Home/Daniel Larison/The Libyan War for Regime Change

The Libyan War for Regime Change

Micah Zenko marks the fifth anniversary of the Libyan intervention by poking holes in the official justification for the war:

In truth, the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start. The threat posed by the Libyan regime’s military and paramilitary forces to civilian-populated areas was diminished by NATO airstrikes and rebel ground movements within the first 10 days. Afterward, NATO began providing direct close-air support for advancing rebel forces by attacking government troops that were actually in retreat and had abandoned their vehicles.

It was hard to miss from the beginning that the U.S.-led intervention in Libya was aimed at regime change. That wasn’t spelled out in the Security Council resolution, and you can bet that China and Russia wouldn’t have abstained if it had been. Despite the explicit denial that this was the intervention’s goal, it was a given that the U.S. and its allies would back anti-regime rebels until they toppled Gaddafi. The intervening governments denied that regime change was their goal because it had become politically toxic to endorse the overthrow of another government, but they showed through their actions that toppling the Libyan government was their definition of success. Once Gaddafi had been deposed and killed, supporters of the Libyan war cited regime change as proof that the intervention had “worked.” Even though the Libyan war had begun with the promise that regime change was not the goal, the death of the dictator was celebrated as confirmation that the intervention was successful. The overthrow and death of the old ruler showed how far from the intervention’s stated goals the war ended up being, and the fact that leading supporters of the war touted this outcome as vindication for their policy confirmed how dishonest the case for intervention was all along.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment