con Coughlin

The problem for the NATO mission is there is a huge mismatch in incentives. NATO is fighting in Libya for a mix of reasons, but none of them urgent or central to the survival of Western civilization. Gaddafi, on the other hand, is fighting for his life. There is a warrant out for his arrest from the International Criminal Court, so he can't leave the country. Yet if he remains inside Libya but out of power, he would be a risk, and at risk, as long as he survived.

This has, in short, turned into a debacle.

July 20, 2011

The Future Libya Insurgency


Max Boot warns against the danger of "simply toppling" Gaddafi:

But - and this is a message that no one in Washington wants to hear - we must not limit our war aims to simply toppling Gadhafi. We made that mistake in Iraq and Afghanistan. By not paying attention to what comes after the deposal of a dictator, we inadvertently created conditions for a long-term insurgency. In Libya it is imperative that the U.S. and our allies make plans now to insert a stabilization force after Gadhafi's downfall to help the National Transitional Council gain control of the country.

I think Boot is absolutely right to warn about the dangers of a destabilized, post-Gaddafi Libya, but I think he gets things somewhat upside down when it comes to the precedent here. The U.S. "created the conditions for a long-term insurgency" in Iraq and Afghanistan by invading and occupying those countries. The lack of security certainly makes it easier for an insurgency to rage, but the motivations for such a fight have more to do with the presence of foreign military forces in a country, access to weapons and a desire on the part of insurgents to take power by force.

I do think Libya is (on paper, at least) a somewhat more hospitable environment for the kind of stabilization force Boot advocates than either Iraq or Afghanistan: there is some form of government-in-waiting that is drawn from inside the country (not air-dropped at the behest of Washington bureaucrats) and the country is not bordered by a government that has an interest in sustaining an anti-American insurgency.

But again, it's worth noting that Libyans were well represented among the "foreign fighters" inside Iraq. If they were willing to travel into another country to kill Americans and Western soldiers, it stands to reason they would be only too willing to battle American and Western troops in their own country, no matter how large the stabilization force. And, as Larison points out: "Even now, there are still almost 6,000 soldiers from NATO and other nations in Kosovo. Given the size of Libya and its political history, we would have to expect that a stabilization force would have to be much larger and would have to remain there much longer."

Needless to say, both Europe and the United States are currently having some financial issues at the moment and ponying up billions to police Libya just isn't going to happen.

(AP Photo)

July 18, 2011

Shifting Rationales for Libya War


James Traub finds a justification for continuing the war in Libya:

The critics of humanitarian intervention who say that the outcome is likely to be messier and more protracted than its proponents imagine are right. You have to be prepared to live with the unforeseen consequences of your acts. NATO and the United States thus have to stay the course not only to deliver the Libyan people from Qaddafi but also to demonstrate that such interventions are not exercises in imperial hubris -- or "wars of whim," as my Foreign Policy colleague Stephen Walt mockingly puts it.

You can usually tell a military conflict has lost all strategic sense when its advocates can no longer offer any justification for it other than "credibility." In this case, the West is being exhorted to spend more money and put NATO lives at risk in a conflict of little impact on U.S. national security so that we can ... spend more money and put more NATO lives at risk in a similar conflict in the future. Makes sense!

And who needs convincing that the war in Libya is not a result of imperial hubris: the Middle East or Western liberals?

But aside from re-litigating the folly of this intervention, we are where we are. The question is - where should we go? Contra Traub, I don't think it's wise to press on merely to preserve the option for similar mistakes in the future. But there is now a growing threat to international security from missing pieces of Gaddafi's conventional arsenal and the very real prospect that the more time Gaddafi & co. have to stew, the greater their chances for international mischief.

(AP Photo)

Missing Missiles in Libya

Good news:

Now there is a third dimension of the bad counterterrorist news coming out of Libya, which is the dispersal of terrorist-friendly materiel. Bunkers full of man-portable air defense missiles, or MANPADS, that were lost to government control have been looted, and unknown numbers of the weapons have made it outside Libya to destinations similarly unknown. MANPADS have long been one of the most worrisome forms of conventional ordnance from a counterterrorist point of view, because of the potential to use them against civilian aircraft. It was because of this worry that the United States went to extraordinary lengths after the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan to try to retrieve or account for the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that it had provided the Afghan mujahedin. It looks like terrorists with thoughts of shooting down airliners have a new source of supply.

And so an operation ostensibly designed to protect Libyan civilians has potentially put American and European civilians in danger.

July 13, 2011

French Libya Policy in Disarray

Bruce Crumely reports:

There's currently a lot of activity, a good measure of confusion, but no real sign of progress in France towards an eventual resolution to the NATO-led intervention in Libya that Paris was instrumental in launching. And it's against that backdrop of somewhat chaotic operation slog that the French parliament is being asked Tuesday to approve or refuse the extension of President Nicolas Sarkozy's four-month military action in Libya. The good news for Sarkozy is there's virtually no risk of even opposition politicians objecting to a continuation of the Libyan campaign. The bad news is such bipartisan support won't do much to mask the reality that no one has any real idea of how or when the mission initially sold as a short one might actually end—which will doubtless leave the unity behind it with a rather limited shelf life.

At least it's reassuring to know that incompetence is a trans-Atlantic phenomena.

Libya's Rebels Accused of Violations


The news that Libya's rebels have been accused by Human Rights Watch of looting and abuse of civilians isn't surprising, given the nature of the conflict. It's also, as C.J. Chivers reports, not as systemic or harsh as the violence meted out by Gaddafi's forces.

Nonetheless, it's a reminder that a post-Gaddafi Libya is almost certainly going to need some form of third party stabilization force to keep the peace and prevent reprisals during the formation of a new government. Unfortunately, while the UK, France and the U.S. have been eager to demand that Gaddafi exit stage left, there's been almost no discussion about how a post-Gaddafi Libya will be consolidated and secured.

(AP Photo)

July 12, 2011

Support Falls for Libya War

According to a new poll from Rasmussen:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that just 24% of Likely U.S. Voters now believe the United States should continue its military action in Libya. Forty-four percent (44%) oppose further action there, while 32% are undecided.

A month ago, 26% favored continued U.S. military operations in Libya, while 42% were opposed.

Thirty-six percent (36%) of voters rate the Obama administration’s handling of the situation in Libya as good or excellent. That’s unchanged from last month. Twenty-seven percent (27%) view the administration’s performance as poor.

July 11, 2011

Libya & Kosovo


Stephen Walt compares the war in Libya to the NATO effort in Kosovo:

Both wars were launched on impulse, there were no vital strategic interests involved, and both wars were fought "on the cheap" through the use of airpower. NATO leaders expected the targets to succumb quickly, and were surprised when their adversaries (Milosevic in 1999, Qaddafi today) hung on as long as they did.

But there's another parallel that deserves mention too. Serbia eventually surrendered, and I expect that Qaddafi or his sons will eventually do so too. But in the case of Kosovo, NATO and the U.N. had to send in a peacekeeping force, and they are still there ten years later. And Kosovo has only about 28 percent of Libya's population and is much smaller geographically (some 10,000 square kilometers, compared with Libya's 1,800,000 sq. km.) So anybody who thinks that NATO, the United Nations, or the vaguely defined "international community" will be done whenever Qaddafi says uncle (or succumbs to a NATO airstrike) should probably lower their expectations and prepare themselves for long-term involvement in a deeply divided country.

It should be added that were Western troops to enter Libya in any large numbers as peace-keepers, it's quite possible that whatever's left of Gaddafi's forces would stage an insurgency. After all, many Libyans traveled into Iraq to Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers during Iraq's insurgency. That's why I think it's very unlikely that NATO would play a role in the peacekeeping efforts, preferring instead to hand that particular duty off to the United Nations.

(AP Photo)

July 8, 2011

Why Is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?

Greg outlines four points on why Libya is Obama's Iraq. I must disagree. All four points open up a raft of counter responses, some of which go to the current president's benefit. The strongest is likely the third - "preceded by over-confident predictions" - but then, this could be said about the majority of American conflicts, and there is a matter of degrees (which Greg concedes).

But the fourth claim - "surrounded by Potemkin coalitions" - seems the greatest conflation of ravens and writing desks. Colin Powell's much-maligned coalition of the willing was at least a genuine coalition: eventually numbering thirty-four nations, five of which provided troops to the tune of roughly 48,000. Of course, the Bush administration's decision to dawdle and dither in the post-war years, including a epic levels of mismanagement by the State Department and the CPA, resulted in vast increases in the cost of Iraq's prosecution which the U.S. bore almost entirely alone and which peeled off allies over several years. But this does not make the initial coalition less real.

If a major problem with the Bush coalition was that its goal was far too limited to one aspect (not speaking in any serious way to the post-Saddam reality), the Libya coalition's major problem is that it cannot even decide on what their goal is, publicly at least. Even the simple question of coalition policy toward Gaddafi is a difficult one for Obama to answer. And senior rebel military leaders do not believe his ouster is even possible. (The question remains: is the real foe here Gaddafi or Marine Le Pen - the Lunatic of Libya or La Peste Blonde?)

Seen within the context of NATO's long slouch toward irrelevance, the criticism that coalition-based activity is really the U.S., the UK and a series of press releases is increasingly valid. The point is that the Bush coalition's goal in Iraq was limited to the toppling of Saddam Hussein, a goal it realized (even more rapidly than expected, which was part of the problem) before fissures emerged. Obama's coalition, on the other hand, was cracking apart before it accomplished anything of significance in Libya, and indeed before they could even decide on the coherent purpose of the coalition other than following France's lead.

