Libya and the Credit Due

Steve Benen has coined the phrase "Thank America Last" to describe those avoiding praise of President Obama for success in Libya.

Steve Benen has coined the tongue-in-cheek phrase “Thank America Last” to describe John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and presumably other supporters of intervention in Libya who are conspicuously avoiding praise of President Obama. He is annoyed that, after lauding the sacrifices of the Libyan people and our NATO allies, they conclude, “Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.”

Benen responds:

Remember hearing about the “blame America first” crowd? Well, say hello to the “thank America last” crowd.

McCain and Graham “commend” everyone except the United States military, and then, even while applauding the developments, take yet another shot at the Obama administration.

These two just can’t bring themselves put aside petty partisan sniping, even when they’re thrilled by the fall of a dictator.

There’s obviously a legitimate question as to whether the international offensive in Libya was a wise decision. But as the Gaddafi regime crumbles, do the conflict’s two biggest congressional cheerleaders really feel the need to complain, “Yeah, but we’re not happy with the speed with which Obama got the job done”?

He later notes that McCain and Graham were doing photo ops with Gaddafi a mere two years ago. While a fair criticism, there is such a thing as changed circumstance. While Gaddafi was always a sleazeball, he did in fact get himself into America’s good graces for a short period before his recent atrocities put him back on the enemies list.

As to the main criticism, both men were vociferous in demanding American action long before it occurred. While I think they were wrong, both on the matter of the wisdom of intervention and on the question of whether it was politically feasible to do so much earlier than we did, it’s hardly unreasonable that the eventual ouster of Gaddafi doesn’t erase frustration that it took as long as it did.

From a purely humanitarian point of view, the delay allowed Gaddafi to kill hundreds of his people and Obama’s decision to “lead from behind” and supply only airpower arguably cost innumerable lives. If one truly believes there is a “responsibility to protect” civilians in such circumstances, then this is a legitimate point of criticism.

Similarly, Michael Reynolds and other commenters have argued that, victory seemingly at hand, I’m too stingy with praise for the leadership of the president.

My criticisms have come from the other direction, since I opposed the intervention and continue to believe it set a bad precedent. As such, my points have been along several lines, most of which I believe have borne out.

First, I predicted that the arguments proffered for intervening would spawn calls for intervening in similar, if not more dire, circumstances. Anyone following the debate over the horrendous conduct of the Syrian regime knows that has happened.

Second, I predicted that the thin “population protection” mandate would soon be subject to mission creep, with regime change and obvious  war aim and follow-on rebuilding and reconstruction likely ones. That’s happened.

Third–and here I was at least partially wrong–I argued that, having undertaken the mission, we had an obligation to do more than hope for the best. Specifically, given weeks of indications that the rebel forces were not up to the fight even with the awesome backing of NATO air power and support, I argued that we needed a Plan B. Juan Cole argues, persuasively in hindsight, that the rebels were actually making much more steady progress than it appeared from a Western vantagepoint, which was overly focused on Benghazi and environs. Reynolds cautioned at the time and my colleague Barry Pavel argues in hindsight that “strategic patience, and persistence, pays off.”

Fourth, I warned that toppling Gaddafi would not end the struggle and that we needed to have a plan for what military planners call Phase IV: the handover and post-conflict management. This continues to be my chief concern.

Fifth, in terms of domestic politics, I argued that Obama’s pretense that the United States was not involved in hostile activities and that the War Powers Act was therefore not operative was a dangerous precedent. While I’m not sure we’ll ever go back to the days, as Leslie Gelb and Anne-Marie Slaughter recommended years ago, where Congress will actively declare wars and thereby take full responsibility for them, I nonetheless believe that perpetual war on the say-so of the president alone is undemocratic.

All that said, that Gaddafi is apparently no longer in power in Libya is a great thing, indeed. And, like the killing of Osama bin Laden, it happened on Obama’s watch and under his order.  He’ll rightly take and get credit for both these successes and the fact that he achieved both with no loss of American life. (After all, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both lost good men in failed attempts to achieve the same goals.) But that doesn’t mean he’ll be free of criticism for his choices along the way.

Photo: IBT

FILED UNDER: Middle East, US Politics, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    But that doesn’t mean he’ll be free of criticism for his choices along the way.

    Which of course, is something that no one is arguing. Nice straw man. Careful now James, don’t drop the water bucket.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: That’s the implicit argument in Benen’s criticism, certainly. How dare McCain still believe Obama acted too slowly since there’s now good news? It doesn’t compute.

