Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Libya: Mission (not yet) accomplished?

This week's award for the most ironic journalistic paragraph goes to Ben Smith of Politico, who opened his 22 August 2011 piece on the Libyan civil war thusly:
The fall of Tripoli is a foreign policy triumph for which President Barack Obama won’t hold a ticker-tape parade: no flight suit, no chest-thumping, no “Mission Accomplished” banner.
While the sentiment would have been ironic regardless of events within Libya (not to mention a tad hypocritical, declaring a "foreign policy triumph" for Barack Obama while delivering yet another implied rebuke of President Bush's theatrics when declaring the end of "major military operations" in Iraq), the irony was compounded by the fact that Tripoli had indeed fallen--but fallen into chaos, confusion, and a very messy urban brawl, as Gadhafi loyalists mounted a counter-attack and retook several portions of the city.

The rebel hand was further weakened when Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, the Gadhafi son reported captured by the rebels, hours later made a television appearance to taunt the rebels.

Far from being a "foreign policy triumph", Obama's strategy of "leading from behind" has produced yet another grim reminder that, even in the 21st century, war is a bloody, brutal, murderous undertaking--General Sherman's analysis remains correct, war is still hell. The strategy is serving to remind the world that, while Gadhafi is known to one and all as a thoroughly evil man, the rebel leadership is not really known at all, and that their leadership of the Libyan uprising has been fractious and uneven at best; it offers few, if any, real assurances of a government more enlightened that Gadhafi's. Far from being a "foreign policy triumph", Obama's handling of Libya is still at risk of being an expenditure of American treasure (thankfully, not American blood--yet) with nothing more accomplished than replacing one brutal autocrat with another.

Gadhafi's days of power may be over, but the days of democratic government in Libya are still a long way off. And that is nobody's "foreign policy triumph."