Boot’s criticism is mostly just another desperate effort to try to deny that military intervention and regime change are primarily to blame for Libya’s current state. This is akin to the arguments we heard from liberal hawks when the conditions began to deteriorate rapidly in Iraq: “yes I supported the invasion, but I don’t agree with how Bush has handled things after that.” They evaded responsibility for their support for the invasion by faulting the Bush administration for its poor management of the war, which presupposed that there was a realistic way to destroy another government without unleashing the chaos and violence that inevitably followed. Boot is much the same: he was all for intervening in Libya, but he doesn’t want the negative consequences of that policy to be linked to the Republican hawks that backed yet another ill-conceived war. One would have thought that the experience of occupying Iraq would put an end to the fantasy that a prolonged foreign military presence in these countries ensured stability and security, but it seems not.
Indeed. But here’s the thing: it’s not like alternatives to the Iraq model have worked out well either.
Iraq could not be stabilized for the long term by a direct intervention and a lengthy occupation. Neither could Afghanistan. We must have learned some kind of lesson, because in Libya, we reverted to the late-’90s model of the Kosovo War: we intervened on the cheap, and avoided any occupation, so as not to alienate the population. Turns out, Libya could not achieve stability on its own.
So in Syria, we mostly avoided getting involved. Yes, the Administration declared that Assad must go, made some half-hearted gestures toward supporting the “right” parts of the opposition, and briefly considered air-strikes before jumping at the opportunity to back down. But by and large America stayed out of the conflict. And Syria has descended into chaos, chaos which has spread to Iraq, and empowered an exceptionally odious and hostile terror group with pretensions to grandeur that rival al Qaeda’s.
I’m increasingly inclined to agree with with Richard Haas, quoted in this Doyle McManus column, that the 30 Years’ War is the best point of comparison for what is going on in the greater Middle East. The odds of our being able to engineer a positive outcome by any policy strike me as extremely long. Which doesn’t mean we can avoid having a policy – we are too big and powerful, with too many existing commitments, to be Switzerland. It means that policy is, inevitably, going to be characterized by a lot less “moral clarity” or “strategic vision” than American pundits tend to prefer.