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Regime smashing in Libya

Others have been complaining about how long it has taken, but I have been surprised at the speed with which the West has responded to events in Libya, and have been unable to shake the feeling, until today actually, that the reports I was reading were send-ups for comic purposes of some kind.

I am an agnostic about Western intervention in foreign parts rather than an outright atheist, but I respect the atheist position and deeply fear the true believer, “nation building” idea. Governments are good at destroying stuff, but tend to be shambolic at any kind of creativity. The more creative they try to be, the more destructive they typically end up being. People do creative, not governments.

This operation seems to be mostly destructive, which is all to the good. I think it reasonable to hope that it accomplishes some good, rather than only fearful that it will all go horribly wrong.

The West’s leaders are telling Gadaffi that maybe he can rule his country, but not the way he has been for the last fortnight or so. Bombing it and shelling it into submission is not allowed. Do that and we’ll do the same to you. Govern your country with riot police. Maybe arrange some elections, and then fix them. Bribe people into supporting you, rather than just killing them like they are armed soldiers. Above all, and now I’m going by what David Cameron said this afternoon, don’t announce ceasefires and promise them to your fellow members of the Head of Government Club, but then not deliver them.

This was one of the big things that Saddam Hussein did wrong, as I understand that earlier story. He didn’t just invade Kuwait. He told other members of the Head of Government Club that he wouldn’t. Lying to your people is okay. They all do that. That’s business as usual. But lying to fellow members of the Head of Government Club is not the done thing. Do it and you get blackballed, by which is meant that your armed underlings, the basis of your power, get slaughtered. Provided, that is, you are not bossing a serious power, and Westerners slaughtering your underlings would start a serious war, as opposed to an “asymmetric” war (i.e. a slaughter of your slaughterers).

LOL!!!: Just watched a British military talking-head-in-a-suit on the BBC, when asked to say what success for this operation would mean, say: “removing Saddam”, and then hurriedly correct himself.

49 comments to Regime smashing in Libya

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Well, we have the French for moral courage, the Italians for military skills and us Americans for, um, steadfastness, all under UN auspices. What could possibly go wrong?

    (Actually, I think the troops, of whatever nationality, will do fine. It’s the civil and military policy makers I expect to fall into “Order, counter-order, disorder.”)

  • Laird

    I’m not in favor of yet more military intervention by the US, but I understand the impulse to come to the aid of a beleaguered people fighting an odious dictator. Still, it’s hard to imagine how Obama could have screwed this up worse than he did. First he encouraged the rebels, telling Gadaffi to leave office; then he stood by (“dithering”, in Giuliani’s apt word) and allowed them to be slaughtered; now he’s launching cruise missles. Gingrich was right to call him the “Spectator in Chief”; the man is incapable of making a decision (except about college basketball, of course).

    And I can’t see how there is any political upside to this course of action: he’s already angered those who’ve been calling for US intervention for the last three weeks, and now he’s managed to piss off the anti-war crowd who otherwise would have been on his side in this. It’s hard to understand how someone with his political skills could manage to alienate everybody, on both sides of the issue, but he’s managed to do it. (I’ll bet he really misses Rahm Emanuel now!) At least we have no troops on the ground (yet).

    Patience may be a virtue, but indecision is a crime.

    “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
    It were done quickly.”

  • Laird

    Joe Biden was right to predict that Obama would be “tested”.* Unfortunately, so far he’s failed every test.

    * “Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.” 10/19/08.

  • Roue le Jour

    I’m sick to death of reading about the uncivilised world, quite frankly. I’d rather the west’s attitude was ‘Stuff ’em, we can sort ’em out later.’ A major part of modern civilisation has suffered a terrible catastrophe and we need to be looking to our own.

  • I suppose the good news is that Western governments are so hard up at the moment that they can’t afford an expensive and counter-productive occupation and will have to stick to relatively cheap (?) and possibly quite useful air strikes.

  • It worked for Clinton.

  • Laird: Devil’s advocacy piece here, which makes some seemingly fair points on Obama’s foreign-policy consistency.

    Plus, a mostly sensible (and, for most here, interventionist) piece from Blair.

