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Rushing to War in Libya

In response to ideologues who insist the left has nothing to contribute to national security debates, I offer their Bush-era sloganeering about the ontological doom reserved for those who rush to war. The complaints were obviously not apt in the context of the seemingly interminable lead-up to the liberation of Iraq, but there’s definitely something to be said for the principle. Take, for example, the Libya campaign, which was launched after the president decided on a Tuesday to go to war that Friday. Neglected in the process, apparently, was any sustained analysis of how long it would take to overthrow Qaddafi or what would happen in the meantime or on whose behalf we were fighting.

The news this morning was the Libyan rebels have turned on each other–this in the aftermath of that totally insane killing of Libyan rebel general Abdel Fattah Younis. Younis was recalled from the front where he was leading the fight against Qaddafi’s forces, hauled before a rebel committee to answer charges of treason, and in the process somehow ended up dead. His followers and tribesmen are, suffice it to say, displeased. Given what CNN calls the fading of diplomatic hopes for a resolution to the conflict, the collapse of rebel unity does not bode well.

Taking advantage of the chaos on the ground, Hamas has been smuggling an array of weapons from Libya. Neither the Israelis or the Palestinians are disclosing the exact nature of the weapons, but you can get a sense of what’s gone missing from this mid-July story:

A large number of man-portable Russian made anti-aircraft missiles SA-7s have gone missing from Libya, raising fears that they could be obtained by terrorists to target civilian airliners. Stocks of these missiles have gone missing from arms depot abandoned by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi as the rebels overran large parts of eastern and western Libya. The first batch of these missiles went missing in the early stages of the Libyan uprising. But the leakage had resumed recently with rebel gains in western Libya.

Instead of building up to war over a matter of weeks as we saw the humanitarian crisis developing–and putting our own forces on the ground to help secure things–we panicked at the last moment and cleared the way for rebels of unknown motive and loyalty to seize what they could. We did so in the context of a rushed humanitarian military mission that, because we had to justify its ongoing inconclusiveness, we expanded to include killing Qaddafi–something we’ve also failed to do. Meanwhile, the military costs of the under-planned and poorly executed adventure long ago exceeded the originally estimated $750 million price tag, an overrun that juxtaposes uncomfortably with the White House’s “let’s gut the military” contribution to the debt ceiling trigger.

And to imagine, Libya isn’t the most obvious example of liberal hypocrisy on national security principles. That prize goes to hailing the bin Laden raid–a unilateral anti-terror strike on foreign soil, outside the context of law enforcement, based partly on overseas intelligence gleaned from enhanced interrogations–as a Biblical vindication of the president’s foreign policy. The difference is the left is wrong on how to conduct the War on Terror, so ignoring them paid off.

This “rushing to war is a bad idea” notion–there might actually be something to that.



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