  3. Fiona says:

    I wasn’t happy with Obama’s decision to supply air power to the struggle in Libya and agree that his failure to invoke the War Powers Act sets a bad precedent. It is not our duty to topple every dictator out there. We don’t exactly have a great record of success even in those cases where we have overthrown a dictator and set off down the path of “nation-building.” Perhaps Libya will have a better chance at installing some kind of democratic government because the effort to oust Gaddafi was largely homegrown. Or perhaps not. Only time will tell, but it’s the kind of thing that’s best left to the Libyans.

    As for McCain and Graham’s criticisms–I can’t really take them all that seriously. I’d be willing to bet that had Obama invoked the War Powers Act, he wouldn’t have received enough Republican support to bomb Libya given the current Republican stance of opposing any policy Obama proposes. If McCain had his druthers, we’d probably already be bombing Iran.

  4. anjin-san says:

    It is not our duty to topple every dictator out there

    No, but if someone is a mass murderer of American citizens, I say let’s take him out if we have a chance.

  5. john personna says:

    That was interesting … I just googled back my comments on Libya here. It seems I was happy to have the US take a secondary support role. I greatly doubted that we needed to worry about “boots on ground” or this blowing up into a real war (for us). I was also somewhat skeptical that Gaddafi would actually be ousted. I said things like:

    The stated goal was to prevent Gaddafhi from exacting vengeance on the eastern rebel towns. Occam’s Razor should require us to start from there. Maybe that’s it, and the French, British, and US want to get a few licks in?

    It might be different if intelligence (whomever’s) believes Gaddafhi is actually vulnerable to the rebels, but I’m not sure that is true.

    It seems they knew after all, or they gave it time and let it happen.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    First, thanks for the shout-outs, it’s appreciated.

    The problem with McCain’s criticism is that it never did make sense from the start. We needed at least a thin coating of legal rationale over this thing. Getting the Chinese and Russians to sign off isn’t something we can do with a snap of the fingers. As it is, it was damned fast. (And I’d love to have a transcript of those calls.)

    Further, we needed to put military assets in place, we needed some structure for co-ordinating with our allies, we wanted as broad a participation as possible (and we got it) and we probably made some contact with the rebels. All of that was necessary, and none of that happens overnight.

    History books are full of occasions when loudmouths successfully pushed for premature action. One example of that is now known as The First Battle of Bull Run. Unfortunately the “run” came to mean much more than just a geographic feature.

    Obama’s leadership on this was about more than fending off senile senators. I’ve said from the start that this was a masterpiece of diplomacy. Virtually overnight Obama/Sarkozy/Cameron pulled off a UN authorizing resolution even as Doug Mataconis was writing that it was never going to happen. And anyone who thinks China and Russia went along solely on the word of the French and Brits is delusional. This had American fingerprints from the start.

    His leadership also includes a very un-Bushian willingness to stay off-camera. The wisdom of this should be obvious: the rebels never became successfully identified as American agents.

    All-in-all, a very nice piece of work, while remaining a very minor episode in our history.

  7. mantis says:

    @James Joyner:

    That’s the implicit argument in Benen’s criticism, certainly. How dare McCain still believe Obama acted too slowly since there’s now good news? It doesn’t compute.

    That’s not the argument. The point is that McCain and Graham downplay the US role in this success, and the fact that they are taking a moment of victory to criticize, instead of praise, the successful strategic decisions. Obviously they are doing so for political reasons, to attack the president. Why Republicans think that moments of success are the best opportunity to attack the president, I have no idea, but they do.

    “Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.”

    Translation: Americans can be proud of our armed forces, and should be pissed at President Obama, because he is our political enemy. Can you please, please be pissed at Obama for this? We’re really counting on it. We’ve been criticizing his strategy for months, and now we would like you to kindly ignore the fact that it has been successful.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:
    Dear Muammar: Lockerbie, mother—er.

  9. Hey Norm says:

    Clowns like McCain and Graham want to run in guns blazing. Like other neo-cons they want…very likely have wet-dreams about…perpetual war. But clowns like McCain and Graham should never be put in charge of foreign policy. Being a lousy pilot doesn’t make you an expert on anything except crashing airplanes.
    Libya, unlike Iraq, actually was an international effort. Did we shoulder a disporportionate share of the burden…sure…that’s why our defense budget is a disproportionate share of our budget. But allies carried their own burden and took a role in leading the effort. We DO NOT have to police the world on our own. Obama showed that. That to me is the most important thing to come out of Libya.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Translation: Americans can be proud of our armed forces, and should be pissed at President Obama, because he is our political enemy.

