30 March 2011

So about that.. war?

Libya doesn't appear to be going well. Or maybe it is. It's hard to tell exactly what our objective... is. Or is not. But basically, to expect Gaddafi's forces to sit out in the desert and patiently allow us to kill their heavy weapons so they cannot advance against rebels in their own country seemed a little silly. They've already adapted to a "no-fly" zone that included tanks and artillery by camouflaging their heavy equipment and weapons with civilian improvised vehicles instead.

No matter how well intentioned this intervention seems to have been (ie, that Gaddafi is a brutal dictator and he will kill many people if we do nothing), I think the appropriate questions were as follows:
1) What is our actual goal? Is it the removal of Gaddafi? The partitioning of the country? The "humanitarian" mission was, given diplomatic efforts here, basically requiring the former in order to prevent mass reprisals by the Libyan government, but we have explicitly removed that from the board.
2) How does bombing satisfy some humanitarian problem in the first place? I heard last week the interventions in Kosovo and Somalia described as a "success". Naturally the commenter involved was not a foreign policy expert, and might be described as a squishy liberal internationalist. Nevertheless, if these are considered by anyone as "successes", I'd have to wonder what their failures look like. The same applies to the fools who thought invading and conquering Iraq would be a great idea. We do no credit to ourselves to pretend that our guns and planes somehow introduce stability anywhere and everywhere they are used. In fact, we do ourselves no credit to pretend that this would even be a common response to our actions.
3) How does.. whatever our end goal is... impact the medium and long-term stability and prosperity of the region. The interventions in Somalia and Kosovo among others have had spectacular failures in the medium term as the governments that have formed generally organise reprisals against the former controlling interests, drove them out of the countries, or otherwise instigated unfair legal structures to punish. It sounds to me like the people we're intervening on the behalf of in Libya are not some noble rebellion of freedom and democracy either.
4) The best argument for this was that doing nothing damages our credibility among the Arab states and their people who are agitating for freer states. This has two problems of course. A) That Egypt and Tunisia already have their freer states, such as they are. And there are a myriad of institutional reasons for that (including that they were both dictatorships dependent on American aid and thus had instituted some liberal economic reforms, half-assedly making crony capitalist states) and B) That we are not supporting agitations elsewhere in the region. We are silent on Iran and Syria, and we have ignored and indeed supported the crackdowns in Bahrain and Yemen (the latter of which appears to be a complete failure). We may suppose that there are realist-pragmatic reasons to avoid interventions anywhere and everywhere that America might feel any interest to do so, but if so, then avoiding and ignoring interventions that look suspiciously like the one in Libya (Syria for example) and then intervening in Libya doesn't seem to make the most sense as a foreign policy doctrine.
5) How much will this cost us? It doesn't seem like a very short term engagement of force and it's quite expensive to launch missiles and fly combat air patrols. Maybe we cannot put a price on civilian lives that might be spared. But this assumes that our actions will in fact spare civilians. The actual event appears to be that they may not spare very many, if at all. Particularly if the fight drags on for many months precisely because we intervened in the first place.
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