Some on the left (Glen Ford, for example) have taken the view that the Libyan revolution is nothing more than a NATO-driven coup d’etat. I cannot share this view. Clearly, the rebels could not have succeeded without support from a substantial portion of the Libyan population. One thing we learned from the Afghanistan war is that dropping a lot of bombs and sending in special operations forces do not guarantee a victory. Civilian support – which the U.S. clearly lacks in Afghanistan – is an important factor.
No doubt the Western governments will try to profit as much as they can from the current situation in Libya. Some members of the ruling class are openly calling for a U.S. occupation of Libya. Richard Haas has written in the Financial Times:
- Nato’s airplanes helped bring about the rebel victory. The “humanitarian” intervention introduced to save lives believed to be threatened was in fact a political intervention introduced to bring about regime change. Now Nato has to deal with its own success. Some sort of international assistance, and most likely an international force, is likely to be needed for some time to restore and maintain order. Looting must be prevented. Die-hard regime supporters will have to be defeated. Tribal war must be averted. Justice and not revenge need to be the order of the day if Libya is not to come to resemble the civil war of post-Saddam Iraq in the first instance, or the chaos (and terrorism) of Somalia and Yemen down the road.
Haas, a diplomat, apparently did not notice that the U.S. military completely failed to stop the sectarian civil war in Iraq. I suspect Haas’s real concern is guaranteeing for the U.S. easy access to Libyan oil. Despite his knowing use of quotation marks, it is clear that Haas is actually making a more sophisticated version of the “humanitarian intervention” argument. I doubt, however, that Obama will take Haas’s advice. Among other things, the current political mood in the country is not favorable for such a move.
Is the revolution an unqualified victory for the U.S.? Bear in mind that the U.S. did not get everything it wanted in Iraq, and it certainly did not get what it wanted in Afghanistan. The U.S. may find Libya also hard to control.