July 6, 2011

Gaddafi = Hitler?

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned on Tuesday that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is "serious" about attacking European cities in order to pressure European officials to cease their airstrikes against Libya.

"He actually means it," Graham said of Gadhafi. "Hitler meant it. He means it."

Graham spoke in a colloquy with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and used borderline apocalyptic tones about the need to remove Gadhafi from power.

"I know we're a war-weary nation, but there is no upside to Gadhafi staying in power," he said. "That is a national security nightmare for this country." - The Hill

Indeed - and one entirely of our own making. I think Graham is right that Gaddafi's threats should be taken very seriously. Would that Graham take seriously the possibility of such things before advocating for military interventions.

July 5, 2011

Gaddafi Threatens Terrorism


The news that Gaddafi (and son) have threatened the West with terrorist attacks isn't all that surprising, given the man's loathsome history and his current predicament.

Given Gaddafi's threats, there are three possible courses of action for the NATO campaign: continue as is, hoping that air power and not-so-covert arms shipments are enough to tip the balance; ramp up efforts to unseat Gaddafi, even if that means inserting some troops; or press both parties for a cease-fire. I suspect the latter two options are off the table, given the previous statements of the Obama administration.

One of the better arguments against intervening in Libya's civil war was that it could turn the country back into a security problem for the West - as if there were not enough problems to deal with.

(AP Photo)

June 24, 2011

The Tea Party Divide Grows


For my part in our brief interview with House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) today, I asked whether the era of the Republican hawk is over, or just on hiatus till after the next election. He had an interesting response.

"Conservative Republicans have a three legged stool: defense, fiscal responsibility and social issues. Right now the stool is a little out of balance because fiscal matters are dominating everything, because of the economic shape we're in," McKeon said. "And when the Chairman of Joint Chiefs comes and tells us our most important defense need is our economic stability, that gets a lot of people thinking that's all we should be talking about, to the point where some of them are saying 'Defense should be on the table, Defense should be cut.'"

This fits, of course, into larger concerns Republicans have about the increasing divide between the Washington foreign policy elite and the base of the party - not just the Tea Party, but other fiscal and social conservatives as well. While several Tea Party favorites maintain a generally hawkish stance on Afghanistan and other fronts, their attitude toward Libya has been frustration and disagreement from day one. A recent letter signed by a roster of former George W. Bush appointees and neoconservatives on the issue contains little in the way of anyone who seems to have a firm connection with the right's base. (A chat with an average member of the Tea Party does not typically reveal a high approval rating for William Kristol and Karl Rove, in case anyone was curious.)

When it came time to vote today, McKeon was with the majority of Republicans, but on the opposite side from 89 of his members who successfully blocked an attempt to approve limited funding for NATO/U.S. efforts in Libya. Included in opposition are several darlings of the Tea Party, such as Michele Bachmann, Allen West and several other freshmen.

The question is whether this divide between the neoconservative foreign policy elites and the more conventionally conservative voting base on the right will grow to affect other areas of national security policy as well, beyond just things branded as "Obama's war." Without respected and serious go-betweens who don't have prior bad blood with the base, it's hard to see how McKeon's stool will be rebalanced.

(AP Photo)

The White House Needs Its Beauty Sleep

Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reports on an interview this morning with House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), where the chairman claimed the White House mismanaged their outreach on the Libya issue from day one - with sheer exhaustion as the justification. An excerpt:

On March 17 -- the same day that Obama was pursuing the authorization for war at the United Nations and two days after he decided he wanted to attack Libya -- the president had a 90-minute lunch with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) but never mentioned Libya once, McKeon said. McKeon left Washington that night, only to receive a phone call 10 a.m. Friday morning, saying, "The president wants you in the White House in an hour for a meeting."

"It's like at the last minute somebody thought ‘here's something we should check off, talk to the Congress,'" McKeon said.

When Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates eventually did come to Capitol Hill to brief Congress a week later, someone asked Clinton directly to address the issue of Congressional authorization and the War Powers Resolution.

"[Clinton] said, paraphrase, ‘It doesn't matter what you think, we're doing what we're doing.'" McKeon said. "I heard from a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that that really bothered them."

"Somebody else told me Secretary Clinton was living on about 3 or 4 hours sleep a night. So I just gave her the benefit of the doubt on that, I figured she was just tired and stressed when she made that comment," McKeon added.

McKeon then asked Gates to brief his committee for 3 hours, but Gates negotiated down the amount of time, telling McKeon, "I am exhausted... just physically," McKeon said.

Communication with Congress did not improve from then on, leaving lawmakers to come up with their own views on the war, McKeon said.

"There are a lot of people in the conference that feel the president has violated the constitution. And yet, some of those same people, they're not opposed to the mission in Libya," McKeon said." They think if he had met with Congress or in some way done a better job of setting up what he was going to do, they would feel much more comfortable and we wouldn't even be at the point where we are at."

Read the rest here.

June 21, 2011

Libya's Tribal Challenge


The Wall Street Journal highlights a potential challenge in a post-Gaddafi Libya:

The feud between Misrata and Tawergha offers a stark example of the challenges Libya will face in reconciling communities that found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict when Col. Gadhafi leaves power.

Misrata, Libya's third-largest city and its commercial hub, has been viewed with suspicion by Col. Gadhafi, who sought to promote minority groups like the Tawerghans and some Bedouin tribes in the area to counterbalance the might of the tightly knit white merchant families here.

Before the siege, nearly four-fifths of residents of Misrata's Ghoushi neighborhood were Tawergha natives. Now they are gone or in hiding, fearing revenge attacks by Misratans, amid reports of bounties for their capture.

The rebel leadership in the eastern city of Benghazi says it is working on a post-Gadhafi reconciliation plan. But details are fuzzy and rebel leaders often resort to platitudes when dismissing suggestions of discord, saying simply that "Libya is one tribe."

It would be grimly ironic (but not unexpected) if a war fought ostensibly to avert one humanitarian crisis gave rise to another, potentially more severe, catastrophe in its wake.

(AP Photo)

June 16, 2011

The American Interest

Glenn Greenwald claims to be shocked that the Obama administration would priviledge American companies over those from other countries:

Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton hosted a meeting of top executives from a wide array of corporations -- Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Halliburton, GE, Chevron, Lockheed Martin, Citigroup, Occidental Petroleum, etc. etc. -- to plot how to exploit "economic opportunities in the new Iraq." And one WikiLeaks "diplomatic" cable after the next reveals constant government efforts to promote the interests of Western corporations in the developing world. Nonetheless, the very notion that the U.S. wages wars not for humanitarian or freedom-spreading purposes, but rather to exploit the resources of other nations for its own large corporations, is deeply "irresponsible" and unSerious. As usual, the ideas stigmatized with the most potent taboos are the ones that are the most obviously true.

Really? I think it's just the opposite. There's no real stigma around the idea that the U.S. seeks to maximize its economic advantage or energy security through foreign policy. What else is it supposed to be doing?

It's true, as Greenwald notes, that there is often a taboo around discussing this so blatantly and crassly at the political level. Presidents are expected to engage in ritualistic paeans to universal human rights and paint the U.S. in the best light possible. But outside of some soaring presidential rhetoric, is the idea that the U.S. would seek to advantage its commercial interests when dealing overseas a "taboo?"


Remember Secretary of State James Baker's rationale for the first Gulf War? "Jobs, jobs, jobs."

It was obvious from the start that one of the primary reasons the West took such an active interest in Libya's humanitarian crisis was because of its oil. There has been no shortage of articles dealing with Libya's oil, its impact on the war or the role it has played in motivating countries like Great Britain to intervene in Libya's civil war. This is hardly hush-hush.

(Mind you, I don't think it was wise for the U.S. to intervene in Libya - no matter how much oil the country has - nor do I think the military should be used to tee-up preferential resource contracts for U.S. corporations.)

June 13, 2011

U.S. Views on Libya

A new Rasmussen poll shows little support for the war in Libya:

A plurality of voters now opposes further U.S. military action in Libya, and most say President Obama needs congressional approval to continue those operations.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 26% of Likely U.S. Voters feel the United States should continue its military actions in Libya. Forty-two percent (42%) are opposed and 32% are undecided.

One thing that's become clear about the Libyan intervention is that the optimistic forecasts about American involvement ("days not weeks") turned out to be utterly wrong. Wars are inherently unpredictable. One would think this would counsel caution, but in Washington, not so much.

June 2, 2011

Democracy For Everyone Else

The Pentagon is concerned:

Approval of a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives directing President Barack Obama to withdraw from NATO operations against Libya would send an "unhelpful message of disunity" to allies and foes alike, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said that "once military forces are committed, such actions by Congress can have significant consequences," particularly on relations with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"It sends an unhelpful message of disunity and uncertainty to our troops, our allies and, most importantly, the Gaddafi regime," Morrell said in a statement in Singapore, where Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived on Thursday to attend a security dialogue with Asian allies.

The other message it would send is that, in the U.S., people, including the executive branch, submit to the rule of law. But I guess "leading by example" on this is more or less out of the question.

