Mark Steyn identifies some of the key problems with postmodern kinetic interventions in pursuit of undefined objectives in situations in which no one is on our side.
[I]t’s easy to mock the smartest, most articulate man ever to occupy the Oval Office. Instead, in a nonpartisan spirit, let us consider why it is that the United States no longer wins wars. OK, it doesn’t exactly lose (most of) them, but nor does it have much to show for a now-60-year old pattern of inconclusive outcomes. American forces have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan for a decade: Doesn’t that seem like a long time for a noncolonial power to be spending hacking its way through the worthless terrain of a Third World dump? If the object is to kill terrorists, might there not be some slicker way of doing it? And, if the object is something else entirely, mightn’t it be nice to know what it is?
I use the word “noncolonial” intentionally. I am by temperament and upbringing an old-school imperialist: There are arguments to be made for being on the other side of the world for decades on end if you’re claiming it as sovereign territory and rebuilding it in your image, as the British did in India, Belize, Mauritius, the Solomon Islands, you name it. Likewise, there are arguments to be made for saying, sorry, we’re a constitutional republic, we don’t do empire. But there’s not a lot to be said for forswearing imperialism and even modest cultural assertiveness, and still spending 10 years getting shot up in Afghanistan helping to create, bankroll and protect a so-called justice system that puts a man on death row for converting to Christianity.
Libya, in that sense, is a classic post-nationalist, post-modern military intervention: As in Kosovo, we’re do-gooders in a land with no good guys. But, unlike Kosovo, not only is there no strategic national interest in what we’re doing, the intended result is likely to be explicitly at odds with U.S. interests. A quarter-century back, Gadhafi was blowing American airliners out of the sky and murdering British policewomen: That was the time to drop a bomb on him. But we didn’t. Everyone from the Government of Scotland (releasing the “terminally ill” Lockerbie bomber, now miraculously restored to health) to Mariah Carey and Beyonce (with their million-dollar-a-gig Gadhafi party nights) did deals with the Colonel.
Now suddenly he’s got to go â€“ in favor of “freedom-loving” “democrats” from Benghazi. That would be in eastern Libya â€“ which, according to West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, has sent per capita the highest number of foreign jihadists to Iraq. Perhaps now that so many Libyan jihadists are in Iraq, the Libyans left in Libya are all Swedes in waiting. But perhaps not. If we lack, as we do in Afghanistan, the cultural confidence to wean those we liberate from their less-attractive pathologies, we might at least think twice before actively facilitating them.
Officially, only the French are committed to regime change. So suppose Gadhafi survives. If you were in his shoes, mightn’t you be a little peeved? Enough to pull off a new Lockerbie? A more successful assassination attempt on the Saudi king? A little bit of Euro-bombing?
Alternatively, suppose Gadhafi winds up hanging from a lamppost in his favorite party dress. If you’re a Third World dictator, what lessons would you draw? Gadhafi was the thug who came in from the cold, the one who (in the wake of Saddam’s fall) renounced his nuclear program and was supposedly rehabilitated in the chancelleries of the West. He was “a strong partner in the war on terrorism,” according to U.S. diplomats. And what did Washington do? They overthrew him anyway.
The blood-soaked butcher next door in Sudan is the first head of state to be charged by the International Criminal Court with genocide, but nobody’s planning on toppling him. Iran’s going nuclear with impunity, but Obama sends fraternal greetings to the “Supreme Leader” of the “Islamic Republic.” North Korea is more or less openly trading as the one-stop bargain-basement for all your nuke needs, and we’re standing idly by. But the one cooperative dictator’s getting million-dollar-a-pop cruise missiles lobbed in his tent all night long. If you were the average Third World loon, which role model makes most sense? Colonel Cooperative in Tripoli? Or Ayatollah Death-to-the-Great-Satan in Tehran? America is teaching the lesson that the best way to avoid the attentions of whimsical “liberal interventionists” is to get yourself an easily affordable nuclear program from Pyongyang, or anywhere else, as soon as possible.
I don’t really have a problem with knocking off Qaddafi (who has actually contrived the murder of hundreds of Americans in the past). His elimination is long past due. But Obama is not even certain that he thinks Qaddafi needs to surrender power, and we have no basis for supposing that we are spending all those expensive cruise missiles on replacing him with a less barbarous and less dangerous alternative.