Exit Strategies

Gaddafi and American Empire

In some ways, I’m glad that Colonel Gaddafi has (apparently, at least) been captured and killed in his hometown of Sirte by the barbaric hordes that he had kept at bay for so long. I don’t say this because I have much hope for the democratic dawn in Libya. Indeed, my guess is that one of two outcomes are most likely under the new leadership:

1) The rebels become Washington’s puppets, who make sure that the oil flows (and gets denominated in U.S. dollars), enrich themselves through foreign aid, hold onto power by their fingernails, and become justly reviled by their people;

2) The rebels begin slitting each others' throats, and the country swiftly descends into failed-state status.

Instead, I am somewhat gladdened by the reported outcome because there is a certain heroism to Gaddafi’s demise, which would have been lost were he to live out his life in secluded exile. We can now remember Gaddafi in happier times, when he cut the figure of a dashing dictator.


But what does it all mean? Here are three perspectives:

The End of "Shock 'n Awe." In the 1900s and 2000s, presidents could engage in “laptop bombardier” wars in foreign lands—wars completely unjustified on the basis of national interest—and expect them to stir up a kind of nationalism on the home front and grant them popularity boosts. This was the premise of David Mamet’s 1997 filmWag the Dog, a thinly veiled satire of Clinton’s bombing of Serbia. In turn, both presidents Bushes were defined by their Iraqi campaigns, even if they were eventually brought low by them as well.

But “Shock ‘n Awe” doesn’t work anymore. The current social mood, with regard to Libya and foreign policy in general, is one of apathy and disgust.

And Obama won’t get any help from the usual enthusiasts of Global Democracy, the neocons. As a friend reminded me this morning, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarek was detested on the proverbial “Arab street”—and appreciated in Israel—as a pro-Zionist. When the Arab Spring erupted in Egypt, and threatened to replace Mubarek with the Muslim Brotherhood, the neocons quickly lost their taste for democratization… It went much the same with Gaddafi, who was clearly willing to deal with the Jewish state.

It's Still More Dangerous To Be America's Friend. U.S. support for the rebels is yet another instance of the dangers of befriending Washington. One shouldn’t forget that Gaddafi actively made nice with the Bush administration in 2004, dropping his nuclear weapon program, providing intel on terrorists, and much else. The colorful colonel will, no doubt, be the last of Washington’s potential adversaries and media-assigned Baddies who will purse such a strategy.

Cold War II. But what is it really about? In the geopolitical context, economist Bud Conrad had described the Libyan campaign as a fool’s errand of “late-stage empire,” and part of what he has terms “Cold War II”:

Everyone is uncomfortable with the role we played in the Middle East. They fear we could enter a World War III. But a cold war is not a conflict between the main parties. We didn't battle with the Russians directly. We fought in Vietnam. The same is going on with China in an economic war over resources. The U.S. bombs the place in hopes that a new government will come in and give us cheap oil while China is busy winning contracts for the access to resources in many far-flung regions from oil in Africa to soybeans in South America. China is building cultural centers and roads to mines in an attempt to gain the favor of the people while gaining access to resources. Our approach of bombing people just makes enemies and is very expensive. It is another example of the stupidity of a late-stage empire. 

“Cold War II” has explanatory power. But I’m afraid “The Stupid Empire” is capable of World War III as well…