A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
March 23rd, 2011
By Tom Carter
U.S. policy in Libya is getting murkier by the minute, and there’s not much chance of a positive outcome. All the normal standards for employing military force are being ignored, probably because most of the decision making is being done by people who know little about the military and don’t hold it in very high esteem.
What’s the U.S. national interest? What’s the mission? What’s the definition of victory? Is enough force available and can it be employed effectively? What’s the exit strategy? And, ominously, who’s in charge? Even the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the JCS can’t adequately answer those critical questions, and their discomfort when asked is palpable.
But here’s the question that is perhaps most important of all: Who and what are we fighting for? The answer is that we’re fighting to keep the Gaddafi regime from killing civilians, and we want the regime to change (apparently that’s not the same as “regime change”). But we don’t know who these people are, i.e., the ones who will apparently take over Libya once we help them throw out their dictator.
Libya is less a country than a bunch of primitive tribes and extended clans for whom loyalty to country comes way down on their list, if it’s there at all. It’s very possible that whoever ends up on top in this civil war, the one we’ve chosen sides in, could institute yet another islamist terrorist state dedicated to destroying Israel and the West. The fact that the Great Satan saved their bacon (pardon the term) won’t matter to them as they gird their loins to fight the Crusaders.
Tom Friedman made a critically important argument in his column in the New York Times yesterday, Tribes With Flags:
“…Is the battle for Libya the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it fundamentally a tribal civil war?”
This is the question because there are two kinds of states in the Middle East: “real countries” with long histories in their territory and strong national identities (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran); and those that might be called “tribes with flags,” or more artificial states with boundaries drawn in sharp straight lines by pens of colonial powers that have trapped inside their borders myriad tribes and sects who not only never volunteered to live together but have never fully melded into a unified family of citizens. They are Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The tribes and sects that make up these more artificial states have long been held together by the iron fist of colonial powers, kings or military dictators. They have no real “citizens” in the modern sense. Democratic rotations in power are impossible because each tribe lives by the motto “rule or die” — either my tribe or sect is in power or we’re dead.
…Libya is just the front-end of a series of moral and strategic dilemmas we are going to face as these Arab uprisings proceed through the tribes with flags.
Libya isn’t the country of greatest importance to the U.S. in that region by any measure. Repressive regimes in much more important countries, from a U.S. standpoint, are also killing civilians and committing human rights violations willy-nilly. Why aren’t we bombing them? Is it because their civilians are less important to us because the governments killing them are more important to us? What kind of moral bankruptcy does that represent?
The issues here go far beyond Libya. It’s a sovereign country, and we have no business attacking it because we don’t like how they’re handling their internal affairs. We’ve become so firmly stuck to the tar baby in Afghanistan and, to a degree still, in Iraq that our military forces are stretched too thin. And finally, our economy is in a shambles, and we simply can’t afford any more “wars of choice” in places where there is no important U.S. national interest at stake.
We seriously need strong, pragmatic, effective political leadership, and we don’t have it — not in the White House and not in Congress. A thorough house-cleaning is long overdue.
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