The Spectacle Blog

What Is Our Obligation in North Africa?

By on 10.25.11 | 2:10PM

In a contribution to CNN today, Gen. Michael Hayden, the retired USAF four-star general and former Director of both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, described the challenges facing a post-Gaddafi Libya in context of America's recent military interventionism in the Arab world. As he knows better than most, collapsing the corrupt, illiberal, and illegitimate old regime is usually the easy part. State construction and the maturation of a robust civil society are considerably more problematic.

Make no mistake -- whether behind the scenes or from the skies above -- the resignation of Ben Ali in Tunisia, the collapse of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and the death of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya were, in part, orchestrated by the United States of America. Of course, as Hayden notes, there was more than "altruistic international good citizenship involved here."

Now, all three "states" exist in a condition of political flux. In Tunisia, there are concerns about an Islamist advantage in the country's fragile, young parliament. In Egypt, Mubarak's "ancien régime" still holds the nation in a death grip, stifling democratic development and a constitutional renaissance. But Libya presents the most challenging security dilemma for the U.S. and its NATO allies. According to Hayden:

If Libya is left to its own devices, it is not difficult to conceive of it becoming Somalia on the Mediterranean, an ungoverned space threatening the heart of Europe as well as critical international lines of communication. We have already begun to fret over the loss of control of thousands of man-portable surface-to-air missiles. These are reasons enough to stay engaged.

Lacking both Gen. Hayden's aegis and articulation, I presaged a similar sentiment back in August. Undoubtedly, the end of Gaddafi will have regional impacts for Egypt and Tunisia -- two states that will be watching with careful attention as yet another new nation emerges on the Mediterranean rim of North Africa. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad must be wondering how long his Arab League allies will tolerate the Arab Street's revulsion with his inhuman treatment of his own people. In Tehran, the ruling Mullahs are undoubtedly pondering the assumption that were Gaddafi to have refused to surrender his nuclear and WMD program, the West might have thought twice about poking the wounded "Lion of Africa."

For the United States and NATO, the "responsibility to protect" will need to be reassessed from the elucidatory vision of Western fighter planes exceeding basic air support of rebel fighters to wither and strafe the Colonel's ground troops.  Now, Hayden says that the Libyan success must be managed "within NATO."

It was American intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, defense suppression, electronic warfare, refueling and precision weapons that kept the alliance in the game. Will the lesson be that Europeans will have to do more in the future? Or did the Libyan adventure teach them that current levels of investment are "good enough?

He's right -- these are not idle questions. This may come as a surprise to many Americans who dared hope for an end to robust interventionism -- however prematurely -- during a week that also witnessed shades of twilight darkening peventive war in Iraq. 

Edited to fix typo.

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