    Recent events in Libya are a win for everyone except Gaddafi and Republicans. ‘Nuff said…

  11. Hey Norm says:

    “…From a purely humanitarian point of view, the delay allowed Gaddafi to kill hundreds of his people and Obama’s decision to “lead from behind” and supply only airpower arguably cost innumerable lives…”

    Seriously? How many innocent civilians lost their lives during our little nation-building exercise in Iraq? I don’t remember much outrage directed at Mr. “Every Life is Precious” Bush over that. We’ve seen two very different approaches to evil despots…Iraq and Libya. I’ll take the Libya model – thanks.

  12. Ben Wolf says:

    How ca we give the President, or America for that matter, any credit? The administration clearly stated we weren’t enaged in hostilities in Libya, so what credit do they deserve?

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    His leadership also includes a very un-Bushian willingness to stay off-camera. The wisdom of this should be obvious: the rebels never became successfully identified as American agents.

    And queue Jay Tea’s post about how Obama is arrogant for even giving a speech on the subject in 3…2…1…

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Hey Norm: I’m making the argument from the standpoint of an invasion for almost entirely humanitarian reasons. It’s not my viewpoint; I’m defending the logical consistency.

  15. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: We mostly agree on this. Obama was reluctant to intervene and was listening to Gates and his intelligence people who told him it would be hard. I think the French and Brits shamed him into acting, which the combination of their sacrifices in Afghanistan and his own gut desire to “do something” made easy. At the point of decision, though, he did a pretty good job of making it appear that the American involvement would be minimal and that the Euros were leading, which also helped get Russia and China to not block it.

    I’ve got some quibbles about how all this was carried out, since it involved misleading the American people along with everyone else. The US was front and center all along, while pretending it was somebody called “NATO” doing the heavy lifting.

  16. Rob in CT says:

    1. I was against the Libyan adventure, and still think it was a poor decision-making process that got us involved.

    2. That said, if you are going to praise the outcome, how do you avoid praising the President that got us involved (while failing to ask for Congressional authorization)?

  17. Wayne says:

    A bad coach with great players can win against a bad coach with bad players. There is nothing wrong with saying a bad coach is a bad coach even if his team won. If you are that team supporter though you should be happy your team won. I would be surprised if McCain and Graham are not happy with Kaddafi being out of power.

    We disposed Saddam Hussein in a short order once went into battle. Many on the left complained about the celebrations we had after doing so. Remember the mission accomplished banner. Bush himself said that there is much more to do but we should take pride in ousting Saddam. The left screamed bloody murder. The left still complain about the strategy Bush used even though it was quick and successful in disposing Saddam. They also argue the validity of going in and if we should have gone in at all.

    Now why is it wrong to treat a Democrat President the same way a Republican President was treated?

    I am happy that Kaddafi is out of power and a little celebration is in order. However it is far from over. It also doesn’t count the the cost to us. Cost like the use of our military so far and in the future, bribes to other countries to support our agenda in Libya, future bribes for support, future grants and loans directly by us and indirectly by us using third parties.

  18. Ron Beasley says:

    McCain is a bitter old man and Graham is a tribal partisan hack. Judging from Iraq and Afghanistan we saved lives by not doing what McCain wanted to do as NATO forces would have ended up killing more civilians than Gaddafi. Instead of cheering and thanking us as they are to do the Libyans would have been cursing us.

  19. Jay Tea says:

    @Neil Hudelson: My main point was going to be one that’s already been brought up: the really, really, really bad precedent of Obama sending the US military to war with the approval of the UN and NATO, but not ever broaching the subject with Congress or the American people.

    As for the rest… I’ll pass on it here. If I can pull it together enough, I might do it for Wizbang. But not here.

    J.

  20. Wayne says:

    @Rob
    I can be happy that a murderer was killed but not be happy that a lynch mob did it.

    One can be happy with the outcome without being happy about how it was done. One can even think that how it was done was wrong.

  21. anjin-san says:

    I might do it for Wizbang. But not here.

    Wise. Best to save it for the brain-dead.

