Saturday, October 04, 2014

A conservative criticism of the Iraq-Syria intervention

Obama's Non-War War in Iraq and Syria against ISIS and for, well, who actually knows?, reminded me I needed to check out The American Conservative, which sometimes runs decent pieces on foreign policy if you can find them in between the rightwing polemics against poor people.

Daniel Larison has a post there on the war against ISIS that reflects on the experience of the war in Libya and its aftermath, The ISIS War and America’s Role in the World 09/25/2014

I was very much against the Libyan war, and we were opposed to it for many of the same reasons. The fact that intervention there has proven to be so disastrous because the intervention achieved its goal of regime change should make us much more wary of a war whose goal appears to be unachievable. Even though the administration officially claimed not to be fighting a war for regime change in Libya, supporters of the the Libyan war argued that it had “succeeded” because the Libyan government was overthrown. Gaddafi’s downfall was taken as proof that the Libyan intervention had “worked,” and the many foreseeable, negative consequences of this “success” were waved away or simply ignored. Even so, at least with the Libyan war there was some clear idea of how the war (or at least direct U.S. involvement in it) would end and what “success” would look like. Neither of these is true of the ISIS war. In this case, the U.S. isn't trying to topple an established government, which we know the U.S. can do (however foolish and dangerous it may be to do it), but instead it is trying to eliminate a quasi-state that is very likely to benefit politically from a militarized American overreaction to its provocations. It seems very unlikely that the current intervention can possibly succeed on its own terms, which suggests that the only thing it will do is inflict more death and destruction on two war-ravaged countries for no discernible purpose. [my emphasis in bold]
Maybe that last part about "no discernible purpose" is a bit of rhetorical overreach.

But it's a good point, and the Libya intervention is very relevant to the new one in Iraq-Syria.

President Obama now seems fully committed to the project that the Clinton Administration took on, which was to square the circle of making war both permanent and painless for the United States.

We've got the "permanent" part down. The "painless" isn't working quite so well, even for Americans. Though the harm is obviously far more severe to the foreign targets of our freedom bombs.

David Samuels reports on the state of things in Libya, How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy Bloomberg Businessweek 08/07/2014. The print edition titled it simply, "Wasted." Samuels writes:

In the last few months, ... Warring militias have destroyed large sections of Tripoli’s international airport with mortars, shoulder-launched missiles, rockets, and tanks. The fighting made the news again in July when a rocket or shell set a large oil depot on fire, sending clouds of choking black smoke over Tripoli. Shortly thereafter, 27,000 Libyans fled the fighting on foot in a single day, arriving as refugees in neighboring African countries. In just one week in July, according to a brief issued by the Soufan Group, a consultancy specializing in the Middle East, more than 60 people were killed in Benghazi, and the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and Canada have evacuated their diplomatic personnel.

Libyan oil production has declined to about 300,000 barrels a day, and a half-dozen prominent figures on the Libyan political scene, whose names had appeared in optimistic Western newspaper articles about the brave Libyans who opposed Qaddafi and fought for a more equal and democratic future, have been murdered. Their deaths have passed without any demonstrations or other significant forms of public notice inside Libya, a measure of how irrelevant the causes for which Libyans fought three years ago have become. [my emphasis]
Some of the prominent Western friends of liberating the heathen Muslims of the Middle East with the freedom bombs of the civilized world have also been touched by business dealings in Libya, not that there's anything wrong with that. Well, in some cases, maybe there is:

After British Prime Minister Tony Blair left office in 2007, he joined JPMorgan Chase’s ... investment banking unit in London and became a frequent visitor to Libya. According to documents made available by the muckraking nonprofit Global Witness, Blair, accompanied by British police, would fly into Tripoli on a Bombardier Challenger 300 jet hired by the elder Qaddafi, where he’d be transported from the airport to the British Embassy and treated like a visiting head of state. He’d stay at the British ambassador’s residence and meet regularly with Seif [al-Islam Qaddafi, son of the now deposed and murdered Libyan leader], who oversaw the activities of the $70 billion LIA, as well as with Seif’s close friend, Mustafa Zarti, the deputy head of the LIA [Libyan Investment Authority, "the overseas investment arm of the Qaddafi government"]. While Blair has said that his trips to Tripoli didn’t involve doing deals with the LIA, the careful wording of his denials doesn’t contradict the assessment of a senior British diplomat quoted in a Sept. 17, 2011, article in the Sunday Telegraph who described Blair’s visits as devoted to lobbying for J.P. Morgan, the investment banking unit of JPMorgan Chase. ...

In France, a growing scandal led magistrates in April 2013 to open an investigation into the allegation that former President Nicolas Sarkozy accepted tens of millions of euros in Libyan state funds to finance his successful campaign in 2007. It became headline news on June 30, 2014, when police took Sarkozy’s lawyer into custody and held him for 48 hours. Criminal charges have thus far been filed against 10 people, including Sarkozy’s former campaign manager.
This is something similar to what happened in post-Saddam Iraq:

As with the army and the police, many qualified civil servants and administrators are banned from doing their jobs because they held the posts under the Qaddafi regime, even though they aren't accused of any crime. So they stay home and cash checks for jobs that they hold only in name. Plenty of Libyans receive checks for more than one state job. In disbanding the army and the police, the Libyan government has had to create new jobs, which are filled by militia members, many of whom had been incarcerated under Qaddafi for political offenses and also for ordinary crimes. The result, as [Libyan Health Minister Fatima] Hamroush describes it, is a topsy-turvy world in which the state is defenseless against bands of criminals that it funds and arms. “And if you don’t follow what they say,” she adds, “they threaten you or come to kill you.” [my emphasis]
And our intervention in Libya was so successful that:

It’s hard for the West to understand the full scope of the disaster that’s befallen Libya. It’s happened, in part, because no one in or outside Libya bothered to figure out what the country might really look like after the dictator was gone. “Even after Afghanistan and Iraq, no one seems to have thought seriously about what would happen afterward,” says al-Ghwell, the World Bank economist. Al-Ghwell, one of the world’s leading experts on the development of North African economies, says Libya is well along the road to becoming something new: the world’s first failed petro state. “You can imagine Somali rebels and pirates with money to burn,” he says, when asked why the collapse of Libya should bother anyone besides the Libyans. [my emphasis]
I agree with Daniel Larison on this: "As for the U.S. role in the world, one needn't assume that the only choices are to 'shrug off' that role or wade into another unnecessary war."

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