  • John B

    The enthusiasm, the european united front, swift action, all has the hallmarks of some nefarious purpose in the making.
    Why has the absolutely horrifying situation for civilians in Iran been ignored, but the civilians in Libya need urgent rescue?
    When politicians get enthusiastic I get desperately suspicious.
    I have said this elsewhere, but if it truly is all about oil and western greed, as George Galloway would have us believe, why doesn’t someone get enthusiastic about all that oil on the northern coast of Alaska to the point of doing something about it.
    It is sitting there in the pipes waiting to be loaded. The wells have been drilled and there is the oil.
    There is something else at stake in this situation, and it is that something else that worries me.

  • Iran has nukes, John. Not that I disagree with your overall point.

  • Laird

    This article gives an interesting account of the internal process within the Obama Administration leading to the change in policy concerning Libya. It certainly appears that Hillary was left twisting in the wind while Obama dithered, although ultimately her view prevailed. This commenter seems to have it right:

    “In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook,” said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. “The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one.”

    Another interesting point noted in the article is that “Congress was not broadly consulted on the decision to intervene in Libya, except in a Thursday afternoon classified briefing where administration officials explained the diplomatic and military plan.” The constitutionality of this intervention is troubling, to put it mildly, but then it has been a long time since matters of constitutionality have troubled anyone in Washington.

  • Laird, see this (my previous comment containing this link and another one was smited).

  • Laird

    Frankly, I’m not buying it. Putting the fancy name “Obama Doctrine” onto a “strategy” of putting one’s finger into the air to see which way the internationalist winds are blowing doesn’t rise to the level of a coherent policy. This is “followership”, not leadership, but in the end is all I expect from Obama; it’s all he’s capable of.

    The quality of that article was exposed in the final two paragraphs. Quoting from Obama’s Nobel speech was an incredible stretch; clearly the authors were trying to put the best possible face on this decision. “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people.” Really? Precisely what threat is it we’re facing from Gaddafi?

    But if you like quotes, here are a couple to compare and contrast:

    “Today we are part of a broad coalition. We are answering the calls of a threatened people. And we are acting in the interests of the United States and the world.” (Obama, 3/19/11)

    “American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” (Bush, 3/19/03)

    (Thanks to the Drudge Report for that. Note the synchronicity of dates. Curious coincidence, no?)

    But hey, it’s spring break and the wfe and kids are itchy to get away, he’s got a South American family vacation (oops, sorry, “trade mission”) scheduled, Congress is in recess; what better time to take the country into another war, right?

  • Laird

    Alisa, your smited comment* has appeared, and with it the other article (an opinion piece by Tony Blair) you linked. You may consider that to be “mostly sensible”; I consider it largely a collection of meaningless platitudes.

    “In today’s world, the distinction between moral outrage and strategic interests can be false.”

    To the contrary, it is the conflation of moral outrage and strategic interests which is usually false. The two generally have no correlation whatsoever. Rather, we try to pretend that we are protecting some “strategic interest” when in reality we are merely expressing our moral outrage. But if we’re going to do so, can’t we at least be honest about it?

    “In the Middle East, where our strategic interests are dramatically and profoundly engaged, it is unlikely that the effect of a regime going rogue and brutalizing its own people will remain isolated within its own borders.”

    Gadaffi hasn’t suddenly “gone rogue”; he is the same monster he always was. What’s changed is that his subjects have started resisting, and now he has become an inconvenience for his former protectors and apologists (such as Blair). When Gadaffi was quietly oppressing and murdering his own people he was tolerable, but now that the level of carnage has ratcheted up Blair wrings his hands and calls for us to “do something”. Thanks.

    Well, he has his wish. We’re in it now. I only hope that the “something” we do includes a more successful version of Clinton’s missle attack of 25 years ago. And that it does not include US troops, “nation-building”, or massive amounts of reconstruction money or other foreign aid.

    * You must be a truly evil person to have aroused the ire of the Smitebot! Congratulations!

  • Heh, those quotes’ comparison (and the dates) are priceless.

