Monday, May 13, 2013

Libya; It's the Policy Stupid!

I'm reading about the smoking gun de jure of the long, unending Republican Primal Scream that is "Benghazi!!!!" Shall we get impolitic? We shall. We must.

First let's pull the chains holding the two 800 pound gorillas of our foreign policy: Afghanistan and Iraq. Almost all of our military power was diverted there. So when Ghaddafi decided he wanted to wipe out vast swaths of his own population, and then broadcasted the message, our options were very limited. While I can not get into the head space of the our man Muammar he must have looked about and seen how bogged down the preeminent military power in the world was and thought he could get away with mass slaughter.

Unfortunately for the man, his broadcasting of his intentions was a challenge that had to be answered. If he had pulled an Assad, and provided even a soupcon of plausible deniability, he probably could of gone on his murderous way.

Thus was the “humanitarian” intervention into Libya born. But there was still the problem of boots on the ground; the problem being being we had none to spare. From the beginning there was no after action plan for Libya. There was no provision for the day after Ghaddafi.

Adding fuel to this tinderbox is how NATO then went about its business. It armed every insurgent force with a grudge against Ghaddafi without fear or favor. Not a really good idea as these divergent groups only shared a hatred of the regime and nothing else. Once the object of their hate was gone, their divergent ideologies and divergent goals insured that chaos would reign in post Ghaddafi Libya.
With the collapse of the regime all manner of Pandora’s boxes were opened. Large cashes of arms which were under the control of the Libyan government became available to brigands and non-state actors. The flood of arms is destabilizing a wide swath of the Maghreb and Saharan Africa. Mali came withing a whisker of becoming a radical Salafi state. Only the quick action of France prevented that outcome.

The intervention in Libya was always a high risk affair; a high wire act with no net. Not providing boots on the ground for the post-Gaddafi Libya had high probability of ending in tears. Granted, I have no earthly clue how Obama could have sold a proper intervention. I have no clue how those troops, even if provisioned, could have cleanly intervened. Hundreds of thousands of foreign troops tear-assing around Libya is not my idea of a good time had by all. But an even less fun time is what we have now, hundreds of thousands of armed men in diverse and disperse militias and criminal gangs tear-assing around not only in Libya, but further afield.

Could Obama done nothing at all? Not really. I do not see how Obama could have allowed Gaddafi to butcher whole swaths of the Libyan population. I know that the Republicans would have gone into high dungeon if he had opted to do nothing. I also know that the default of our policy, to do something, would have been hard to overcome. It would not be politic for Obama to come out and say “because of the commitments we already have in Iraq and Afghanistan and because of the degradation of our military caused by those commitments our nation can not intervene in Libya. We have no real capability for the necessary follow-on actions post-Gaddafi and neither do our NATO allies.” It would have been the truth, but as Jack Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men” would observe “you can’t handle the truth!”

Thus we cobbled together a plan that involved massive air power with questionable ground assets. It got the job done, and it got it done ugly. And that ugliness came back to bite us. Libya is being torn apart by centrifugal forces. The nation is riven by faction and regionalism. As in much of the post-colonial world the borders of the Libya do not reflect the facts on the ground. The only reason unity held was because a truly evil bastard was willing to enforce it with force major.

But in the making of the Libyan omelet by our man Muammar, a lot of damage was done. The oppression and violence of the regime has left a nation and people deeply injured. By using force to overthrow the regime we almost guaranteed that the violence would continue. We also have an excellent chance of having an even more evil bastard rise up from the ashes of Libya and take charge.

Benghazi is the end game and end result of our policy of empire on the cheep. It is the result of trying to be world’s police man. We keep reaching for the hammer of military action seeing every foreign policy question as a nail for that hammer. It is a really foolish way to go about our business. Military options require a willingness to go in large and in charge. It means you have to be willing for the use of appropriate ground forces. You can only fully control a patch of ground with ground-pounders — full stop. If you are not willing to commit troops, don’t get involved, it really is that simple.

It is not like we have not allowed really bad things to happen in places far, far away. We did nothing for Rwanda. We never intervened in Burma. We actually supported the murderous Central American death squads during the reign of the Sainted Ronny Ray-Gun. We waited for damn-near forever when Yugoslavia fell into the ninth level of hell, only intervening when Kosovo started tipping over as well. We let North Korea slowly sink into the abyss of starvation and privation with only a murmur. We happy snatch up Chinese goods made with near and actual slave labor. Our morality is highly suspect. Would we have really cared for the Libyans if their land was not swimming in oil?

But none of this is going to be discussed. No, we are going to enjoy a nice, long, and ultimately pointless bit of political theater. We are not even going to bother to gather up some after-action lessons learned. We won’t even bother to beef up diplomatic security. The sequester is actually going to cut the already inadequate funding for that item.

So let’s rally round the flag boys and girls. Blue Team and Red Team assume your usual positions. Republicans will kick off and Democrats will receive. Ready? Steady. GO!!

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