  22. Hey Norm says:

    @ James…
    Understood…I just think the

    “responsibility to protect”

    is a shared responsibility and not ours alone. As a shared undertaking the diplomacy required happened in a pretty remarkable time-frame. Yes we could have…as McCain wanted…gone in whole-hog under the Pottery Barn rule. But that would have been a very different thing than what we are talking about and certainly even more lives would have been lost, including American troops.

    Also – the fact that Qaddafi got himself

    “…into America’s good graces for a short period before his recent atrocities put him back on the enemies list…”

    says more about those in charge of America’s Good Graces List than it does about Qaddafi. (As I type this I am thinking of the picture of Rumsfeld shaking Saddam’s hand.)

  23. mantis says:

    Obama sending the US military to war with the approval of the UN and NATO, but not ever broaching the subject with Congress or the American people.

    If I can pull it together enough, I might do it for Wizbang. But not here.

    I’m sure you will, as there few people will recognize the statement above as total BS.

  24. Hey Norm says:

    Just the idea that JTea can actually

    “…pull it together enough…”

    is pretty f’ing funny.

  25. Pug says:

    @anjin-san:

    I agree with this. Gaddafi (however the hell you spell it) is a mass murderer of Americans. Does anyone doubt he gave the order to blow up the plane over Lockerbie?

    He should have been taken out a long time ago.

  26. doubter4444 says:

    @Wayne:
    Wow, the false equivalence is staggering in your post.
    Serious question: Do you really believe what you are saying?

    And what the hell does this have to do with anything?:
    We disposed Saddam Hussein in a short order once went into battle. Many on the left complained about the celebrations we had after doing so. Remember the mission accomplished banner. Bush himself said that there is much more to do but we should take pride in ousting Saddam. The left screamed bloody murder. The left still complain about the strategy Bush used even though it was quick and successful in disposing Saddam. They also argue the validity of going in and if we should have gone in at all.

  27. Wayne says:

    @Mantis
    And what part of that statement is wrong. Obama never went to Congress to get their approval.

    @doubter4444
    Part of the issue is a President not getting credit for disposing a dictator. Obama help the rebels do so and Bush was the main effort. Just pointing at how the left treated it.

  28. anjin-san says:

    I can be happy that a murderer was killed but not be happy that a lynch mob did it.

    As far as we know, Gaddafi yet lives. WTF are you talking about?

    As far as “how it was done”, well, we have seen how Republican administrations deal with mass murderers of Americans – not very effectively. Myself, I have no problem with Obama sending the message that if you think you can use Americans for target practice, we will be coming for your ass.

  29. anjin-san says:

    Obama help the rebels do so and Bush was the main effort. Just pointing at how the left treated it.

    Can you repeat this in English?

  30. john personna says:

    I’m pretty sure institutional Washington likes the fuzzy ground between skirmish and war. They like that the President can authorize and Congress can posture. That may not be the way the Constitution reads, but it has benefits for both parties. The President can get away with a certain amount. Congress has the option of blocking him, or (often the best possible path for them) express disapproval while letting him ride. In that later case they win politically either way. If the plan crashes and burns, they were against it. If the plan works, they didn’t stop it.

    We are seeing that play out now. The plan worked. They didn’t stop it.

    They (and some commenters here) just can’t help sniping that it was a bad and possibly illegal plan, even if it did work, mumble, mumble.

    (I really don’t believe that commenters above really would be for congressional votes on each and every foreign use of force, but even if they are, they should see why Congress never will be. The haze of unclear legality benefits them all.)

  31. john personna says:

    BTW, even though the plan did work, I still disagree with Michael that it was in our interest to have a higher profile. It might not have worked, and had it not, it would have been good to have someone else holding the bag.

  32. Argon says:

    I wasn’t happy about the operations in Libya but I would never make the argument that Congress didn’t authorize it. The practical fact (as opposed to the legal fiction) is that they authorized the President’s plan by not blocking it.

  33. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We disposed Saddam Hussein in a short order once went into battle. Many on the left complained about the celebrations we had after doing so. Remember the mission accomplished banner. Bush himself said that there is much more to do but we should take pride in ousting Saddam. The left screamed bloody murder. The left still complain about the strategy Bush used even though it was quick and successful in disposing Saddam. They also argue the validity of going in and if we should have gone in at all.

    Now why is it wrong to treat a Democrat President the same way a Republican President was treated?