    You are missing my point though Laird, one that I have been banging on for a while now: Obama’s foreign policy is very consistent in that he is not interested. Saying that he is inept misses the point that his only agenda is a domestic ideological one. Were it the case that he had a similarly ideological foreign agenda, I am more than certain that we would have seen a much greater competence from him. But, that not being the case, he can only be bothered to take the very minimal steps, bordering on mere lip service, to keep the appearance of doing his job as protector of US interests abroad – such interests being at direct cross purpose with his ideology. In other words, in his book the US (and the world, for that matter) being screwed is a feature, not a bug.

  • Laird

    Ooh, Alisa, I has been smited, too (in my response to your earlier smited post). And here I had been doing so well! You have obviously infected me; it can only be guilt by association.

    “Discomfort guides my tongue
    And bids me speak of nothing but despair.”

  • Laird

    Alisa, you make an interesting point, and you could be right. At some level it’s hard to tell the difference between disinterest and incompetence. But I’m not sure I totally agree. Obama may be uninterested in the specifics of any particular foreign issue (which could account for his waffling over Libya), but he is clearly interested both in the opinions of his internationalist compadres in the “world community” and in his standing with the voters here at home. The former accounts for his “followership” role in this matter; the latter is more problematic for him because he has constituents on both sides of the issue, and it is this which I think he has thoroughly botched. But I will keep your idea in mind as we watch him respond to other foreign policy crises in the future.

  • Regarding domestic PR, I think Obama handled the crisis in the best possible way, given the political cards he’s been handed. It is certainly true that there are US domestic opinions on both interventionist and isolationist sides, but the current domestic situation is such that most US citizens, even the interventionist among them, are more interested in the domestic issues than they are in the foreign ones (“it’s the economy, stupid”). There is one important caveat to that point though, which makes many foreign issues much more domestic, and that is oil prices. I am guessing (on this as on everything else I said) that Obama wants to be seen in the eyes of an ordinary American as doing something to ease the burden of high gas prices against the drop of the general economic hardship. And since politically he can’t spell it out in public, he uses the humanitarian cause as a very legitimate cover.

  • Jacob

    This war seems to be Hillary’s war. She already started such a war once, against Serbia, (via her protegee Madeleine Allbright). The same pretext – protecting civilians (which were one side in a civilian war). The same aim – getting rid of a troublesome leader (Milosevich), the same methods – air raids, the same inactive and uninterested President. The parallels are amazing.

    I didn’t like that war but I cannot refrain from applauding this war: it was high time that this unhinged tyrant and troublemaker, Kadaffy be dealt with.

  • Sounds about right Jacob, although I didn’t know that the Serbian war was Hillary’s?

  • Jacob

    And another thing, the most important one: both wars were altruistic wars, to help others. Truly altruistic, because no US interests are (or were) at play, none whatsoever, in both cases.

    You see – protecting US interests (or those of some allies) makes the war a selfish war. We can’t have that. Only when absolute no iota of self interest is at stake can the war be deemed moral. We can’t fight for oil. Nooooo…

  • Jacob

    Well, Hillary’s involvement in the Serbian bombing is my guess – I have no documentation on that. There is no doubt that Madeleine Allbright was the chief architect of that war, and she was Hillary’s pal, it was Hillary that made her SecState. Maybe the Serbian war was Allbright’s idea, and now Hillary is copying it. Could be.

  • This war seems to be Hillary’s war. She already started such a war once, against Serbia…

    Bill Clinton’s finest hour in my opinion. Never have I been happier to see my tax dollars at work.

  • Laird

    Perry, I wasn’t aware that you paid taxes in the US. My condolences.

  • Laird

    “Disinterest” I can accept, Alisa (although I’m not completely convinced of that yet), but not some deep scheme to curry favor with the “ordinary American” by intervening in the Middle East to covertly protect the oil supply while pretending to be acting for humanitarian reasons. That’s incoherent enough to be Bidenesque, but it’s not Obama, if only because it’s abundantly clear to most of the country that he doesn’t care about gasoline prices. If he did his government wouldn’t be blocking drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (even in the face of court orders) or all the other things he’s doing to stymie domestic oil production. Sorry, nice try, but that dog doesn’t hunt.

