Exit Strategies

Libya: Kosovo Redux

I must confess that I have a half-written blog entry on how the Obama administration has, in essence, given up on the American Empire. Due to fiscal constraints, its own incompetence, and its lack of self-assurance in the wake of Iraq and rising anti-Americanism, the Democratic power elite (along with allies like Robert Gibbs) simply doesn’t have the will to act. It was thus unwilling to save Israel’s ally Hosni Mubarek and has been dragging its feet instituting a no-fly zone over Libya. Actively toppling the Gaddafi regime would be out of the question.

I further argued that this inaction will be opposed and demeaned by the mainstream Republican presidential contenders (with the possible exception of Haley Barbour), who will shriek about how Obama is “appeasing dictators.” (On this front, see the Politico’s recent piece “The Return of the Neocons.”)

I was to conclude that for those of us who think the American Empire is a liability for both the American people and the West in general, the Democrats‘ dilly-dallying is actually preferable to the Republicans’ lunatic war-mongering.

Well, needless to say, my half-written blog has been overtaken by events, and my sense that the Democrats are giving up on empire now seems like wishful thinking.

Instead, what we are experiencing today in Libya is a situation that, in many ways, resembles the last time a Democratic president engaged in major military action overseas.  It’s Kosovo all over again:

  • The UN offers its imprimatur;
  • NATO provides the muscle;
  • The U.S. declares war on a small national regime with no clear objectives or exit-strategy;
  • A statesman (Milošević/Gadaffi), whom Washington had dealt with civilly only months before, is depicted as a Hitlerian menace (and the dutiful media eats it up);
  • The U.S. takes sides in a civil war and uses its air and missile power on behalf of a group (the KLA/Libyan rebels) that is—at best—highly dubious.

Libya might actually turn out far worse than Kosovo in that it will eventuate in a failed state and a mass Muslim refugee flow into Europe.

Daniel Larison is quite good on these matters:

The similarities with Kosovo are eerie, and that is a very bad sign for the people living in eastern Libya. Perhaps the only thing worse than intervening in a civil war in which the U.S. and our allies have nothing at stake is to intervene and then opt for those tactics that will do just enough to commit us to the fight without protecting the people our forces are supposed to be protecting. Quite apart from the outrageous harm done to both Albanian and Serb civilians in the prosecution of the air campaign, the war in Kosovo facilitated and caused the mass refugee exodus from Kosovo that it was officially trying to avert. The U.S. and our allies weren’t going to be responsible for what happened to the people in eastern Libya, but our governments have now assumed responsibility for them.

Whatever you want to say about them, the ’99 House Republicans were steadfastly against Clinton’s Kosovo adventure; Gov. George W. Bush (in another life) actually scolded Al Gore for engaging in “nation-building.” After the entire mainstream GOP went “all in” for Iraq, they now have nothing to run on.