    God it pains me to say it, I never thought I would, But I can find nothing objectionable in Wayne’s above statement. Mainly because it is factually accurate.

    Remember the mission accomplished banner. Bush himself said that there is much more to do but we should take pride in ousting Saddam. The left screamed bloody murder.

    I remember because I was one of the left screaming bloody murder. Michael Reynolds, Anjin, and others… I do not recall if you have spoken to the “what comes next” issue or not but I know you have not in this thread. While I feel you are absolutely correct in calling McCain and Graham out on their neocon baloney (I feel it was a great diplomatic coup that Obama “allowed” others to take the lead, as opposed to imperialist America.) the question remains:

    What comes next?

  34. anjin-san says:

    Bush himself said that there is much more to do but we should take pride in ousting Saddam.

    Take pride in being suckered in by Iran into removing their great enemy at great cost to ourselves and none to them?

    Not really seeing it.

  35. john personna says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    What comes next?

    If the lesson is that you can accomplish what you want with limited risk and limited resources, that’s a good thing. If it’s a win for stand-off war, that’s a good thing. If it builds the case that you don’t need boots on ground to project force, that’s a good thing.

    And yeah, if it shows that you can win projecting just a little force, without going to full blown Iraqi style war, that’s a good thing.

  36. john personna says:

    (There is a dark side to Presidential gunboat diplomacy, that is for sure, but it is not the very worst thing that can happen. No, the worst thing is getting bogged down in a decade (or decades) long land war.)

  37. Wayne says:

    For those who had problems with MacCain photo ops with Gaddafi, how about when Obama did it?

    @Anjin-san
    It is a pretty simple concept. One may like the ultimate outcome but not like the process. The deal with similarities is they don’t have to be 100% alike to be similar and\or to be relevant to each other.

    The overthrow of Saddam was lead primarily by the U.S. which Bush was the leader of. Obama lead the U.S in support of NATO who were in turn supporting the Rebels. So Obama help the Rebels in overthrowing Gaddafi. Is that spelled out enough for you?

    Just pointing at how the left treated it means I pointing out how the left are now complaining about the same things that they were guilty of to a far greater extent with their treatment of Bush.

  38. john personna says:

    @Wayne:

    A difference in size can be a difference in kind.

    It is preposterous to claim that Libya is like a US mobilization for war in Iraq. It is equally preposterous to say that we now have the same exposures.

    We have a hard time leaving Iraq, right? Would we have a hard time leaving Libya?

    We aren’t even there.

  39. Wayne says:

    @JP
    A standoff war can work with small countries like Libya but with a major force like what Iraq had it seldom is successful. Surely you don’t think our morality and principles should depend on how big of an opponent we face?

    Re ”What comes next”

    That is the billion dollar question. At the minimum we will help finance the new government directly or indirectly for some time. That is assuming they don’t end up in a civil war. We also most likely will have “military advisors” on the ground for some time.

    A more likely scenario will be a civil war within a couple years that will last for some time. In which case, we will spend a good deal of money through back channels to influence it. Many lives will be lost.

    A bad but not unlikely scenario is that a terrorist group in any number of scenarios, gains power over a oil rich country.

  40. anjin-san says:

    A more likely scenario will be a civil war within a couple years that will last for some time. In which case, we will spend a good deal of money through back channels to influence it. Many lives will be lost.

    A bad but not unlikely scenario is that a terrorist group in any number of scenarios, gains power over a oil rich country.

    And here we see all the right has to offer. Hope for a bad outcome so they can blame Obama.

  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And yeah, if it shows that you can win projecting just a little force, without going to full blown Iraqi style war, that’s a good thing.

    JP, all agreed, but you never did answer my question: What comes next?

    I know you can’t answer, and I certainly do not expect you to. My question is directed towards the more prideful amongst us. Ghaddafi was a monster. It is good that he is gone. But who amongst us can gaurantee that what will follow will not be worse?

    No one, and should the worst arise, what are we going to do?

    ps: not sure what is up with the reply buttons this eve, they come and they go.

  42. anjin-san says:

    Is that spelled out enough for you?

    Not really. Perhaps you think more clearly than you write. I hope so. If you were in the 9th grade and you turned that in as a current events paper you would probably get a C- at best.

  43. Wayne says:

    @JP
    We help overthrow a government. We are partially responsible for whatever happens to it wither we leave or not. We have been in their airspace and helping out the rebels for some time. So yes we are there.

