After a nearly six-month stalemate the rebels in Libya, who had been held inside the eastern half of the nation, have broken through the government front and now occupy much of the capital city of Tripoli. The authoritarian regime of Muammar Qaddafi is on its last legs and the popular revolution, which seems to represent at the very least a majority of the Libyan people, is on the verge of claiming victory over the long-standing dictator.
For much of the past six months President Barack Obama has taken heavy criticism from his opponents for involving the United States in military operations in Libya. However, given the circumstances, it is possible that the role played in Libya could create a new role and scope for American military intervention.
Representative Michele Bachmann (MN-6) has called Libya a “third war” and “Obama’s war,” but these characterizations could not be further from the truth. The United States has put no men on the ground in Libya, it has lost no troops in combat, it has sent no invasion fleet and it has readied no occupation forces.
The White House chose to intervene as part of a joint NATO, according to its own logic, to protect the Libyan people in Benghazi from what it claimed would have been a brutal massacre at the hands of Qaddafi’s forces. Whether or not such a massacre would have occurred without “protection” is irrelevant. The United States and its allies intervened and now, with minimal cost and virtually no tangible losses, that intervention seems to have been a success.
The vast majority of the actual fighting was done by Libyan rebel groups who lacked training, coordination and arms. Yet the United States did not see fit to send thousands of expensive private contractors and billions of dollars of superfluous equipment to foster their cause. The American military took part in international operations in accordance with the desires of its allies and most of the global community.
In hindsight, the Libyan operations are a stark contrast to the quagmire of Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States ham-fistedly invaded those nations with a force of arms far in excess of what was required to topple the regimes, and has remained entrenched in-country with personnel who are ill-trained and ill-equipped for their new task of state-building.
The President of the United States did what he thought was necessary to eventually bring about the end of the Qaddafi regime – a dictator who was treated with kid gloves by the administration of George W. Bush. The scale of involvement was catered precisely to what needed to be done.
Compare this to Afghanistan circa 2001. The United States invaded with an overwhelming force of arms in perhaps the greatest military mismatch in recorded history. Ten years later that invasion force has only grown, even though the enemy it was designed to fight has long since died off.
The administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama have claimed that the troop presence is necessary to provide security and hunt terrorists, but their very presence creates a security problem. Furthermore, Navy SEAL Team 6 proved on May 2, 2011, that an occupation force is not required to hunt and destroy terrorists.
Compare Libya to the human and strategic disaster in Iraq. Iraq was ruled by an oil-rich dictator who violently oppressed his people and was at times both friend and foe of the United States. Why was it so necessary to invade and occupy Iraq when such actions would have been counterproductive in Libya? Why spend hundreds of billions of dollars occupying the nation when what the people truly wanted was simply the removal of the Hussein regime?
The battle for Libya may not lead to a democratic renaissance in that nation. It may not create the kind of perfect partner the United States is looking for in the Arab world. However, having risked so little, the United States will likely find reward regardless of the outcome.
The scale of response in Libya was calculated and precise. The scales of response in Iraq and Afghanistan were myopic at best and should be seen simply as blind by any objective standard. In Libya the desired outcome was achieved with virtually no loss of life or treasure, with no bleeding of American greatness into the sands of the Sahara. Imagine if this had been the case just one decade ago.