It is perfectly correct to observe that any celebration of the apparent victory of the Libyan rebels–a clear consequence of the major military assistance by NATO and the U.S–is, at best, premature. If the outcome of the “victories” in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t warrant extreme caution in drawing conclusions about the efficacy of military interventions to bring about regime change, then nothing will.
That said, some of the continued skepticism about the success of the Libyan intervention is not persuasive. For one thing, the argument that the U.S. and NATO exceeded the UN mandate–which specified that the mission was to protect civilians–is weak. It was abundantly clear from the beginning–and now, maybe even more so, as the extent of Qaddafi’s repression becomes even clearer–that a victory of Quaddafi would have led to a bloodbath and the return to unchecked power of a regime which has a history of killing its own civilians. In this particular case, then, the distinction between protecting civilians and intervening in a civil war was nearly nonexistent.
In short, it would not have been possible to meet the UN mandate without regime change. And who can seriously doubt at this point that the overwhelming majority of the Libyan people supported the intervention and are overjoyed at its outcome? Or, more cautiously said, at least what appears to be its outcome.
The most important argument of those who strongly opposed the Libyan intervention from the outset and continue to do so today is that its success–if indeed it holds up in some meaningful way–will only encourage further US or NATO military interventions in countries where the costs and consequences would be far greater than in Libya and “success”–however defined–much less achievable.
That is an extremely important argument–but it appears highly unlikely that the necessary warning against hubris will be disregarded. It is instructive that hardly anyone–the Obama administration, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Tea Party, leading commentators, etc.–are calling for military intervention in, say, Syria, let alone Iran (the obvious present analogues to Libya.)
Put differently, it appears to be very widely recognized in this country that the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq are far more relevant and instructive in terms of future U.S. policies in internal conflicts than whatever success may emerge in Libya. That being the case, there is no harm in a muted, cautious celebration of one of the very few cases in which an essentially humanitarian military intervention actually worked, with bearable costs and the likelihood that the beneficial consequences will outweigh any damaging ones.
Or so there is reasonable reason to hope.
This is a crosspost from Jerome Slater’s site.