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Repeating Iraq’s Mistakes in Libya

Seth has already noted one instance where President Obama sounded positively Bushesque in the third debate. Let me note another. It was when he bragged about his intervention in Libya, saying “that we were able to, without putting troops on the ground at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years. Got rid of a despot who had killed Americans and as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying America is our friend. We stand with them.”

Like Bush in Iraq, Obama was emphasizing the liberation of an oppressed Arab country and the resulting ties of friendship with its inhabitants, but–also like Bush–he was not focusing on what came after the dictator. In both Iraq and Libya the result has been chaos. The old security services have been dissolved and nothing has taken their place. In both cases the U.S. government has given little thought—and less commitment—to Phase IV, the post-overthrow part of the operation. The consequences of this failure have been less severe in Libya than in Iraq, but they have been bad enough—witness the attack that destroyed our consulate and killed our ambassador, and the destabilizing role that militias of various stripes continue to play in Libya.

In this Los Angeles Times op-ed, I pointed out how incredible it is that we have not had a serious program in place since last year to train and arm the Libyan armed forces to control their own country. Libya, with its oil wealth, could actually pay for such a program—the U.S. could run it at a profit, as we do in Saudi Arabia. Yet Obama has failed to follow through. Instead, he prefers to boast about Qaddafi’s overthrow, while ignoring the fact that the overthrow of the old regime is only one step of many in the long road toward building responsible governance.

This is an amazing oversight from a president who came into office criticizing his predecessor’s blunders in Iraq. Now Obama is repeating the same mistakes on a smaller scale.