Home / Robert Farley / On Alliances, and Burdens…

On Alliances, and Burdens…


Old now, but a couple of interesting links on burden-sharing and Libya from Spencer, and Phil Ewing:

The Libya operation is an example of one of those lessons that Washington chooses not to learn: In recent history, Europe and NATO have never proven the kind of decisive actors that any White House might have hoped they’d be, but they did provide a crucial short-term political victory for the Obama administration: Libya is off the front pages, doesn’t lead the TV news casts and is no longer the top agenda item for many top Pentagon decision-makers. The crucial question now is whether the straining alliance could cause it to become a big enough liability that it pop back up.

Wha would a unilateral mission in Libya would have looked like? Given the course of the intervention thus far, the image of US Marines storming ashore near Tripoli, quickly crushing Gaddafi’s forces, and either killing the leadership or driving it underground seems has its attractions. However, it’s important to point out that this is pure fantasy. The Pentagon opposed even the measured war that has been conducted thus far, and it’s highly unlikely that such a vigorous assault would have won much support from either the GOP or Obama’s Democratic base. A unilateral intervention would effectively have granted the United States ownership of Libya for an indeterminate amount of time, which is not supported by either an elite or a popular consensus. We can safely dispose of the idea that there was some “unilateral” option in this case; it was either NATO and the UN, or nothing at all.

In this context, I’m not sure that it’s correct to argue that the multilateral nature of the Libya war represents a lesson that Washington has “failed to learn.”  From an economy of force perspective, the extent of US involvement in the intervention thus far has been pretty much ideal. No American blood has been lost, minimal (relative to other military operations) treasure has been spent, and the US is not primarily identified with the conflict (main responsibility seems to have fallen to France). Now, in some sense this is an outcome that makes almost everyone unhappy. If you’re anti-intervention (either case specific or more generally) or uncomfortable with the exercise of US military power, at least the multilateral nature has limited US exposure. Neocons are perhaps the most perturbed, largely because they’re more concerned with the “muscular exercise” of US power than they are with the strategic logic of any particular intervention. Shackling US power to NATO and the UN misses the entire point of US hegemony…



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  • Norman Thomas

    You discuss the political advantage/disadvantage of a NATO led action vs American leadership and how it’s off the headlines, etc. as if the voters will forget that congress was notified AFTER the fact. In fact, the true story is the insult of snubbing congress and, instead, turning to the UN for authority.

    373 Votes to Go Into Iraq; Zero for Libya

    How does this not expose President Obama as a globalist who worries about the acceptance of foreign nations more than he worries about the US constitution and the acceptance of the US congress? Who does this guy work for, anyway?

    • as if the voters will forget that congress was notified AFTER the fact

      Wanna bet?

      When’s the last time your local paper carried a letter to the editor about Libya?

      Zero point zero zero percent of the vote in the next presidential election will turn on the process question you highlight.

      • Norman Thomas

        OK,You’re pretty good.

        Now let’s hear you apologize for Obama not allowing any kind of a vote of our elected representatives at all and just unilaterally taking the country to war.

        • Just as soon as you apologize for Bush invading Panama, and Reagan bombing Libya.


          • Norman Thomas

            Declaring your guy’s not any worse than the hated George W who the left deemed the worst president evahhh…..is not much of a defense.

            I thought Obama was all about hope and change?

            How’s that workin’ for ya’?

            • Declaring your guy’s not any worse than the hated George W who the left deemed the worst president evahhh…..is not much of a defense.

              Good thing I didn’t do that, then.

              Kindly fire up your Google machine, and educate yourself about the president who invaded Panama.

              Jumping chocolate Jesus on a pogo stick, you’re a slow one!

    • 373 Votes to Go Into Iraq; Zero for Libya

      Gee, I wonder what the difference is?

      • Norman Thomas


        • Half a million American troops who got to bunk down in the desert say you’re a shallow partisan.

          • Norman Thomas

            Name one

          • Correction – over 1.5 million soldiers were forced to bunk down for months at a time in Iraq.

            Name one

            David Patraeus, and you have the language competence of a stump.

            “Name one.” What a freaking maroon.

  • It’s amazing to me how the concept of self-determination – the idea that Libyans themselves must and should be the predominant players in the overthrow of Khadaffy – is so utterly absent as both a moral and practical principle in the criticisms of the Libya operation.

    Oh, boo hoo, we’re now on about Day 60, because playing a back-up role to the Free Libya Forces is taking too long! Remind me, how long have we been in Iraq? How long were we actually compelled to occupy, administer, police, and govern Iraq because we, rather than Iraqis with indigenous support, overthrew the government?

    Imagine what this country’s history would have looked like if, instead of merely bottling up Cornwallis at Yorktown with a fleet, the French government had sent 100,000 troops and driven out the English. Imagine if the Continental Congress hadn’t spent the war getting its act together, and the people who became the new nation’s leaders hadn’t cemented bonds as comrades over the course of the war? Imagine the anarchy, and the sectarian violence that would have followed – and that’s assuming the French would have felt that they could leave in the first place.

    • Tirxu

      That’s exactly the problem: Imagine if Libya goes up to take the US’ place as leaders of the free world!

  • shah8

    We had severe sectarian violence anyways, and the compromises needed to put it to a close seeded a renewal of said violence a couple of generations later.

    I’m just more of a view that the shit hit the fan, and that there were no good options. In that light, I don’t think I *can* gainsay the choices made by policymakers, given that I think that they are (Wisner and other well-fed folks aside) reasonably not-insane.

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