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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Next Steps

As I work my way through feelings of confusion, anger and resignation, I am trying to listen to some folks wiser than me about how this could possibly end well in Libya. I couldn't agree more with Andrew Sullivan's hopes:

The key thing is to avoid leadership in this case. Yes, I just wrote that. If the French and British take ownership of this selfless act of imperial compassion, Obama can claim to be advancing American values but not enmeshing US troops in a third endless war. Many on the right will hate this, but some on the right will see its logic. My own view is that the American conservative public (not the neocons) would love for the allies to take more military responsibility for their own backyard. I have no problems with the EU or France or even Britain pursuing the same kind of self-defeating, fiscally crippling, decade-long wars that the US, under Bush-Cheney, so helpfully innovated. They're sovereign nations. If they want to fight such a proxy war for an unknowable amount of time, let them.

The historian and columnist Anne Applebaum reflects on why Obama was smart to have been relatively silent about Libya in the days leading up to and during the bombing campaign. What I saw as a lack of focus may actually have served a bigger purpose:

Enthusiasm and soaring rhetoric would also now lock the United States and its allies into an implied set of promises. If we’d compared Gaddafi to Hitler we’d have to eliminate him. If democracy were the only solution in Libya, we’d have to stay in Libya until it was democratic. If Obama had been talking about nothing else for the past three weeks, his entire presidency would be on the line. In those circumstances, the Arab League’s withdrawal of support could be interpreted only as a personal affront to Obama.

Judah Grunstein builds on Applebaum’s article and adds that

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.

James Fallows in an aptly titled post “On Libya: ‘What Happens Then’”:

I hope the results are swift, decisive, merciful, and liberating, and that they hasten the spread of the Arab Dawn. But I assert that it is much better to be proven wrong in that way, and to have thought too much about "What happens then?" possibilities -- than to have thought too little about them, which I fear we have done. 

And back to Andrew Sullivan for affirmation of my own instincts on Libya:

What I learned from Iraq and Afghanistan is the extreme difficulty of intervening in countries we do not understand and the limits of even the best military in the world to control events in other people's lands, driven by other peoples' concerns. It also remains a fact - and it wasn't a fact in 2001 - that the US is already involved in two wars and is bankrupt, with no sign of any political will to balance the books, including this president. Hence the skepticism…Every moment in history is different; and what failed last time could succeed now. But I prefer caution after a debacle, rather than pretending that the world began yesterday.

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