May 31, 2011

Never Again

Andrew Exum unloads:

The U.S. and allied military campaign in Libya is an embarassment. From the very beginning, U.S. and allied political and strategic objectives have been unclear, and thus U.S. and allied military forces have been asked to carry out military operations without a clear commander's intent or end state. Out of all the operations orders that have been issued by the U.S. military for operations in Libya, in fact, only one -- the order to carry out the evacuation of non-combatants -- included an end state. None of the other orders issued to and by the U.S. military included an end state, in large part because senior military and civilian leaders either could not or chose not to explicitly articulate what the end state might be. The U.S. and allied military intervention is thus the very definition of an open-ended military intervention -- the kind in which most U.S. decision-makers swore we would never again engage after Iraq and Afghanistan.

I certainly agree that the campaign is an embarrassment (and potentially much worse) but I do question the last sentence. Which decision makers "swore we would never again" engage in an open-ended military intervention? Those kinds of wars seem very much on the table.

UK Views on Libya

Anthony Wells summarizes the latest YouGov poll of British views on Libya:

People were marginally in favour of the intervention in Libya (by 42% to 36%), but opposed further intervention to remove Gaddafi by 56% to 24%. Asked how long they though the West should continue to give military support to the rebels, 20% said it should stop immediately, 30% that it should continue for as long as necessary (6% said up to a month, 12% 3 months, 8% six months, 4% a year).

More generally YouGov asked if people though Britain should or should notbe prepared to take military action against leaders who posed a threat to their own people, but no direct threat to Britain – broadly whether people supported liberal interventionism or not. 32% thought Britain should intervene in such cases, 44% that she shouldn’t.

May 26, 2011

The Mess Awaiting NATO in Libya


Larison follows up on the issue of post-war planning in Libya:

The sobering thing to consider is that there has been far less planning and preparation for the post-Gaddafi Libya that the intervening governments say that they want than there was planning for a transition in Iraq. At least before the invasion of Iraq, the State Department had made some effort to come up with post-Hussein transition plans, which Pentagon planners and occupation officials dutifully ignored. There does not appear to be anything comparable going on in any of the NATO foreign ministries right now for officials to ignore later on. Supporters of the Iraq invasion were supremely overconfident and unreasonably optimistic about the prospects of transforming Iraq’s political system, and Americans and Iraqis have been paying the price for their arrogance ever since, but compared to Libya Iraq was a far better candidate for a transition from authoritarianism to some form of consultative or representative government. That doesn’t mean that it was a good candidate or that imposing political transformation on Iraq was wise, but that the same kind of transition in Libya will be vastly more difficult.
One argument I've made frequently is that a policy of nation building following a major conflict is largely unnecessary and costly. The U.S. has a very poor track record policing and restoring post conflict states and doesn't have the resources to devote to such endeavors given the meager security pay-off. So in this sense, if NATO presses ahead and unseats Gaddafi but avoids entangling itself in the messy aftermath, that's certainly better than dumping 100,000 troops into the place to try and police a post-Gaddafi Libya.

The problem for the administration is that it justified its intervention into Libya's civil war in purely humanitarian terms. It would completely undermine the war's rationale to sit idly by if a post-Gaddafi Libya descends into brutal chaos.

(AP Photo)

May 24, 2011

Choppers Into Libya


The mission creep in Libya continues with the news that the French and British will deploy attack helicopters to protect civilians strike at hard-to-reach Gaddafi forces. David Axe analyzes the move:

The decision to deploy attack helicopters was a long time in coming, a clear sign NATO appreciates the major escalation that the move represents. As early as April, analysts were saying helicopters might be necessary to root out Qadhafi’s most determined defenders. The British Apaches began preparing for sea operations in early May. In the meantime, the Royal Navy tried less risky methods of hitting Qadhafi’s troops, including gunfire from the destroyer HMS Liverpool.

As Britain and France up the ante in Libya, the U.S. continues to resist playing a larger role. U.S. Air Force A-10 attack planes and AC-130 gunships already represent the alliance’s most precise ground-attackers, short of helicopters. Plus, “we continue to provide the majority of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out.

But the Pentagon, notably, has not volunteered its own Apache and Cobra attack helicopters for ultra-dangerous Libya duty.

It does seem that NATO is dedicated to slowly ratcheting up the pressure on Gaddafi. But it does again beg the question of what NATO's plans are for a post-Gaddafi Libya, should they succeed in driving him from power. Unlike Iraq, there is now at least a semblance of a government in waiting in the Libyan Interim National Council - certainly more legitimate than the Chalabi-led Iraqi National Congress that the Pentagon flew into Iraq. And in this sense, the slow progress toward unseating Gaddafi has given the Council some time to dispense with the inevitable in-fighting and politicking that would naturally occur should they assume real power in Libya.

That said, the real test is not whether some alternative government can eventually assume power in Tripoli, but whether it could hold the country together against an insurgency from regime loyalists - if they choose to mount one. And if an insurgency does flare up, what role will NATO play in attempting to suppress it?

(AP Photo)

May 19, 2011

Who's Leading in Libya?

No one's quite sure, according to a new Rasmussen poll:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows that 38% believe the burden of the military operation in Libya is being handled primarily by U.S. allies like England and France. Thirty-two percent (32%) believe the United States is primarily handling the operation, while another 30% are not sure.

Democrats and voters not affiliated with either major political party lean more toward the view that our allies are the ones who are primarily handling the military operation, while Republicans are more evenly divided. A plurality of GOP voters (42%) says the United States is primarily handling the military operation in Libya.

Hopefully President Obama's speech today will provide some clarity as to the U.S. mission in Libya.

May 17, 2011

Americans See Gaddafi's Fall

According to a new poll from Rasmussen, most Americans see Gaddafi's days as numbered:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows that 63% believe it is at least somewhat likely that Gaddafi will be removed from power as a result of the military action now being taken by the United States and other countries. Just 21% disagree and say it’s not likely. Those figures include 24% who say Gaddafi’s removal from power is Very Likely and only three percent (3%) say it is Not At All Likely....

Overall, 41% of voters give good or excellent ratings to the way the Obama administration has responded to situation in Libya, up slightly from 37% in April. Twenty-three percent (23%) give the administration poor marks for its handling of the Libyan situation.

May 12, 2011

Eat It

Gates, fielding questions from Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said the current U.S. budget-cutting efforts were unlikely to have an effect on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are funded separately from the defense budget.

"In the case of Libya, unfortunately, we're fundamentally having to eat (the expense of) that one," Gates said. - Reuters

A billion here, a billion there...

May 5, 2011

Dying for Credibility

Ilan Berman presses for regime change in Libya:

Reasonable minds may differ over whether our intervention in Libya, a country exceedingly marginal to U.S. strategic interests, was warranted in the first place. What isn’t in dispute is that having made the decision to intervene, the United States and its allies need to do more than simply muddle through. They must now unequivocally seek victory, as they themselves have defined it: the removal of Col. Gadhafi and his regime, by proxy if possible and by direct military intervention if necessary.

This certainly isn’t because regime change in Libya is necessarily a good idea. The West still knows precious little about Libyan politics, or what kind of political order might follow the Gadhafi era. Rather, it’s because, having committed its resources and prestige, a failure by NATO to finish the job would have catastrophic consequences.

According to Berman, these catastrophic consequences include Gaddafi's return to terrorism and the potential for Gaddafi to terrorize his own citizens worse than he already is. But the worst outcome in not seeking regime change, Berman writes, would be the demolition of NATO's credibility. In other words, while admitting that regime change might be a bad idea, we have to go ahead and do it anyway regardless of the costs, just to maintain our credibility.

If you had to choose between some embarrassment in NATO HQ vs. the potential for an Iraq-style quagmire, which would you choose?

The Myth of Military Force

Regardless of whether one thinks the president’s intervention in Libya was right or wrong, the way he intervened has likely guaranteed that the eventual fall of Qaddafi will cost many more lives and leave Libya in worse shape than if Obama had chosen more aggressive American action—including lots of Special Forces on the ground—earlier. The president had to know—despite whatever Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said publicly—that the decision to intervene meant regime change. The stiff retorts of Gates to questions about American objectives in Libya show his concern about “mission creep.” It will be brutally ironic if Gates, the administration’s preeminent “realist,” who surely would have opposed the Iraq “surge” if he’d stayed in the Iraq Study Group, ends up making in Libya exactly the same mistake as his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, in Iraq: dogged opposition to sending sufficient force to accomplish the mission. - Reuel Marc Gerecht

The notion that sending in loads of special forces to help unseat Gaddafi would end the conflict with less loss of life is pure conjecture. Undoubtedly it would hasten Gaddafi's end, but that's not the same thing as restoring stability and a measure of peace to Libya. Indeed, recent U.S. forays into this kind of business show that we are uniquely incapable of restoring peace and stability to a country after we've intervened in it.

Steve Chapman has a good piece today on just this subject.

April 27, 2011

Real Costs vs. Fake Ones

James Dubik throws down the guantlet in the New York Times, arguing that the U.S. should not only hasten the overthrow of Gaddafi but plan on policing a post-war Libya with its own forces, as well as those from the United Nations. In other words, he wants to turn Libya from a limited engagement into a full blown nation building exercise ala Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is what he's proposing:

The responsibility for security, reconstruction and nation-building will likely fall to the United Nations, which would mean deploying a multinational peacekeeping force in Libya, including troops from the United States, NATO and Arab nations. Washington must start planning and preparing for this complex and expensive contingency and muster the substantial political will required to see it through. While there is no guarantee that such a project will be any more efficient or effective than in Iraq or Afghanistan, failing to plan for it would be disastrous.

