The Libya Exception

by John R Guardiano on October 20, 2011

Gaddafi's death is sure to precipitate a new round of misguided punditry.

Spencer Ackerman has written an amusing piece in which he predicts “The Post-Gadhafi Journalism You Will Read In the Next 72 Hours.” Ackerman offers up 10 examples of how well-known journalists, pundits and publications are likely to use Gaddafi’s death to justify their own views, ideologies and prejudices.

For example, predicts Ackerman, Thomas Friedman will write, “Why Gadhafi’s Death Vindicates ‘Leading from Behind.’”

Former Obama administration hawk Anne-Marie Slaughter, by contrast, will insist that “Gadhafi’s Death Shows the U.S. Was Never Really ‘Leading from Behind.’”

And of course, the Washington Post editorial page — which, to its great credit, has been very much at the tip of the journalistic spear re: the Arab Spring — will remind everyone that “There Is Still More to Do in Libya.”

What will the Weekly Standard say? Why, “On to Damascus, Then Teheran” of course!

As I say: very amusing. But beneath the good humor is a very serious point. Libya is a unique country, with a unique set of political, cultural and historical circumstances. More than 82 percent of the population, for instance, can read and write. This is extraordinary and hardly commonplace in North Africa.

So we should guard against extrapolating too much from our experience in Libya. What worked there may not work in other countries. A “Libyan model” for regime change may prove illusory and chimerical.

One thing we do know is that, as always, you cannot win wars from the air and the sea alone. You absolutely must have “boots on the ground.” And we had them in Libya, thanks to the indigenous rebels, CIA operatives, and British and French special forces. We will need them again — and more conventional U.S. troops as well — in the future.

Yet, the Obama administration is preparing to gut the size of our ground forces on the assumption that Iraq and Afghanistan are historical anomalies which won’t ever happen again.

They may be right, but what if they’re not? It seems to me we’ve seen this movie before, at the end of almost every war or conflict in our nation’s history. And the results, sad to say, have not been pretty: more senseless American deaths when the next war or crisis strikes.

Libya is an apparent Obama administration success. Let’s not allow it to become a future American debacle.

Originally published at FrumForum.

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