As Libya appears poised to transition to the post-Qadhafi era, the debate has already started about the proper international role in the next phase. Max Hastings warned against British involvement, “not as peacekeepers, or as a ‘stabilisation force’, or even to distribute Christmas parcels.” (re: parcels, probably a small loss given that Libya is 97% Sunni Muslim)
I am very wary of U.S. military personnel officially entering Libya as part of a nation-building effort. I’ll keep the explanation brief:
1. The US is cutting costs these days.
2. The US experience with nation-building is mixed. (see Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti)
3. While the US military has a significant edge in many aspects of conventional military operations, the US military is not considered a world leader in nation-building. The US is not indispensable for nation-building or peacekeeping.
4. With a small fiscal and political investment, the initial US/NATO involvement in Libya has gone well. We should not assume that that guarantees the post-conflict phase will go well. Perhaps ‘quit while you’re ahead’ should be the US motto in this case.
5. Fears that the rebel alliance (sorry to get all Star Warsy on you) may fracture are not illusory.
6. We don’t have a sense yet as to what government will emerge in Libya and what help it will want or need.
7. Does the US need to deepen its role in another Middle East country? That often has not played very well across the region. The US has a lot of baggage; maybe other prospective international contributors have less history.
In short, this seems like a perfect opportunity to let Libyans decide what they need and to let others in the international community meet those needs.
All that said, if the US is needed at the margin, a few helpers here or there, I am okay with that as long as it is a small number. I don’t worry much about mission creep (but maybe I am being naive).
One open question is whether this would be nation-building or stabilization. How extensive is the damage from the war? How quickly can a national government seek to assert control over all of Libya, east and west?
I am not dead set against a US role, but as you can see, I strongly lean that way barring a compelling argument to the contrary.