  • Who said anything about any deep scheme? It’s PR at a moment’s thought. You have to understand that almost anything Obama does at home is of substance, while almost anything he does abroad is a bare-essentials PR. The situation in Libya (and the consequent response from European “leaders”) got to a point where Obama had to take some kind of an action, so as not to be outdone by the likes of Sarkozy. The point about oil is that it is seen as an additional (if unspoken) domestic justification for this action, the moral humanitarian one being the spoken one. And no, as an environmentalist and a leftist (sorry for repeating myself) he is not expected to drill in the Gulf or in Alaska, so that point is moot. But again, I am of course speculating, as do all of us here.

  • “Well, we have the French for moral courage, the Italians for military skills and us Americans for, um, steadfastness, all under UN auspices. What could possibly go wrong?”

    You forgot Qatar. (I also read that a little island called the UK was somehow involved, but I believed they pensioned off their air force some time ago).

  • Laird

    Sorry for the misunderstanding, Alisa, but when you wrote . . .

    “Obama wants to be seen in the eyes of an ordinary American as doing something to ease the burden of high gas prices against the drop of the general economic hardship. And since politically he can’t spell it out in public, he uses the humanitarian cause as a very legitimate cover.”

    . . . I inferred that you were positing some degree of intelligent calculation (read: “deep scheme”) animating his actions. Now I simply don’t know what you mean. Where is the PR value in an “unspoken domestic justification”, especially when his every other action (regarding oil) belies it? If that really is the driving motivation it has to come from Biden; only he could conceive of something that incoherent.

  • It really is not all that complicated Laird. In light of the fact that Obama is not really interested in foreign issues, and neither is he interested in the economic hardship of ordinary Americans – except to the extent that both are useful for soundbites at press conferences – he has now covered all the PR bases that needed minimal covering: he has taken military action without putting troops on the ground (thank you, Bill), he is being a humanitarian, protecting poor Arab civilians who clamor democracy, he is doing something about oil prices without harming polar bears and whatever fish is still swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, he has not been outdone by the French (which would be the ultimate insult to any POTUS) – what’s not to like? It is only incoherent from a POV of someone who cares – Obama does not fit that description.

  • In light of the fact

    ‘Presumption’ would be a better term, strictly speaking.

  • Perry, I wasn’t aware that you paid taxes in the US. My condolences.

    For much of the 1990’s I certainly did (I worked in New York and lived in New Jersey at the time, when I was not in Bosnia and Croatia watching my tax dollars at work that is).

  • Laird

    Wow, Perry, you really did pay taxes: US federal tax, NJ state tax, and the obscene NYC “commuter” tax. We thank you for your contribution.

    Alisa, my only argument is with the “doing something about oil prices” bit. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. Oh, and also on his having “covered all the PR bases” since, as I said earlier, he has now managed to alienate both the interventionists and the isolationists. I’ll just leave it at that. 🙂

  • Laird

    Gaaa! Another odious smite! And I is just a fluffy kitteh!

    “. . . then black despair
    The shadow of a starless night, was thrown
    Over the world in which I moved alone.”

    I think I need a scotch.

  • Sure Laird – like I said, it’s all speculation anyway, although I have to agree that the oil bit was more speculative than others:-)

  • John B

    When the powers-that-be (politicians, presidents, state dept, civil service, central bank associations of banks, etc) want to do things it becomes very apparent that there are many good reasons for doing those things. And when they don’t want them done it becomes obvious that there are lots of excellent reasons for not doing those things. Whether its going to war, drilling for oil, joining the EU, feeding the hungry, ignoring the hungry, justifying murder, raising hands in horror at murder.
    The powers-that-be do little more than ensure their survival and increase their wealth and power and establish their policies as the obvious and right thing to do.
    And they do it rather well.
    Regarding oil. It would seem that is being used as a control mechanism, and to restructure assets and power.

  • Jacob

    John B,
    Forget about “the powers-that-be”. What do you think about the intervention in Lybia – is it a good or a bad thing?
    Every policy has pros and cons, but a decision is needed, one way or the other.

