The Spectacle Blog

Mission Not Accomplished in Libya

By on 8.21.11 | 8:45PM

The apparent overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi is obviously a good and long overdue thing. But those eager to declare "Mission Accomplished" might want to reflect upon recent history (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and the nature of modern-day war.

Did the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan mean the end of the war in Afghanistan? Did the 2003 overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein mean the end of the Iraq War?

The reality is that modern-day wars in failed and failing states such as Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere are never truly over unless and until stability and effective governance have been restored. And this, in turn, requires much-derided "nation building."

Of course, no one likes to admit that. We Americans especially prefer quick, neat and tidy wars, with a clear beginning and a clear ending. The real world, though -- the world that we now live in -- doesn't work that way.

The truth is that, we don't know what lies ahead in Libya. It's doubtful that the situation there will ever become as unstable and anarchic as what we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan. Libya is much more advanced, culturally and economically, than Afghanistan and far less splintered along religious and class lines than Iraq.

Nonetheless, as John Tabin correctly points out, the end of Gaddafi doesn't necessarily mean the end of the civil war in Libya. "The rebels," he writes,

had a common foe in Gaddafi, but they are ideologically quite divided, and there are militias (including Islamist militias) that are not fully under the control of the National Transitional Council.

Moreover, it's certainly true, as Reid Smith observes, that history has accorded the Libyan people little opportunity to develop democratic habits and mores. And that is why, I think, it is imperative that the United States act with dispatch to aid and assist the Libyan people. "Leading from behind" won't cut it; America needs to set the example and show the way.

The truth is that what happens in Libya will have serious repercussions throughout the Middle East -- in important places such as Syria and Egypt, where the fledgling forces of democracy face an uncertain and uphill battle. And so, the United States needs to bring all elements of national power -- including perhaps the use of American ground troops -- to support stability and foster democratic change in Libya.

The real question is: Does Obama have a plan to ensure that Libya doesn't become a failed state and a terrorist playground? And the answer to that question, unfortunately, is: Who knows?! We're still waiting for the president's plans to balance the budget, reform entitlements, rein in spending, restore economic growth, create jobs.

Maybe Obama will share his plans with us (assuming that he has any) when he returns from his vacation with the hoity toity in Martha's Vineyard. In the meantime, history surges forward, furiously and unpredictably.

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