This is a path with real costs in money, manpower, executive branch attention and lives. Now, here is the alternative path that Dubik hopes to avoid:

America could pull out, making a tacit admission that the intervention was a strategic mistake. But a resurgent Colonel Qaddafi would likely seek revenge against the rebels and those who helped them. Moreover, NATO’s resolve would be called into question, as would America’s. Whatever influence Washington might have in the region would evaporate and Al Qaeda would waste no time pointing out that the United States had abandoned Muslims on the battlefield.

This course of action involves the following costs to the United States: someone, somewhere would "question" our "resolve," our "influence" would "evaporate" and al-Qaeda would tease us.

Is that worth several hundred billion dollars to you?

April 25, 2011

Thinking Things Through

In McCain's view, a modest increase in moral and material support to the rebels, plus more aggressive application of American air power — including the use of unmanned drones — would cause the regime to crumble. "I don't think it would be a lengthy campaign. In this kind of warfare, momentum shifts one way or the other." But what if it doesn't? What if, even after we make the Libyan war a fair fight, Gaddafi remains in power? That remains the insoluble Western dilemma, and even McCain is unable to offer a way out. - Romesh Ratnesar, Time

In other words, Senator McCain is basing his policies on best-case assumptions of what will happen, without giving any thought to what happens if they don't come to pass. All the more remarkable is that this kind of blithe disregard for what happens if Plan A doesn't quite pan out is happening in 2011, with the supposed benefit of seeing a similar approach fail disastrously in Iraq.

April 22, 2011

We're All Libyans Now

"They are my heroes," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said today as he visited Benghazi, Libya — a rebel-held city where the opposition to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is centered. - NPR

Sound familiar?

April 21, 2011

Humanitarian Intervention


The rationale behind America's intervention in Libya's civil war was that, absent immediate assistance, Gaddafi's forces would commit a massacre of civilians in the city of Benghazi that would have "stained the conscience of the world." Yet in the city of Misrata, the humanitarian situation seems just as dire, with between 300 to 1,000 civilians killed.

So what is the West going to do? NATO commanders are admitting there's not much they can do from the air and insisting that they won't send in ground troops, while the UK, Italy and France send in advisors. The Obama administration is going to kick in $25 million in money it doesn't have to buy things for the rebels, while loudly insisting it's wary about what it's doing.

The war in Libya is highlighting the contradictions of a limited war waged for humanitarian purposes with political goals (i.e. the removal of Gaddafi) that are out in front of what the combatants are willing to commit.

The question now becomes how far the Obama administration is willing to go to save face.

(AP Photo)

April 20, 2011

Wary in Libya

The question of Islamic fundamentalists among the rebels is one of the murkier issues for Western nations who are aiding the anti-Gadhafi forces with airstrikes and must decide how deeply to get involved in the fight. Some countries, including the U.S., have been wary — partly out of concern over possible extremists among the rebels. - AP

I don't think it's correct to characterize the Obama administration as "wary" about Libya's rebels. A government that was "wary" would not commit itself to wage war on the rebel's behalf. It's more accurate to say that the administration jumped into the middle of a civil war about which it knew absolutely nothing about on behalf of rebels about which it also knew absolutely nothing about.

There are a lot of words to describe that behavoir, but "wary" isn't one of them

April 15, 2011

An Unclear Path


In their op-ed today, President Obama, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron argue that Libya can only be at peace if Gaddafi steps down: long as Qaddafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Qaddafi must go and go for good. At that point, the United Nations and its members should help the Libyan people as they rebuild where Qaddafi has destroyed — to repair homes and hospitals, to restore basic utilities, and to assist Libyans as they develop the institutions to underpin a prosperous and open society.

Nowhere in the article, however, do they explain how they intend to bring about his downfall. The leaders state that unseating Gaddafi was not the point of the mission, but then declare that the NATO mission will not end unless and until Gaddafi steps aside. So it's only natural for people to point out that there is a rather glaring mismatch between means and ends here. Why harp on the fact that the goal is Gaddafi's departure if you're not going to take the necessary steps to hasten him to the door?

This isn't simply incoherent, it's dangerous. It is obviously foolish to try and unseat Gaddafi - the U.S.and NATO are completely unprepared to police and stabilize a post-Gaddafi Libya. But by publicly affirming that the goal is regime change, Western leaders are ultimately committed to doing so down the road.

(AP Photo)

April 14, 2011

The Libya Farce

It might be worth pointing out that the thing that has driven Libya to the point where it is in danger of becoming a failed state is the military intervention that did just enough to fracture the country into two parts. Where was all this concern about the Somalification of Libya a month ago when people were calling for turning it into another Somalia by attacking Libya? Escalating the Libyan war and toppling Gaddafi isn’t going to make the Somalification of Libya less likely, but will in all likelihood guarantee the disintegration of whatever political order remains. The U.S. and NATO are in their current predicament because too few people in charge of making decisions paid attention to unintended consequences and worst-case scenarios. Now would be a good time to fix that bad habit. - Daniel Larison

As further evidence of that lack of foresight, now Britain and France are whining that other NATO states haven't taken some of the burden of the Libyan air war off their shoulders now that a stalemate is clearly in the making. But as the U.S. found with its own boondoggle in Iraq, allies aren't keen on being dragged into wars not of their own making with little to no relevance to their own security or interests.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress can't quite clear the calendar to discuss Libya:

The Senate probably won't be debating the Libya war anytime soon. Top senators on both sides of the aisle are still negotiating over language for a resolution to express the Senate's view on the U.S. involvement in Libya, while the budget battle pushes the intervention to the back burner.

Congress was upset with President Barack Obama last month for committing U.S. forces to the international military intervention in Libya without seeking congressional consent or even really telling Congress about it in advance. But now, almost a month after the attack began, the appetite in the Senate for holding a full-fledged Libya debate on the floor, much less passing a resolution, just isn't there.

"I don't know if there will be time" to debate a resolution before senators leave town for a two-week recess next week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.

Is it any surprise that the executive branch doesn't really take Congress seriously when it comes to matters of war and peace?

April 7, 2011

Ground Troops Into Libya?

Deeper and deeper:

The U.S. may consider sending troops into Libya with a possible international ground force that could aid the rebels, the former U.S. commander of the military mission said Thursday, describing the ongoing operation as a stalemate that is more likely to go on now that America has handed control to NATO.

But Army Gen. Carter Ham also told lawmakers that American participation in a ground force would not be ideal, since it could erode the international coalition attacking Moammar Gadhafi's forces and make it more difficult to get Arab support for operations in Libya.

Of course it wouldn't be ideal, but now that we've started down the path it's very hard to change course. Not to worry though, because we've got a clear handle on things:

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, complained that the lack of knowledge about the rebels is a U.S. intelligence failure.

"It strikes me as unusual and maybe something that Congress needs to look at further, that our intelligence capabilities are so limited that we don't even know the composition of the opposition force in Libya, " Cornyn said.

If Congress isn't going to rouse itself to debate the war, why should it bother informing itself about whose side we're on?

April 5, 2011

UK Libya Polling

A new poll (pdf) from YouGov asked Britains about Libya. Overall, 50 percent think Prime Minister David Cameron is doing well vs. 35 percent who believe he's doing badly. Views are more mixed about the wisdom of taking action against Libya: 41 percent thought it was the right idea vs. 40 percent who thought it was wrong. Of those polled, 49 percent thought military action is going well vs. 27 percent who thought it is going badly.

When it comes to taking more aggressive action against Libya, British public opinion turns negative. Only 28 percent would support arming the rebels vs. 46 percent who oppose such a move. A clear majority - 64 percent - do not want to send coalition ground forces into Libya to depose Gaddafi.

April 4, 2011

Humanitarian Interventions


Ever since President Obama decided to intervene in Libya's civil war, proponents of humanitarian intervention have rebuffed critics of intervention on the grounds that just because the U.S. doesn't intervene everywhere human rights abuses occur does not mean it should never intervene anywhere. The New York Times' Nicolas Kristof has been a leading proponent of this argument:

Critics argue that we are inconsistent, even hypocritical, in our military interventions. After all, we intervened promptly this time in a country with oil, while we have largely ignored Ivory Coast and Darfur — not to mention Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.

We may as well plead guilty. We are inconsistent. There’s no doubt that we cherry-pick our humanitarian interventions.

But just because we allowed Rwandans or Darfuris to be massacred, does it really follow that to be consistent we should allow Libyans to be massacred as well? Isn’t it better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none?

Sure, but this begs an important question: if we state up front that the U.S. cannot intervene everywhere human rights abuses occur then aren't we implicitly conceding that humanitarian motives aren't, actually, the main issue we're debating? In this case, it's insufficient to simply say the intervention 'saved lives' since a host of other important factors are at play. And from there it's a question not simply of saving lives but at what cost.

(AP Photo)

The Obama Administration's Iran Spin

“It shouldn’t be overstated that this was the deciding factor, or even a principal factor” in the decision to intervene in Libya, Benjamin J. Rhodes, a senior aide who joined in the meeting, said last week. But, he added, the effect on Iran was always included in the discussion. In this case, he said, “the ability to apply this kind of force in the region this quickly — even as we deal with other military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan — combined with the nature of this broad coalition sends a very strong message to Iran about our capabilities, militarily and diplomatically.”