    In Iraq we could have wash our hands of it and walked away. Most thought that wouldn’t have been wise. Same applies to Libya. Maybe walking away from one or both would have been in our best interest. Maybe it wouldn’t be. Regardless of wither we walk away or not, we are still responsible for what happens next.

  44. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Regardless of wither we walk away or not, we are still responsible for what happens next.

    C’mon guys, tell me why I should not agree with Wayne twice in one eve. Please….

  45. Wayne says:

    Re “Hope for a bad outcome so they can blame Obama.”

    Sounds more like what the left did to Bush.

    I actually hope for my scenario that you didn’t mention. I was just answering OzarkHillBilly question. I would have given a similar assessment on Iraq if someone would have asked what will happen if we simply left. Civil war was a major concern there and they have fewer factions than Libya. Also we have a large force on hand to deal with it if it did but staying was another assessment.

    I seem to remember many on the left mentioning Iraq was going to end up in civil war during the Bush years. Were they routing for one?

  46. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And wayne, the word is whether, not wither…

    just an fyi.

  47. Wayne says:

    @OzarkHillbilly
    How about, “yes but sometimes in life you have to let the chips fall where they fall. We can’t do everything for everyone”.

    That doesn’t resolve us from being responsible for the outcome but sometimes in life you just have to walk away. Yes that is conflicting but so is life.

  48. Wayne says:

    Thanks, I tend to screw up on that word.

  49. michael reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Michael Reynolds, Anjin, and others… I do not recall if you have spoken to the “what comes next” issue or not but I know you have not in this thread.

    You’re right, I have not written about that. I’ve been looking at this from the gaming perspective, if you will: the maneuver, the statecraft, the inside-baseball aspect of it, all of which I think is very impressive.

    I was not one pushing to do this. And I haven’t been very concerned about what happens next because I don’t think this entire matter is terribly important. It’s about on a par with bumping off Noriega or kicking Cubans out of Granada — but with fewer casualties. I also thought Republican (and some Left) whining about Obama’s three wars was over-the-top.

    Libya is not a US vital interest except in a pretty attenuated way. I think this probably takes some possible refugee pressure off Egypt, which is nice I suppose. But the greater import for me is in what this tells us about modern warfare, the wake-up call it sends to the UK and France, the — I think — salutary impact on NATO, and the chill it should send up Iran’s back. Iran has it’s own dissidents and even armed opposition.

    Obviously I hope Libya outperforms its history and makes the best of this opportunity.

  50. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Wayne: Wayne, my point exactly. But hubris abounds. Every now and again, even tho we are right, we are wrong.

    For those who do not understand? I recommend reading up on Afghanistan.

  51. michael reynolds says:

    @Wayne:
    I don’t speak for the Left, but I wasn’t rooting for a civil war in Iraq, I was saying, “This is not how you do an occupation.” I was calling for more men and for increasing the size of the army to allow for it.

    I supported the invasion of Iraq on the theory that we were doing Japan 1945, that we were going to forcibly reshuffle the deck and dictate a new regime. I underestimated the difficulty and wildly overestimated the competence of the Bush administration.

    Incidentally, you’re wrong that Libya has more factions. They are different tribes but only one religion, unlike Iraq where sectarian hatred fueled the civil war.

  52. anjin-san says:

    Sounds more like what the left did to Bush

    Well, I only speak for myself, but I never stopped rooting for Bush to get it right. He was the President, after all. When he did get it right, as in the surge, TARP, the Gates appointment and a few other times, I gave him full credit.

    I voted for Bush in 2000. The contempt I have for him was something he earned, not something that was there going in.

    I seem to remember many on the left mentioning Iraq was going to end up in civil war during the Bush years. Were they routing for one?

    There is a difference between good analysis and rooting for a bad outcome. I don’t know anyone who rooted for a bloodbath in Iraq, and if I had I would have told them to go F**k themselves.

  53. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You’re right, I have not written about that. I’ve been looking at this from the gaming perspective, if you will:

    Michael, We are all guilty of that. It is not a game? Could’a fooled me!!! (this is not a slam on you or any one else as we all tend to look at these things as tho we are not involved)(most especially me)

    Obviously I hope Libya outperforms its history and makes the best of this opportunity.

    As do I. And if it does not? It is France’s fault. What is not to like about that?

