The I-Get-Credit Contest for Libya

So Stephen Zunes warns against giving NATO too much credit and, furthermore, highlights the importance of the Libyan people’s non-violent resistance (in addition to the rebel fighters). Glenn Robinson agrees about the importance of the Libyan people:

Importantly, NATO did not free Libya from tyranny; the Libyan people did it themselves. NATO simply evened the playing field, which had pitted the trained and well-supplied military and security forces of the Libyan state against a civilian population forced to learn how to fight on the fly. The rebels always had more enthusiasm than competence, but it was clear they also had the support of the vast majority of the population.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast gives a detailed list of how much MORE involved the United States was in toppling Qadhafi than had been widely reported. (close to $1 billion)

I must admit, I don’t get the either-or nature of this argument. In theory, it is certainly possible that Libyan non-violent action, Libyan violent action, and the NATO intervention all helped topple Qadhafi. Or that some aspects helped and hurt at the same time. Maybe Robinson is correct that NATO leveled the playing field and Zunes is correct that “foreign intervention…was successfully manipulated by Qaddafi to rally far more support to his side in his final months than would have been the case had he been faced with a largely nonviolent indigenous, civil insurrection.”

With a hated dictator gone, everyone wants a share of the credit. But what will happen if the Libyan domestic situation deteriorates in the coming months and years? Robinson concludes “any decent regime that emerges in Tripoli will be a huge improvement over Gadhafi’s reign of terror.” But that just begs the question: will a decent regime emerge? Let’s hope so.

Update #1: Though he hedges (“It was a unique case and is unlikely to be repeated”), Stewart Patrick sees Libya as the basis for more interventions down the road:

Libya has demonstrated the viability of a well-implemented RtoP intervention. Yet just because the doctrine has survived a significant test, one should not assume that the United States and its allies will apply it universally. As atrocities emerge in other contexts, the international community will need to cultivate and weigh other policy options against armed intervention, so it is not faced with stark choice of military action or inaction. The Obama administration’s PSD-10 is a step in that direction.

Update #2: Juan Cole on how it all unfolded and who was right and who was wrong.

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One Comment to “The I-Get-Credit Contest for Libya”

  1. Your point about the non-mutual exclusivity regarding the involvement of various elements is well taken. To focus for a moment on Patrick’s comment concerning RtoP, it would seem this misreads the situation. In the first place, it’s not at all clear the Libyan example qualifies as a “well-implemented” policy choice. By almost any measure of NATO’s original expectations, Odyssey Dawn dragged on far longer and proved far costlier than initial estimates. Moreover, precisely because it remains unclear what type of regime will emerge in Free Libya, any such calls of “mission accomplished” are wholly uncalled for. I do not see how Libya proves the viability of RtoP any more than I see how massive government intervention in the economy has proved successful.

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