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Libya and the Afghan Model


My WPR column this week:

The inability of the Afghan Model to manage the post-conflict environment would be a problem even if the coalition was prepared to fully commit to destroying Gadhafi’s regime. In the absence of such a commitment, it’s very easy to imagine any number of very bad outcomes in Libya. War and insurgency have a radicalizing effect, and any insurgency would create wide swaths of ungovernable territory in Libya. In order to ensure the survival of the new government, the United States and the other coalition partners may feel compelled to support it against loyalist forces, which would require yet another level of commitment. Of course, this would also make the coalition responsible for preventing rebel reprisals against loyalists, and possibly for ensuring that the new government maintains a suitable democratic façade.

In short, there is much about the intervention in Libya that should give the United States and its coalition partners pause. Yet Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron do not appear to have thought through the pitfalls of intervention at any great length, even to the extent of developing coherent strategic objectives. They may have been reluctant to do so because the implications of almost all of the strategic options are dangerous and grim. However, bad options aren’t an excuse to abandon strategy or to engage in a war without carefully thinking through desired objectives.

At this point, the two most likely outcomes of the conflict seem to be either a slow escalation of Western commitment that will eventually lead to the deposition of the Gadhafi regime, or the creation of a quasi-independent statelet around Benghazi under U.N. protection. Unfortunately, here again, it is not clear that the leaders of the U.S., the U.K. and France have thought very hard about the implications of either of these outcomes.

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