That afternoon in the Situation Room vividly demonstrates a rarely stated fact about the administration’s responses to the uprisings sweeping the region: The Obama team holds no illusions about Colonel Qaddafi’s long-term importance. Libya is a sideshow. Containing Iran’s power remains their central goal in the Middle East. Every decision — from Libya to Yemen to Bahrain to Syria — is being examined under the prism of how it will affect what was, until mid-January, the dominating calculus in the Obama administration’s regional strategy: how to slow Iran’s nuclear progress, and speed the arrival of opportunities for a successful uprising there. - David Sanger

There's a lot to say about this, if it indeed reflects the administration's thinking. The first thing to point out is that the idea that America's intervention in Libya is in any way frightening to Tehran strikes me as an enormous stretch.

First, the Obama administration set up a multitude of conditions before it used force: the prospect of an imminent and massive humanitarian catastrophe, strong multilateral backing, NATO in the lead, etc. None of those conditions would likely be met for a preemptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Second, the administration has talked tough about removing Gaddafi but has failed to match its military strategy with its rhetoric. Far from fearing the display of American fire power and capabilities, the Supreme Leader & co. would likely conclude (if they haven't already) that American politicians let their mouths run far ahead of their intentions.

Finally, as Doug Bandow pointed out, the administration has actually dealt a massive blow to its hopes of convincing rogue regimes to disarm peacefully. Why on Earth would Iran - watching what's happening to Libya's erstwhile regime - give up a nuclear weapon now and leave itself vulnerable to military action? This is the lesson North Korea has drawn from Libya and it is, from the standpoint of a rogue regime, an utterly correct one.

The administration needs to get their Libya spin straight. On Friday, they're telling David Brooks that they plunged the U.S. into the middle of Libya's civil war with the understanding that it could hamstring the U.S. for years to come; on Sunday they're telling David Sanger that Libya is a "sideshow." Another lesson that Iran, and more charitable observers, is likely to draw from these conflicting signals is that the administration doesn't actually have a coherent strategy - for Libya, for Iran or for the greater Middle East. That's understandable, given the fast-moving unrest and tumult, but it is considerably less forgivable now that they've gone ahead and entangled the U.S. into a deeply problematic civil war.

April 1, 2011

Keeping Up Appearances

President Obama took this decision, I’m told, fully aware that there was no political upside while there were enormous political risks. He took it fully aware that we don’t know much about Libya. He took it fully aware that if he took this action he would be partially on the hook for Libya’s future. But he took it as an American must — motivated by this country’s historical role as a champion of freedom and humanity — and with the awareness that we simply could not stand by with Russia and China in opposition. - David Brooks

In other words, the president made a momentous strategic decision on matters of war and peace that his own spin doctors admit he knew nothing about but which he understood could potentially hamstring the U.S. for years to come ... just to be different than China and Russia.

And you wonder why we're broke.

Because Their Website Said So

After spending many paragraphs urging the United States to plunge deeper into Libya's civil war, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman offer an extensive and rigorous assessment one paragraph exploring the nature and goals of the opposition they wish the U.S. to support:

Some critics still argue that we should be cautious about helping the Libyan opposition, warning that we do not know enough about them or that their victory could pave the way for an al Qaeda takeover. Both arguments are hollow. By all accounts, the Transitional National Council is led by moderates who have declared their vision for (as their website puts it) Libya becoming "a constitutional democratic civil state based on the rule of law, respect for human rights and the guarantee of equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens."

Well that settles it then. Their website said so.

At least they went to the website (presumably!). Paul Wolfowitz spent much of this panel discussion demanding that the U.S. throw the full weight of its support and aid behind Libya's rebels, then, when asked to name a single figure in the revolt, told the questioner to "go Google them."

And on this basis, America goes to war.

March 31, 2011

That Pesky Constitution

David Reiff makes a sound point about the Libyan intervention's fundamental lack of democratic legitimacy:

Why Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, or David Cameron feel that who rules Libya is any of their affair, and why they were more intent on securing the (grudging) assent of the Arab League than the assent of their own legislatures, shows just how misguided the doctrine of humanitarian intervention really is. These leaders are more intent on imposing democracy by force than in honoring the democratic judgment of their parliaments at home.

Larison goes further:

So, yes, this is an argument over “values” as well as interests, and the supporters of the war are willing to sacrifice concrete interests and jeopardize fundamental American values for the sake of intervening in another country’s civil war for what are very debatable humanitarian reasons. Americans are being asked to choose what we value more. Do we actually value self-government, the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances, and constitutional republicanism, or are we content to let all of those things be trashed on the whim of a relative handful of people for the sake of ideology and good intentions? Do we believe that the President must act within the law, or do we believe he is above it?

Well said.

Obama Not Moving U.S. Opinion on Libya

A Rasmussen poll finds that the public views Obama's handling of Libya favorably, although his speech on Monday didn't change many minds:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 43% of Likely U.S. Voters rate the Obama administration’s response to the Libya situation as good or excellent, marking little change from two previous surveys. Thirty percent (30%) give the administration poor marks, up from 21% earlier this month before the president committed U.S. forces to Libya.

Forty percent (40%) of voters felt at that time that the administration was doing a good or excellent job responding to the political crisis in Libya. Last week, with the U.S. military actively involved in Libya, 41% rated the Obama administration’s response as good or excellent, but 28% said it was doing a poor job.

The numbers also worsened slightly for the president from last week when voters are asked if Libya is vital to U.S. national security these days. Twenty-seven percent (27%) of voters say yes, while 48% say no, up six points from a week ago. Twenty-four percent (24%) remain undecided.

The latest survey was taken Monday and Tuesday nights, and the findings from the first night prior to the president’s speech and the second night after the speech show virtually no change on either question.

Regime Change or Bust

The president made a powerful, well-reasoned case Monday night for America’s intervention in Libya, marshaling the best humanitarian, strategic and political arguments as to why the United States could not have stood by and done nothing while Gaddafi’s forces massacred Libyan rebels. Besides, America’s closest allies were pleading for our help. But Obama did little to address the central strategic gap in his policy on Libya between its expansive goals — chiefly the ouster of Gaddafi — and its tightly defined military means. There are only two ways to close the gap — escalate the means or scale back your goals. - Fareed Zakaria

If the past history of American foreign policy is any precedent, there is always a bias toward activism, which means those urging to escalate the means will win out. We are already on the ground in Libya assessing the capabilities of the rebels and most likely paving the way for an increase in U.S. involvement in - and coordination of - their civil war. This is the logical consequence of President Obama's declaration that U.S. policy is to see Gaddafi ousted.

You can see the sequence clearly: American and Western aid tips the scales and helps the rebels oust Gaddafi. Gaddafi loyalists resort to an insurgency against whatever fragile government steps in to fill the void. There are urgent calls from the international community to stabilize the new regime which was, after all, too weak to capture Libya on its own and thus too weak to govern and provide security for the country. Then what does President Obama do? The threat to civilian lives in Libya will be no less severe in a condition of post-war anarchy. If the U.S. had a "responsibility to protect" Libyan civilians before it played any role in their endangerment, that responsibility will only increase having played an active hand in subsequent events.

March 30, 2011

Smart Power

The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to the rebels in Libya, senior officials said on Tuesday, with some fearful that providing arms would deepen American involvement in a civil war and that some fighters may have links to Al Qaeda. - New York Times

It truly beggars belief that we're even having this conversation. Read the end of the above sentence again: we're contemplating giving weapons to fighters who may have links to al-Qaeda. What could possibly go wrong?

This is the same administration that is trying to unwind a war against a group of fighters who were the recipients of American arms two decades ago!

Libya and Defense Spending

Politico reports that proponents of keeping America in debt high defense spending are using Libya as an excuse to put the breaks on cuts:

The airstrikes are already being used by some in the Republican establishment to blunt momentum in favor of the cuts, long considered heretical in a town in which defense contractors constitute a formidable lobby and members of Congress view the Pentagon budget as a jobs program and fear being tagged as unpatriotic.

Squeezed by political forces to his right and his left, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has led the charge against efforts to scale back defense spending.

“This would be one of those examples that can be used to buttress his argument that now is not the time for deep cuts in defense,” said Josh Holly, the committee’s communications director. The chairman’s concern is “not being properly positioned to deal with the contingencies that might be on the horizon, whether that be a modernizing military in China or (a military action) in Libya.”

Libya, though, could just as easily work against the argument for sustaining a huge defense budget, on the grounds that the intervention into Libya's civil war is just the kind of unnecessary policy that is weighing down America's balance sheet. Consider that Libya has cost $550 million "and counting" according to the National Journal. There are cost savings to be had in running a less interventionist foreign policy, but it appears that Washington isn't all that interested in spending restraint at home or abroad.

Support Falling for Libya War

According to a new poll:

A plurality of voters -- and a majority of independent voters -- thinks the U.S. military should not be involved in Libya right now, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday that also shows President Obama with his lowest-ever approval rating and re-elect score.

Just 41 percent of American voters say the U.S. is doing the right thing by using military force in Libya right now, while 47 percent believe that the U.S. should not be involved in the North African nation. Among independents, that support slips to 38 percent, with 51 percent saying the U.S. should not be involved.

The percentage of independents who say the U.S. is doing the right thing in Libya is lower than the percentage of Democrats (48 percent) or Republicans (40 percent) who approve of the use military force, echoing the results of two other surveys released over the last week that also showed support for the Libya mission lagging among independents.