  • John B

    Jacob, I was looking at the comments as to whether oil is a factor.
    Regarding the intervention in Libya, my problem is that I do not have as much facts as I would have if I were the person making the decision to intervene.
    However. The enthusiasm of the “international community” about this intervention makes me feel very suspicious and I tend to feel it is not such a good idea.
    If, for instance, there was as much enthusiasm to support those being tortured, raped and murdered as a result of their desire to be free, in Iran (which doesn’t yet have nukes, Alisa) then I would have more faith in their sincerity and stated motives.

  • veryretired

    Pointless, utterly politicized PR nonsense.

  • which doesn’t yet have nukes, Alisa

    Do you (or anyone else outside Iran) know this for a fact, John?

  • Jacob

    Oh, but Iran, nukes or no nukes, is too strong… (that’s why it seeks nukes – to be stronger still).

    When you intervene you have to be careful in choosing your target. Iraq was doable, Libya is doable, Iran isn’t. But Iran is beside the point.
    The fact that there was no intervention in Iran doesn’t prove that intervention in Libya is a bad idea.

    “Pointless, utterly politicized PR nonsense. “
    You mean you’re against the intervention ?
    I think that getting rid of Qaddafi is a worthy goal.

  • veryretired

    The chairman of the joint chiefs just gave an interview in which he conceded that daffy might remain in power when its all over.

    Too little, too late, meaningless political showboating.

  • Jacob

    What is sure is that this is a most confused, hapazard and strange war operation. No one is in command, no goals have been defined, there’s no coordination between participants.
    The chairman of the ciefs of staff was opposed the intervention, and has no idea what is required and what needs to be done and no desire to do anything. This is a war run by a commitee of pacifists.

    Still, the goal of getting rid of Gaddafy is a worthy goal, and the intervention could not have had any other goal despite the nonsense talk about protecting civilians.
    I hope they’ll get him in the end, though one can’t be sure.

  • John B

    Alisa, I must confess that I don’t know whether Iran has nukes.
    But I think it is highly unlikely that they do (although they may be just months away from “weaponisation”) because if they did they would be even more pushy in their strategic activities.
    Sending those armaments to Syria through the Suez (that were seized by Israel on the way to Egypt – Gaza via Turkey) was a good starter for them but I think they would probably be chucking their weight around a lot more if they had nukes ready to go.

    But my reading of “global events”, including the intervention in Libya, is that things are done, or allowed to happen, in order to achieve changes in perception rather than whatever the stated goal is. The two may coincide, of course.

  • But my reading of “global events”, including the intervention in Libya, is that things are done, or allowed to happen, in order to achieve changes in perception rather than whatever the stated goal is. The two may coincide, of course.

    Couldn’t agree more, John. In fact, that was my point in my discussion with Laird, only that this point applies more than ever to Obama.

    However, my comment on nukes in reply to your moral argument meant to question your apparent suggestion that we should either attack all tyrants everywhere all the time, or not attack any of them – a suggestion I simply cannot accept. However, if your comment was made to merely highlight the likeliness of dubious motives behind nearly any action by any state power, then I’m with you.

  • John B

    Yes, Alisa, I think we are in agreement.
    It seems to me that one can look at unfolding events in different locations around the world and think: Why on earth did they do that, or: what they have done just does not make sense. But that is because one is trying to understand it in what the protagonists say they are trying to achieve rather than, possibly, what they are truly trying to achieve.
    One of the best pieces I have read regarding this kind of activity is Garet Garrett’s, The Revolution Was(Link), which is about The New Deal, and the steps taken at that time.
    Garrett points out that if one tries to understand the steps taken to try and fix the economic problems in the early 1930s, they did not really make sense, or they looked like stupid mistakes and incompetence.
    But if one viewed and interpreted those events from the point of restructuring America and transferring the wealth and power to a central elite (which he sees as using communism at that time) then the steps taken made perfect sense.

  • Indeed John. BTW, that piece was written back in 1938, a fact that doesn’t cease to amaze me in and of itself. That guy would be at the very top of my list of candidates for a long over-dinner conversation.

  • John B

    As always, Caroline Glick has quite a good analysis(Link) of the situation. Libya and Egypt in this case.

  • Thanks for that link John – very good indeed. Her theory beats mine (duh), although I don’t think that the two are entirely mutually exclusive.