  54. Dazedandconfused says:

    My only criticism is in your worries about how these things can lead to “mission creep” and then go on about needing a “Plan B” and a “Phase IV”. Phase IV involved a “handover”. In a situation where we had no boots on the ground?

    If we can’t shed the feeling that we are responsible for the ultimate end state of every situation we get in, no matter how limited the role, then mission creep is indeed a big, big danger.

    BTW, I don’t post much, so I’d like to thank you for running this blog. I think of it as an island of sanity.

  55. john personna says:

    @Dazedandconfused:

    My only criticism is in your worries about how these things can lead to “mission creep” and then go on about needing a “Plan B” and a “Phase IV”. Phase IV involved a “handover”. In a situation where we had no boots on the ground?

    We see that pattern repeat. People who wish to contest US commitment in Libya will inflate US commitment in Libya, in order to make their fears seem more dramatic. Wayne does it pretty clearly here:

    We help overthrow a government. We are partially responsible for whatever happens to it wither we leave or not. We have been in their airspace and helping out the rebels for some time. So yes we are there.

    I’d say that is counterproductive. If he (they) are really against US escalation, they should be emphasizing how easy it would be to walk away. They shouldn’t attempt to tie us in themselves, in order to be upset about it.

  56. john personna says:

    (The current risk isn’t even military. It is political. The west should be giving prudent political and financial aid to moderates at this point. The military can be and should be sidelined at this point.)

  57. Rob in CT says:

    Wayne, regarding the criticism from Graham and McCain, it was my understanding that those fellows went out of their way to praise every other Western leader that pushed for the intervention, but left Obama out. My gut response was that this was transparently partisan of them.

    I forgot, however, that those two are uberhawks who wanted a larger and faster intervention. So they charge that Obama dithered. I find this charge to be stupid, but it’s not hypocritical.

    I think this is distinguishable from much of the Lefty criticism of Iraq (which was always based on opposition to the war itself, and conduct of the war/occupation was secondary to that).

  58. Rob in CT says:

    As to the “what comes next” question, that’s always the worry. That was my primary concern about Iraq – I had no doubt our military would crush Saddam’s. The worry was “then what?” And sure enough, it turned out that our leaders hadn’t the first frickin’ clue what they’d gotten into.

    The difference is that we are not occupying Libya. The place could go to hell (and we will be amongst the nations sharing the “credit” for that if it happens), but US troops won’t be trying to hold it together.

    Shorter me: Iraq = really really bad. Libya = bad, but on a much smaller scale. At this point, given the total interventionist control of US foreign policy, I’m reduced to being relieved that what we’ve gotten is only a small overseas entanglement. Sigh.

  59. James Joyner says:

    @Rob in CT: McCain is simply an incredibly aggressive National Greatness guy, wanting to intervene damned near everywhere there’s a chance of advancing freedom. He wanted to take on the Russians over South Ossetia during the Bush Administration.

  60. Ron Beasley says:

    @James Joyner: AKA crazy old man

  61. WR says:

    @James Joyner: Advancing freedom? What does that mean? Was McCain trying to advance freedom when he went over to Libya and kissed Gaddaffi’s ass a couple of years ago? Or was he advancing freedom when he wanted to send troops to topple him?

    It’s indisputably true that McCain wants to intervene damned near anywhere there’s a conflict. But you are far too generous in assigning motive to him.

  62. James Joyner says:

    @WR: I can’t speak to McCain’s motives for the Libya visit, although it came at a time of uptick in relations because of Gaddafi’s abandonment of his nuke program. But he’s a full-throated advocate of supporting freedom movements that spring up.

  63. Wayne says:

    FYI
    From the sound of it, the rebels were at a standstill until a sudden influx of foreign fighters showed up. Rumors has it some of those are CIA operatives and “former” military. Of course that could mean basically hired mercenaries which could be partly or entirely from other countries. Doubtful though.

    Regardless to say we have no one on the ground would probably be wrong. Politically speech spin of no “military” (active not former) on the ground may be right but we have no one on the ground probably not so much.

  64. WR says:

    @James Joyner: He’s a full-throated defender of movements that call themselves freedom movements. I don’t think his analysis goes any deeper than that — and a desire to prove that America can kick ass.

  65. James Joyner says:

    @WR: Don’t disagree. I just think McCain’s a knee jerk interventist rather than a partisan hack.

  66. SKI says:

    @James Joyner: Why are you disallowing the possibility he is both?