March 29, 2011

Foreign Policy Budgeting

Political capital, international support, time, military resources, and attention are all limited. Humanitarian interventionists insist that their cause should receive a large amount of all of these at a time when our government is already overburdened with commitments, but in practice they seem inclined to fritter them all away on the crisis du jour rather than conserve them and apply them to avert genuine, large-scale loss of life. If we were talking about any other area of policy, this indiscriminate and wasteful approach would badly damage interventionists’ credibility, but because it involves the exercise of American power abroad they are allowed to be as careless and wasteful as they please. - Daniel Larison

It's interesting to note that this appears to be a Transatlantic phenomena as well. The UK is undergoing a round of austerity budgeting and yet they still found enough funds between the couch cushions to sail off into Libya. On the other hand, Germany - which is being widely criticized for abstaining during the Security Council vote on Libya - has refused to participate. Perhaps it's no coincidence that they're one of the few Western nations not perilously in debt.

March 28, 2011

Obama's Speech

President Obama offered a very strong humanitarian case for American intervention in Libya. The crux:

It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right. In this particular country - Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and - more profoundly - our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

It seemed clear throughout the speech that the president put significant emphasis on the fact that there was a coalition (however small) and UN imprimatur on America's military action. Many critics will no doubt pounce on this as proof of President Obama's one-world liberalism, but I think it's his way of wiggling out of any precedent setting doctrine with respect to Libya. It's rare indeed to have the UN and the Arab League join hands to endorse military action against a Middle Eastern state. Obama is probably betting that the multilateral stars won't align like this again, thus sparing him the need to act if other regional despots go on their own murderous rampages.

But what of American policy going forward? Here's what he had to say:

Of course, there is no question that Libya - and the world - will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

The task that I assigned our forces - to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger, and to establish a No Fly Zone - carries with it a UN mandate and international support. It is also what the Libyan opposition asked us to do.

This is eerily similar to President George H.W. Bush's justification for not marching into Baghdad: too many risks and beyond the scope of the coalition. I think Obama is right not to send troops marching into Tripoli to unseat Gaddafi, but pledging to remove him through "non military means" sets up a possible stalemate in Libya and a long-term U.S. commitment to regime change. And the last thing a cash-strapped U.S. needs at the moment is yet another Middle Eastern regime to contain.

End Game in Libya


Many commentators are urging President Obama to spell out how America's role in Libya's civil war will end. The trouble is, there's no reason we should take the president seriously.

It's not that the president is going to lie about his intentions in Libya, it's simply that the administration has set itself on a course of managing Libya's internal politics that may not be so easy to steer away from. I mentioned Somalia below as one possible end-state for Libya, but the Somalia example is relevant not simply because Libya may become a failed state. Somalia was an example of a U.S. intervention that was rather quickly (though not instantly) unwound after it became obvious that the costs were not worth the benefits. It took a fire fight in the streets of Mogadishu to drive that cost/benefit calculus home, but it did occur and the U.S. has avoided intervening in the country ever since (of course, not intervening is not the same as not interfering, which the U.S. continues to do).

Unlike the first Gulf War, which morphed into a decades-long containtment regime that entailed policing Iraq's skies, occasionally bombing and eventually invading, the country, the U.S. was able to more or less "wash its hands" of the mess in Somalia.

So the question with respect to Libya is whether we're facing a situation akin to Somalia in 1993 (minus, let's hope, any U.S. casualties), where the U.S. can walk away following a military intervention and not get dragged back in, or whether the U.S. has set itself up for a second Iraq, where we are left policing and containing Gaddafi until regime change by military force becomes American policy. It may take a subsequent administration or two to reap what this administration has sown.

(AP Photo)

Libya or Somalia?

Spencer Ackerman reports that the U.S. plan for ending the Libya war is to exhort Gaddafi and his field commanders to stand down:

Whereas once the loyalists did the besieging, now they might be preparing for a siege of Gadhafi’s capitol. No wonder the call for defections is ringing out.

But that’s the only endgame that Clinton and Gates articulated. And NATO’s announcement that it’ll take over the war stopped short of measures to directly tip the military balance on the ground.

In a statement issued Sunday, NATO drew a firm line short of arming the Libyan opposition. Its efforts to “enforce the arms embargo” authorized by the United Nations will be “impartial, as the embargo “applies to all sides.” The rebels can rely on NATO planes for air cover, but nothing more.

NATO has already taken a difficult step in assuming command of the war. So it may not be surprising that it doesn’t want the mission to escalate into an effort to oust Gadhafi. But it’s an open question whether the poorly trained and outgunned rebels can defeat Gadhafi’s mechanized forces, even if they march all the way to Tripoli.

As a wise man once observed, predictions are hard, especially about the future. So I'm not going to speculate on how Libya is going to "end." I would like to pose the following question, however: would it be better for U.S. and Western interests to have a Somalia-style failed state in Libya following the violent overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, or would it be preferable to have Gaddafi slaughter his way back to unified control over Libya?

March 27, 2011

Obama's Constitutional Libya Approach


Setting aside the policy issues involved in Libya, it's worth highlighting the legal debate on the constitutionality of President Obama's policy action. The accusations of unconstitutional activity here are overwhelmingly from non-lawyers - both from libertarians, the paleoconservative right and the anti-war left.

Many of the same factions claimed George W. Bush went far beyond the Constitution's limitations, but I think it's notable that Bruce Ackerman declares the activity unconstitutional from the left, even as he concedes that Obama is going beyond the limits of what Bush did:

The War Powers Resolution doesn't authorize a single day of Libyan bombing. But it does provide an escape hatch, stating that it is not "intended to alter the constitutional authority of the Congress or of the President." So it's open for Obama to assert that his power as commander in chief allows him to wage war without Congress, despite the Constitution's insistence to the contrary.

Many modern presidents have made such claims, and Harry Truman acted upon this assertion in Korea. But it's surprising to find Obama on the verge of ratifying such precedents. He was elected in reaction to the unilateralist assertions of John Yoo and other apologists for George W. Bush-era illegalities. Yet he is now moving onto ground that even Bush did not occupy. After a lot of talk about his inherent powers, Bush did get Congress to authorize his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, Obama is putting Bush-era talk into action in Libya -- without congressional authorization.

Ackerman mentions Yoo, who makes a strong case for the constitutionality of Obama's actions in Libya:

Mr. Obama once agreed with his Democratic colleagues, saying in 2007 that "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Fast forward four years: Last Monday, Mr. Obama notified Congress that he ordered military action in Libya "pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive."

For once, Mr. Obama has the Constitution about right. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 74, "The direction of war implies the direction of the common strength, and the power of directing and employing the common strength forms a usual and essential part in the definition of the executive authority." Presidents should conduct war, he wrote, because they could act with "decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch." In perhaps his most famous words, Hamilton wrote that "Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. . . . It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks."

The truth is that Mr. Bush's case for constitutional authority far outstrips Mr. Obama's. In 2001 and 2002, Mr. Bush won legislative approval for both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars even though he didn't need it.

There are not just legal concerns here though, but practical ones:

Congress is too fractured, slow and inflexible to manage war. Its loose, decentralized structure would paralyze American policy while foreign threats loom. The Framers understood that Congress's real power would lie in the purse. During the 1788 Virginia ratifying convention, Patrick Henry attacked the Constitution for failing to limit presidential militarism. James Madison replied: "The sword is in the hands of the British king; the purse is in the hands of the Parliament. It is so in America, as far as any analogy can exist."

Yoo plans to supplement his piece with several posts at Ricochet on the statements of the Founders on the issue. I look forward to seeing these items; I've read many of them myself, but they tend to get glossed over in these arguments (and often by those who are all about citing the Founders).

From my perspective, Yoo's arguing from a position that has a far longer historical ancestry in interpreting the constitutional role of the presidency - a view that has effectively been in place since Thomas Jefferson's war against the Barbary Pirates. The burden is on those who believe that Congress actually has a minute-by-minute, day-by-day management role to play in the realm of modern warfare, both for practical and principled reasons, to make the case for what seems to me a very different definition of the role of the Commander in Chief.

(AP Photo)

March 26, 2011

Who Supports the War in Libya

Via the Economist, an interactive look at where various countries stand on the war in Libya.

March 25, 2011

False Presumptions and Obama's War


Whether you're a neoconservative or a paleoconservative opinion writer, you can easily make the same mistakes when it comes to evaluating the formation of policy - particularly if you have no background in that line of work. Such is the case this week with Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post and Daniel Larison at The Week, both of whom seem to be taking profoundly exaggerated views of the role of President Obama in shaping the current response in Libya.

Wars tend to be defined by the president who's in power at the time. But it's important to remember that wars don't merely occur at the whim of the president, nor are they always prosecuted by his design. The president is not a battlefield strategist - he evaluates the options presented to him by those who work under him (or, as one might say, "I was elected to lead, not to read"). Presidents don't answer an open-ended test in these situations - it's multiple choice, with the potential solutions outlined by those underneath them.

That's why in this case, I think the U.S. role in the conflict in Libya is not necessarily a reflection of Obama's Ivy League values or professorial attitude, as Krauthammer maintains - nor is it a purposeful "hybrid of the worst traits of the wars of George W. Bush and Tony Blair" as Larison argues. The truth of the matter is that the incoherent nature of America's policy toward Libya is not a sign of a direct fault with Obama the man. His "Ivy League values" aren't reflected in the way the United States has approached Libya any more than his knee jerk rejection of the policy doctrines of George W. Bush as a candidate have informed it.

