The Libyan war is now being treated as a “cautionary tale,” but the lessons that are being drawn are all wrong:
“If Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of overkill and overreach, Libya is the reverse case, where you do too little and get an unacceptable result,” said Brian Katulis, a Middle East specialist at the Center for American Progress, a think tank. “The lesson is that a low tolerance of risk can have its costs.”
The article never mentions that the new Libyan government was firmly opposed to the deployment of a foreign stabilization force. This suited the intervening governments well enough, since there was no appetite in any Western country for another prolonged occupation of a Muslim country. There was no desire to revisit the issue later on either side. The intervening governments could declare victory and forget about Libya, which they did, and the new Libyan government didn’t have to be put in the position of being perceived as their puppet. Putting a U.S. or NATO stabilization force in Libya would have made Western soldiers the targets of attacks, and it is not hard to imagine how it could have made Libya even more violent and unstable than it is today. The error from the start was in pursuing the collapse of the regime, which guaranteed that the country would be wracked by disorder and violence whether Western forces were on the ground there or not. If Western governments don’t know how to do state-building in the countries they have previously occupied, there is no reason to think that they would have been any more successful in Libya. Since the U.S. and its allies don’t know how to repair the damage that they do with their wars for regime change, the right lesson to draw is that they shouldn’t be waging such unnecessary wars. A “low tolerance for risk” is not the problem. Attacking and overthrowing a government are quite enough “overkill and overreach” on their own, and that is what needs to be carefully avoided in the future.