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Trump’s Lack of Credibility on Libya

Jesse Walker comments [1] on Trump’s latest position on the Libyan war:

I’m sure the Libya hawks in the Hillary camp would also prefer a timeline where their war went off without any bad bits. But if Trump has any ideas about how the Pentagon could have “take[n] out Qaddafi and his group” without creating a situation where Libya is “not even a country anymore,” he didn’t share them. Instead he’s basically saying I’m for a Libya war that worked out better, without Benghazi and all that. Which is a bit like saying The Iraq war was a great idea, except for the insurgency or Going into Vietnam was wise, as long as we could’ve had a quick victory.

The position Trump is now taking on Libya is not that different from the one that liberal hawks took when the Iraq war started to go badly. They wanted “credit” for supporting regime change and war, but also wanted to be able to second-guess how Bush managed the war. So once things started going wrong, they said they favored invading but disagreed with the way Bush had gone about it. Ritual paeans to the importance of multilateralism usually followed. That put them in the rather absurd spot of attacking Bush for mishandling the illegal, unnecessary war that he started, as if it would have been all right if it had just been managed more competently.

This sort of criticism, like Trump’s complaint about Libya, takes for granted that there was nothing inherently destabilizing and dangerous in overthrowing a foreign government that better management couldn’t have fixed. That misses the crucial point that forcible regime change and its consequences can’t be “managed” successfully because so many of its effects are out of the control of the intervening government(s) and some can’t be anticipated in advance. If Trump was fine with removing Gaddafi from power by force, and he admits that he was, he can’t [2] credibly complain about the chaos that followed when the U.S. did exactly that. Trump has the same problem on Libya that Romney and all other hawkish candidates have had, which is that he cannot challenge Clinton on the decision to intervene because he ultimately agreed with that decision and supported joining the conflict at the time.

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4 Comments To "Trump’s Lack of Credibility on Libya"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On June 6, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

I appreciate your principled critique of the discrepancies in Trump’s Libya statements. I say “principled critique” (1) because your critique is accurate and (2) because you refrain from using it to launch into a sweeping condemnation of Trump’s entire foreign policy – a maneuver that so typifies much of the anti-Trump, mainstream media.

#2 Comment By EngineerScotty On June 6, 2016 @ 6:18 pm

Is there any topic on which Trump has credibility? The only ones I can think of–his hostility to certain ethnic groups–are things that don’t make him look good.

#3 Comment By fast jimmy On June 6, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

Trump promises a much stronger military- for less!

There are ‘prestige’ weapons systems that we could potentially scale back, but the alternatives aren’t cheap and we’re running short of everything. Nothing about achieving this goal could be cheap- except for a principled policy of non-intervention.

Sorry, but I’m not holding my breath. The machinery in place to keep feeding the sick, bloated MIC is implacable. Fed by money, influence, power and misinformation campaigns, it would have taken someone deeply committed to reason and restraint such as Rand Paul to reign it in to any real degree. Trump seem very likely to make repeated, politically expedient blunders as BHO has done.

#4 Comment By dakarian On June 7, 2016 @ 2:43 am

Yeah, I was a bit worried about that. Iraq was also meant to be a ‘quick and easy’ situation as well. A lot of our problems come from people who keep thinking that going back in there ‘the right way’ would fix things.

It also makes me more worried about how he feels about Iraq. Last I could catch, he hates the deal, but will honor it ‘strictly’ but will “make sure Iran cannot create nukes” without anything more on what he’s willing and not willing to do. Has he been pinned down about that one? Has he said how willing he would be to go into Iraq, with an army or with a ‘surgical strike’?

Because I’m sure many of us has learned that violence and “quick and easy” never go well together.