Instead, I think those flaws are a degree away from the problems we're seeing in the administration's approach. They are weaknesses, known for some time internally, now being made apparent publicly in the inconsistent approach of the White House.

The signs are clear of an administration bickering with itself and its allies about which direction to take. As Karen Tumulty writes, "part of the confusion comes from the fact that the administration has shifted over the past weeks - from resisting military action, to leading the first assault, to positioning itself to hand over control to its partners. That seems to have left almost no one satisfied. Those who were urging Obama from the start to charge in - neoconservatives on the right; humanitarian interventionists on the left - say he dithered too long. Those who warned against yet another incursion into the Muslim world, particularly in a country where U.S. interests are limited, say he has been reckless."

Yet the distinction here is important: this halting, uncertain stumbling toward a poorly thought-through military engagement is a sign of Obama's failing as a Chief Executive, not as a Commander in Chief.

Continue reading "False Presumptions and Obama's War" »

How to Crawl Out of the Libyan Morass


By Elbridge Colby

It’s hard to believe but the United States is at war with yet another opprobrious Middle Eastern country – and, perhaps even more amazingly, is doing so without the clear sense of our objectives that can provide a logic for what we need to do and, more importantly, what we don’t need to do. Of course, finding such a coherent strategy won’t be easy, as the attack on Libya, lacking a concrete connection to the advancement or protection of substantial American interests, was ill-advised, as Brent Scowcroft, Richard Lugar, Richard Haass, Joe Scarborough and others have rightly pointed out. (For an unwittingly eye-opening admission of this, see Ben Rhodes’ explanation here.) But here we are, and we must make the best of it, as Scowcroft recently conceded.

So where do we go from here?

Continue reading "How to Crawl Out of the Libyan Morass" »

Map of Allied Deployments in Libya


Via the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a map depicting allied deployments in Libya. They've also compiled a list of military assets known to be deployed to the region.

March 24, 2011

Gingrich's Flip Flop on Libya


Newt Gingrich is doing himself no favors with this flip flop on Libya, but it's an instructive moment for other Republicans on the problem with being reflexively anti-Obama. Here's the situation:

On March 7, the former Speaker of the House and likely 2012 presidential candidate told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that his response to Libya would be swift and unilateral. “Exercise a no-fly zone this evening,” he said.

“I mean, the idea that we’re confused about a man who has been an anti-American dictator since 1969 just tells you how inept this administration is,” he continued. “They were very quick to jump on Mubarak, who was their ally for 30 years, and they were confused about getting rid of Gaddafi. This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with.”

Now that Obama has taken that step and established a no-fly zone in conjunction with UN allies, Gingrich has changed tacks.

“I would not have intervened,” he told Matt Lauer on The Today Show Wednesday. “I think there are a lot of other ways to affect Gaddafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region that we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces.”

He criticized Obama for changing the designated purpose of the mission. “The president said on March 3, ‘Gaddafi has to go.’ Well they’re now saying this is a humanitarian intervention, which is nonsense. If this is not designed to get rid of Gaddafi, then this makes no sense at all.”

“This is about as badly run as any foreign operation we’ve seen in our lifetime,” he added.

Gingrich’s spokesperson Rick Tyler, explained that this was not the flip-flop that it might seem. Rather, he said, Gingrich’s response changed because Obama’s proposed mission had changed. “The Speaker has been consistent,” he told The Daily Caller. “The president has changed his mind.”

Gingrich explains his position further in a Facebook post, but I have a hard time seeing this as anything other than a flubbed situation. It's one thing to say "I support an NFZ right now, and not later, because later is too late," but that doesn't seem to be Gingrich's argument on the Today Show. Instead, the criticism seems to have shifted simply because "the president changed his mind."

I basically agree with Gingrich's latter position, as I understand it: Removing Gaddafi has to be the focus of any mission in Libya (with the U.S. in either an active or supporting role), and that a coalition-based "humanitarian involvement" is just another pointless, vague and demanding enterprise which has little promise of long term success. But if he only arrived at this position primarily because Obama shifted his own view, that's a rather dubious path to figuring out foreign policy.

(AP Photo)

Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy for Libya

Andrew Sullivan argues that boosters of the intervention in Libya, such as the New Republic's Jonathan Chait, glossed over Iraq as they stumped for a second war of choice in Libya. I've thought about this a bit and have come to the conclusion that they're not treating Iraq as if it never happened, but in fact simply have a fundamentally different view of what happened in Iraq.

To the war's critics, and to a majority of Americans, the decision to invade and occupy Iraq was a mistake. But most neoconservatives seem to sincerely believe that Iraq was a glorious victory for the United States (I don't think Chait believes that, but Bill Kristol sure does). Sure, mistakes were made - too few troops here, too much de-Baathification there - but the strategic mindset that plunged the U.S. into an eight year occupation of Iraq was, in their view, fundamentally sound. There has been very little discussion about Iraq in conservative circles since President Bush left office, especially first-order questions about whether, in the end, the war was worth fighting. To the extent anyone's paying attention to the continuing carnage and the depredations of Maliki's regime, it's to blame Obama for not meddling enough in the country's political development or to warn about leaving prematurely. (There are exceptions, such as Michael Rubin's tireless warnings about the descent of Iraqi Kurdistan.)

So it's actually no surprise that there's no humility or circumspection regarding Western military action against Libya among Iraq war boosters. And by blithely taking military action against another anti-American despot in the region, President Obama has gone a long way in validating the view that Iraq holds no useful lessons for the use of U.S. power in the Muslim world.

Because We Can, Ctd.


Earlier in the week, I highlighted Judah Grunstein's argument that the U.S. is intervening in Libya's civil war not because of immutable principles or overwhelming strategic necessity per-se but (to simplify) "because we can."

Thinking a bit more about this, and in light of Marc Sheetz' comments yesterday, it's worth pointing out that one possible consequence of embracing the "because we can" standard is that rogue regimes will work even harder to get themselves on the "can't" list. One way to do that would be to amass weapons of mass destruction. It's not an easy thing to do, of course, but if I were a despot, it would certainly be much higher on my list after Western intervention in Libya than before.

(AP Photo)

March 23, 2011

U.S. Support for Libya Strikes Climbing

A pair of new polls shows climbing support in the U.S. for the military mission in Libya, following a fresh poll from CNN that showed a jump in public support. First, Rasmussen:

34% of Likely U.S. Voters now think the United States should get more directly involved in the Libyan crisis, up 12 points from 22% two weeks ago. Forty-eight percent (48%) say the United States should leave the situation alone, down from 63% in the previous survey. Eighteen percent (18%) are not sure which course is best.

Forty-one percent (41%) of voters rate the Obama administration’s response to the situation in Libya as good or excellent, unchanged from earlier in the month. But 28% now say the administration is doing a poor job, up from 21%.

One likely explanation for the increased support for U.S. involvement in Libya is the United Nations’ approval of the use of multi-national air strikes to help rebels attempting to overthrow the government of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Forty-seven percent (47%) of voters say they are more supportive of American involvement in Libya now that the U.N. has approved the mission. Fifteen percent (15%) say the U.N. action has made them less supportive, while 32% say it has had no impact on their opinion.

Meanwhile, Gallup found that 47 percent of those polled approved of military action in Libya while 37 percent opposed. Additionally, Gallup noted that this approval rating "is lower than what Gallup has found when asking about approval of other U.S. military campaigns in the past four decades."

Across the pond, YouGov found (pdf) that the British public is equally supportive of military action in Libya with 45 percent thinking it's the right move vs. 36 percent who think it's the wrong move. Prime Minister Cameron gets higher marks for dealing with the conflict in the UK than does President Obama.

March 22, 2011

Debating Libya

Judah Grunstein thinks that the "barriers to exit" in Libya are actually pretty low; since the Obama administration didn't spend months demonizing Gaddafi, they have more wiggle room in dealing with him:

Nevertheless, the absence of such a campaign of demonization now allows for a wider range of political approaches toward Gadhafi's regime than were imaginable in Iraq, to take just one example, where not only did Saddam Hussein need to go, but the military needed to be disbanded and the Baathist party purged from the political arena. Similar to its approach in Egypt, the U.S. can actively pursue a policy of impeachment, as opposed to regime change, in Libya, which opens the door to a political settlement of both the civil war as well as the U.S. and Western intervention in it -- even as that intervention continues. In other words, this signals America's return after a decade's hiatus to a Clausewitzian approach to war more applicable to the kinds of limited conflicts we're likely to face moving forward.

I'm not so sure it's going to play out so neatly. First, as Grunstein points out, the Obama administration has stated that its policy in Libya is that Gaddafi must no longer rule Libya. That is, Obama's policy is regime change, even if, for the moment, he is not matching military means to his stated ends.

It's true that removing Gaddafi from power is a more limited goal than transforming Libya into a model democracy in North Africa, but I don't see how the president has given himself much room to maneuver toward a political settlement. Obama's opening position is that Gaddafi loses power. Gaddafi's opening position is that Gaddafi stays in power. Unless one side backs down, it's a zero-sum standoff.

(UPDATE: To clarify, Grunstein is contrasting Libya to Iraq, where the goals were a root-and-branch removal of Hussein and senior officials in the Baath party, where in Libya, President Obama just wants a single person ousted but could conceivably deal with other members in Gaddafi's inner circle.)

