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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why presume that, in Libya, if we break it we've bought it?

Regular readers will know that I'm a huge and consistent fan of former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy. As the successful prosecutor of the Blind Sheikh for the first World Trade Center bombing, McCarthy is perhaps the best qualified and most clear-eyed commentator on the disastrous Democratic strategy of treating the Global War on Terror as a matter of domestic American criminal law, to be addressed as law enforcement (instead of war) and followed up in civilian courts. But he's a perceptive speaker and writer on foreign policy and terrorism issues in general. He's just a very smart and eloquent guy, and I've been gratified to correspond with him from time to time in the past and to link his writings here.

In a post today at NRO's The Corner, Mr. McCarthy makes a number of excellent points about Republicans and Libya. I commend it to your thoughtful attention. But I find myself in reluctant disagreement with some of his conclusions, which prompted me to leave the following comment there (reprinted here with light editing for clarity and without block-quoting):

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Mr. McCarthy, you've made a number of fine points here, but with due and genuine respect, you're confusing things that ought be kept straight.

All of what you wrote about Kadafi's history is correct and incredibly pertinent. His history has been to use Libya's vast oil wealth as a state supporter and exporter of international terrorism, of which the U.S. has been the chief target.

You're also right on the mark about the weakness of his "conversion" and "cooperation." That it was insincere and temporary doesn't mean it was unwelcome, just that it was unreliable. But any possibility of his continuing to justify the civilized world's forbearance, however, evaporated when he turned heavy weapons on his own population. Kadafi has violated his parole — not in the sense that word is used in our civilian criminal justice system, but in its original sense of a condition upon which an enemy who's surrendered in war was permitted to go free on continuing condition that he remain peaceful.

It astounds me that you can know, and articulate, all that history so well and yet insist that there are "no vital U.S. interests at stake."

The U.S. doesn't have a vital interest in protecting Libya's civilian population, merely a humanitarian interest; I would agree with you, I think, that such humanitarian interest is insufficient to justify American military intervention.

But we clearly, obviously have a vital interest in ensuring that Kadafi is now removed from power. We simply cannot permit this oil-funded terror-exporting again-out-of-control madman to remain in power, because as soon as the boot is off his neck he will instantly return to using Libya's oil wealth to acquire WMDs (a la the Pakistanis, the Norks, and soon the Iranians) as a guarantee against further American or western intervention.

You seem to think the determination of whether we ought to remove Kadafi from power — to effect regime change — depends in turn upon whether we wish to support the particular "rebel" forces who are, mostly independently, trying to oust Kadafi. Those issues must be analyzed separately.

It's entirely possible as a logical matter — and I believe it is the most sound weighing of competing concerns — to conclude that we have a compelling American interest in changing this regime without necessarily also having a compelling interest in what comes after.

Nothing but our own hypertrophied sense of overarching responsibility, our own sense of ourselves as "good guys," says that we have any responsibility to rescue the Libyan populace from what comes after Kadafi.

Contrary to Colin Powell's famous pronouncement, we can break it without buying it. We can take out Kadafi and walk away. Certainly for all of world history before WW2, that was among the options for conquering nations. We could take out Kadafi without decimating Libya's civilian population or destroying its infrastructure; we've no need, nor appetite, for the earth-salting, mass-executing, and enslaving tactics the Romans used against the Carthaginians on these same North African shores.

What ought to happen is that we use our superior military capability — especially with regard to precision use of force with less collateral damage than our NATO allies can limit themselves to — to take out Kadafi, and then dump the result into the laps of our NATO allies, especially the French and Italians (who have the strongest historical interests in Libya) for such nation-building exercises, if any, as they deem justified by their then-existing vital interests. Their continuing interests are likely to be greater than ours because they are the traditional and logical (logistical) market for Libyan energy production. And proximity, geography, and history all combine to make supervising the birth and infancy of a new regime in Libya a more limited and feasible task for them than the same process in Iraq or, especially, Afghanistan, has been for us.

Now of course, it may turn out that despite our NATO allies' efforts, or because of the lack thereof, Kadafi's successors turn out to be as bad or even worse than he's been. No one should try to sell any scenario for what America should do now as implying any guarantee that we won't have to effect regime change there again in the future.

But frankly, showing that we can (which everyone now knows) and will (which nobody now believes) decapitate a regime and then (mostly) walk away from the results might be a really good and cost-effective way to influence regime leaders not just in Libya but elsewhere.

We should play to our strengths. We are exceedingly good at blowing up bad guys without killing very many of the innocents with whom they surround themselves.

You seem to think this inevitably has to become a sustained, expensive counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism effort of the sort in which we've engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's just not so.

Think of it not as nation-building, but a grand SWAT-team raid, or an exercise in removing a rabid animal from a populated area. Obama may not be capable of that mental flexibility, but you certainly are.

With apologies to Cato the Elder: Kadafi delenda est.

Posted by Beldar at 08:24 PM in Foreign Policy, Global War on Terror, History, Obama | Permalink

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Comments

(1) davod made the following comment | Jul 1, 2011 11:38:36 AM | Permalink

Beldar,

Where are the bodies?

In this time of massive media intervention I have seen nothing to support the idea that the government is wantanly killing civilians.

Obama's "Gadafi has threatened to massacre all civilians in Bengahzi" does not accord with the transalation I later read.

There has been no widespread revelations of the killing of civilians by the government in areas switching back and forth between the government and rebels. Certainly no video. Attackng built up areas with rebels present is allowed.

I have seen some video and reporting of attrocities such as the lynching of a black government soldier who was a prisoner of the rebels.

I would be tempted to say Obama lied his way into a Kinetic action, but he did not advise, nor seek the advice of or approval of his actions by the Congress.

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