Published April 02, 2011
If President Obama's pro-Libyan War advisers wanted to create a precedent for future U.N.-sanctioned humanitarian interventions, they should have found some other war.
First, for all the talk of an Obama doctrine, Obama's rationale for the war is so narrowly tailored, it basically only applies to Libya in these particular circumstances. If we're going to intervene only when we can get overwhelming international support, respond quickly and with relative impunity, and notionally hand over operations to someone else immediately, that's going to mean most every conflict fails to meet the Obama test. The Obama doctrine is much more about not intervening than intervening.
More fundamentally, a humanitarian war requires a humanitarian outcome and that's far from assured here. Let's assume that we can oust Muammar Qaddafi, an assumption that looks shakier recently given events on the battlefield, but he's still going to be very hard-pressed to survive over time. What then?
We learned in Iraq that three things are required to control and shape the situation in a vacuum created when a government is over-thrown by force: 1) Troops and lots of them. We didn't have enough, and didn't have them doing the right things, until 2007 in Iraq. We will have none in Libya. 2) Post-war planning. We did planning for post-war Iraq, but planned for all the wrong things. We have done no post-war planning in Libya, and haven't even done much current war planning. 3) Knowledge of the social and political terrain. We thought we had this going into Iraq, but really had very little. We have even less in Libya.
In short, events in a post-Qaddafi Libya will be even further out of our control than they were in post-Saddam Iraq. Maybe that won't matter. Maybe the country will pull together in a quick, inclusive political settlement, as Qaddafi's forces fade away. Maybe our allies will provide peacekeeping troops to keep a lid on things. Maybe we'll get lucky.
But Libya is a tribal, institutionally underdeveloped country run and immiserated by a gangland family for the last 40 years. It appears much more primed for an insurgency and continued divisions rather than for a unified, functioning democracy, certainly if we aren't committed--and we aren't--to shaping its post-Qaddafi future on the ground.
This could be the biggest irony of the Libya war: If we oust Qaddafi and make very little commitment to Libya afterwards, the war could effectively be a 21st century punitive exhibition against the Qaddafi family wrapped in humanitarian rhetoric and blessed by the United Nations.
In other words, it could end up more a John Bolton war than a Samantha Power war--more a smite-your-enemy war than a protect-the-innocents war (although there's obviously overlap between the two). It could end up more a Don Rumsfeld war than a Colin Powell war--more of a break-things-and-leave war than a you-break-it-you-own-it war.
I think Qaddafi's such a menace that getting rid of him is worth it, even if the aftermath is terrible. But why do liberals support this war? When did they become so cold-blooded?
Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review magazine and a Fox News contributor.