Meanwhile, Shadi Hamid thinks I define U.S. interest too narrowly:

Some people might take issue with "moral imperatives" or how morality is very much part of how I conceptualize broader U.S. interests. But we aren't France (and even France has taken to talking about the honor of the West in face of dictatorship). We are the United States and the U.S., for both better and worse, has claimed to be a nation that stands for something beyond the nation-state. That's why people look to us for moral leadership, even if they're likely not to find it. We are not Botswana. And the president of the United States is not the premier of China. Moreover, it is declared U.S. policy under both the Bush adn Obama administrations that the U.S. will support the universal, democratic aspirations of the Arab people. In this sense, we have encouraged them to do what we would do in similar circumstances - resist repression and fight for their freedom.

I have, respectfully, two problems with this. The first is that invoking morality is a complex and often dubious standard. Once we declare that we have a moral obligation to act in Country X then we have an open-ended commitment to intervene everywhere our moral sensitivities are inflamed.

If, on the other hand, we declare we have a moral obligation to act if the country can't really fight back, doesn't have a great power patron, isn't hosting American military bases, is regionally important, or is rich in natural resources, then it's not actually morality that's guiding our hand, is it? Morality is just one ingredient, and self-evidently not the decisive one, or else we'd be marching off into Burma, Yemen, Somalia, et al.

Giving undue emphasis to morality in cases such as our involvement in Libya's civil war is therefore fundamentally dishonest - both to the American people about the reasons their blood and treasure are being put on the line, and to a global audience as well, since it could raise expectations of American aid in future conflicts. Mind you, I am absolutely not implying that people aren't sincere in their moral outrage or in their view that morality should play a major role in guiding U.S. decision-making. But at the political level, it's just not the case that morality alone is the guiding factor, and saying otherwise - or playing up the moral aspect of specific policies - isn't very clarifying.

The second, and more practical problem with the morality standard is that there is no way whatsoever to ensure that American intervention will actually bring about a free and democratic Libya. Hamid argues that we're intervening on behalf of freedom fighters, but what do we know about them and their aims? Ronald Reagan once hailed the Afghan Mujahadeen as freedom fighters, but they were, by any reasonable standard, not interested in freedom and certainly not interested in the other values America stands for.

So what can we possibly know about how Libya's freedom fighters would rule the country if given the chance? All I know of the Libyan opposition is what I've read in the papers, so I will readily stand corrected if evidence can be presented showing that the proclivities of Libyan society (not just the elite portion currently asking for Western assistance) is toward pluralism, freedom, respect for minorities and women's rights, and all the other values Americans stand for. Or, if they don't, that they U.S. has divined some mechanism that can enforce and institutionalize those norms in the wake of Gaddafi's ouster. Barring that, we don't actually have an argument on behalf of fighting for freedom, but on behalf of people who want to take power from an admittedly loathsome dictator.

Public Supports Libya No-Fly Zone


A new CNN poll shows that support for a no-fly zone among the American public has edged up:

Seven in ten Americans support military action by the U.S. and other countries to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, a 14-point increase since last week, according to a new national poll.

But a CNN/Opinon Research Corporation survey also indicates there is less among the public for air strikes that directly target Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's troops who are fighting opposition forces, and only one in four want to send ground forces into the conflict....

According to the survey, 70 percent support the establishment of a no-fly zone by the U.S. and other countries, up from 56 percent a week ago. Twenty-seven percent oppose the move, down 13 points.

The poll indicates support drops to 54 percent for air strikes not directly related to the no-fly zone that instead target the troops fighting the rebels, with 43 percent opposed to that action.

A Billion Here, A Billion There


Pretty soon, it starts to add up:

With U.N. coalition forces bombarding Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi from the sea and air, the United States’ part in the operation could ultimately hit several billion dollars -- and require the Pentagon to request emergency funding from Congress to pay for it.

The first day of Operation Odyssey Dawn had a price tag that was well over $100 million for the U.S. in missiles alone. And the U.S. military, which remains in the lead now in its third day, has pumped millions more into air- and sea-launched strikes targeting air-defense sites and ground-force positions along Libya’s coastline.

The ultimate total that the United States spends will hinge on the length and scope of the strikes as well as on the contributions of its coalition allies. But Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said on Monday that the U.S. costs could “easily pass the $1 billion mark on this operation, regardless of how well things go.”

Naturally, the war in Libya has led some to conclude that now is not that time to cut the U.S. military budget. And obviously if President Obama is going to use American power in this fashion, the costs are going to add up. But the opposite is also true: there are cost-savings associated with a foreign policy of restraint.

(AP Photo)

March 21, 2011

The 'Because We Can' Standard


Judah Grunstein isn't impressed with "the idea that, because the U.S. and the global community does not intervene everywhere and every time that tyrants and despots abuse their people, it should not intervene in Libya." He writes:

However, we shouldn't let constraints in particular instances tie our hands across the board, especially in a situation such as Libya, where there are no great-power interests at stake, and where the balance of forces and circumstances is largely in our favor.

What I'm presenting here is a hybrid case for intervention that is based on both liberal interventionism, to the extent that the intervention in Libya is meant to support the Libyan uprising as well as the broader wave of popular revolt throughout the Arab world, and cold-eyed realpolitik, to the degree that the balance of forces allows for it and a successful outcome will advance our broader global interests. So, why Libya and not Côte d'Ivoire or Bahrain? Because in Libya we can, in Côte d'Ivoire "we" already did, and in Bahrain we can't.

I guess the question centers on what it is we think "we can" do. It's important to recognize that intervening in Libya and bombing Gaddafi's supporters is not the same thing as finding a politically acceptable end-state to the country's rebellion - a fact that is being resolutely over-looked by most of the campaign's supporters. So, yes, there are very low barriers to entry in Libya, which makes it attractive where a campaign against Bahrain or Burma is much less so. But it's the barriers to exit that matter most.

(AP Photo)

Score One for Multilateralism

The Arab League is suddenly not all that happy with the Libyan no-fly zone:

The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, deplored the broad scope of the U.S.-European bombing campaign in Libya and said Sunday that he would call a league meeting to reconsider Arab approval of the Western military intervention.

Moussa said the Arab League’s approval of a no-fly zone on March 12 was based on a desire to prevent Moammar Gaddafi’s air force from attacking civilians and was not designed to endorse the intense bombing and missile attacks — including on Tripoli, the capital, and on Libyan ground forces — whose images have filled Arab television screens for two days.

Moussa has since back-tracked a bit but this really does underscore the absurdity of fighting other people's battles. The Arab League endorsed a no-fly zone. They should be the ones trying to enforce it. Instead, they're carping.

This should also be seen as a shot across the bow. The coalition that many of the president's supporters are so proud of will quickly peel off if the war, or at least our involvement in the war, is not brought swiftly to an end.

March 19, 2011

Regime Change

This was predictable:

We cannot be content with the current stalemate, with Qaddafi holding Tripoli and most other cities while the rebels are ensconced in Benghazi and Tobruk in the east. We do not want to divide Libya indefinitely (unless its people vote to do so). Most of all, we do not want to get into a situation like that in Iraq between 1991 and 2003, when the United States had to devote considerable resources to maintaining a no-fly zone.

The longer Qaddafi stays in power, the more suffering he can inflict on the people under his control, and the more mischief he can inflict on other countries—including the United States. He has already threatened to retaliate against “all air and maritime traffic in the Mediterranean Sea.” That is no idle threat, given that in the past he has been responsible for numerous acts of terrorism, including the midair bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988.

The only way this crisis will end—the only way we and our allies can achieve our objectives in Libya—is to remove Qaddafi from power. Containment won’t suffice. We must make “rollback” the international strategy.

That's Max Boot calling on the U.S. to "muster the will and resources to oust a dictator." Mind you, Boot is also a firm believer in mustering the will and resources to stay in Iraq for the long term. Oh, and Afghanistan too. Maybe there is an untapped wellspring of American resources he's discovered? If so, perhaps he should let the Treasury know. They could use it!

Equally predictably, Boot has nothing to say about what follows Gaddafi, who provides security for a post-Gaddafi Libya, who pays for that security or why any of this is of vital importance to the United States. Because, you know, that stuff's not important or anything.


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.

The Bush 41 and Clinton administrations tried this, but were never able to get the rest of the world to handle matters satisfactorily. The United States was "indispensable," Clinton's Secretary of State Madeleine Albright concluded. If we did not lead and shoulder the leader's load it would not get done, whatever it was that needed doing (the East Timor exception that proved the rule notwithstanding). - Peter Feaver

Again, it's not clear if this is what the Obama administration is doing, but if so, rather than deride it as a "neoisolationist fantasy"* the president should get significant credit. The U.S. has no interests at stake in Libya's civil war, so it makes no sense to "bear the leader's load" in Feaver's words. But European and Middle Eastern countries do have a stake in the conflict. If going along with a UN Resolution and offering some intelligence and logistical support galvanizes these countries to take the lead and bear the majority of the costs ... that's a good thing! Military intervention may not be the best way for those countries to safeguard those interests, but they are in a better position to judge that than the U.S.

* I understand why Feaver uses the word fantasy here - it is something of a fantasy to expect others not to free ride on the U.S. when Washington has proven so profligate with its global leadership. But I don't quite understand what is "neoisolationist" about the proposition that nations with a larger stake in an outcome should bear a correspondingly larger share of the costs. It seems rather like common sense.