April 26, 2011

From the Dept. of Bad Ideas

On the one hand, while reading this op-ed by LTG (Ret.) Jim Dubik, a man I very much admire, I found myself understanding the logic of the author's argument: fighting half-assed wars is a bad idea. If you are going to fight them, fight them to win, and go all the way. Trying to fight a "limited" war is a fool's errand, and not planning for the post-conflict environment is just ignorant given the challenges we faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, what am I supposed to make of this?

If Colonel Qaddafi falls, the United States and NATO will have a
responsibility to help shape the postwar order, including providing
security to prevent a liberated Libya from sinking into chaos.


After all, the pro-Qaddafi Libyan Army and police are unlikely to
provide it; many of them could become insurgents as did Saddam
Hussein’s forces in Iraq. Nor are the rebels, who may well be more
interested in revenge than stability.


The responsibility for security, reconstruction and nation-building will
likely fall to the United
Nations, which would mean deploying a multinational peacekeeping
force in Libya, including troops from the United States, NATO and Arab
nations. Washington must start planning and preparing for this complex
and expensive contingency and muster the substantial political will
required to see it through. While there is no guarantee that such a
project will be any more efficient or effective than in Iraq or
Afghanistan, failing to plan for it would be disastrous.

Did the last ten years not happen? How does committing the United States to stabilization operations in a country of six million people with barely 3% of the world's oil reserves make any strategic sense given current committments and spending priorities elsewhere? Why does the United States have a responsibility to provide peacekeeping forces?

Also, I do not think LTG Dubik fully realizes the challenges Libya will face after Gadhafi, which Lisa Anderson has done the best job of explaining here and here. Libya has no effective national institutions. LTG Dubik knows a lot about security sector reform, but the challenge of Libya will not be the same as the challenges facing Egypt and Tunisia, which is to reform existing institutions to make them more responsive to the will of the people. The challenge of Libya is one of state formation ex nihilo. The United States needs to stay the hell away from that for strategic reasons, but there is an argument to be made that all nation-states should stay out of Libya's affairs. Anderson:

...insofar as possible, advice should come from
those who do not seek power or profit, which means not from foreign
governments or international businesses and consulting companies.
Fortunately, Libya does not need financial help, so its leaders can be
very selective about where they seek advice and counsel. This means that
there may be an opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, for
international organisations, including the World Bank and UN bodies like
UNESCO, UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation, to play an
important role in Libya’s reconstruction. But perhaps more importantly,
the non-official organisations of global civil society should be
prepared to deploy their expertise. The hard-earned practical knowledge
and pragmatic skill of the 70 former leaders of democratic countries
represented in the Club of Madrid, which describes itself as seeking “to
leverage the first-hand experience of its members to assist countries
with critical elements of their democratic transition or consolidation,”
could be put to good use, for example, as could the collective wisdom
of organisations like Amnesty International, or Human Rights Watch.

Sounds like good counsel to me. Committing U.S. troops to another Afghanistan, Kosovo, or Iraq, by contrast, strikes me as a very bad idea.