March 22, 2011

Two Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan That May Not Apply to Libya (But Probably Do)

We all learned different lessons from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. One lesson I learned was that you should always robustly plan for stabilization and reconstruction operations to follow the conclusion of major combat operations. But with that lesson in mind and being fully aware of the costs associated with properly resourced, comprehensive stablization operations, another lesson I learned is that you should be very, very cautious about intervening in the first place.*

Here's Max Boot in today's New York Times:

To avert the worst, we must work with the nascent opposition government,
the National Transitional Council, to develop a plan for a post-Qaddafi
state. It is also vitally important that Western special forces, Arab
soldiers or both begin arming and training the rebel fighters. They must
be able to not only help toss out Colonel Qaddafi but also maintain law
and order in the new Libya.


Like such other post-conflict states as Kosovo and East Timor,
post-Qaddafi Libya will most likely need an international peacekeeping
force. This should be organized under the auspices of the United
Nations, NATO and the Arab League — a step that will require amending
the Security Council resolution, which forbids a “foreign occupation
force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”

Max and I have agreed more than we have disagreed about what to do in Afghanistan and Iraq after the United States and its allies intervened in both places.** But there is no way the U.S. Congress will authorize or fund the kind of comprehensive stabilization operations about which Max is writing here. (To say nothing of the United Nations, the Arab League, or many other NATO member states.) He and others who have advocated on behalf of military intervention in Libya should have known this prior to the intervention.

*Although I have a lot of tactical, operational, and theoretical lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that might interest readers of this blog, at the end of the day, my personal lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan boil down to the following: "Well, this has been hard, bloody, painful and expensive. Let us think very hard before ever doing it again."

**I did not support going to war in the latter on strategic grounds, but
since I was a lowly 1st lieutenant at the time, I kept my mouth
shut. Which is a hard thing for me to do.