Libya: The road to invasion has been straight, not a slippery slope

The announcement this week that British, Italian, and French military officers are being sent to “advise” the Libyan resistance expands NATO’s intervention in Libya and adds to the number of U.S., French, and British Special and intelligence forces already on the ground there. As well, the Obama administration’s decision to send military equipment worth $25 million to the resistance deepens U.S. involvement. The “just-protecting-civilians” and “no-boots-on-the-ground” mantras emanating from Washington and NATO capitals are quite simply lies.

This first small tranche of U.S.-NATO ground forces were sent to Libya to pinpoint targets for NATO air attack; size up the composition, attitudes, and talent of the anti-Gaddafi resistance; and find and prepare landing strips and assembly areas for Western troops. The just deployed British, Italian, and French officers will assess the work accomplished to date; provide general-staff-like direction for the resistance’s military operations; and prepare for an influx of U.S.-NATO troops if Washington and its allies lack the manliness to admit the intervention was a mistake, and instead continue what Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy have implicitly described as a crusade for democracy.

The slow, deliberate advance toward inserting substantial ground forces is hardly a surprise. Air power can win nothing by itself; Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy were surely told this by their military advisers before the intervention began. It also is clear that the citizenry that supports Gaddafi’s regime — for reasons of loyalty, self-interest, or fear — is as large or larger than that supporting the Libyan resistance. On this point, there is neither media reporting nor U.S. or NATO propaganda reporting any problems — sabotage, ambushes, assassinations, etc. — in the rear of Libyan regime forces as they push east toward Benghazi. If Libya was truly a nation-in-arms against Gaddafi, we surely would be seeing his forces’ rear areas plagued with hit-and-run attacks by resistance fighters.

So two months into the Libyan Democracy Crusade, Obama, Clinton, McCain, Graham, and their colleagues among Europe’s Knights Templar are where anyone with a lick of commonsense knew they would be once the decision to intervene was made. These great and worldly Wilsonian minds must soon decide whether to admit defeat and leave the Libyan resistance to its fate — the correct option — or authorize what will amount to a Western invasion of Libya to take power from Gaddafi and give it to a resistance based in the country’s most thoroughly Islamist and pro-mujahideen region. Odds are that they will do the latter because, as Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy wrote in an invasion-justifying article in the New York Times on 14 April 2011, “Britain, France, and the United States will not retreat until the United Nations Security Council resolutions have been implemented and the Libyan people can choose their own future.”

On the eve of a potential U.S.-NATO invasion, then, it is worth looking at the costs — beyond wasted funds — that this Libyan misadventure will impose on the United States and its allies. If Obama, et. al, make the right decision and abandon the Libyan resistance, the price will be high but tolerable. The Muslim world will claim the resistance was abandoned by an anti-Muslim West because it would increase the role of Islam in governing post-Gaddafi Libya — which it would. The UN also would be discredited, although for some this would be a net positive given that the UN’s founders never intended it to be the pivotal agent for destroying member states, as it has been so far in 2011 in Libya, Egypt, Ivory Coast, etc.

If, on the other hand, Obama and his brother democracy crusaders decide to invade Libya to fulfill a UN “mandate” to “protect innocent civilians,” the West’s self-imposed defeat and the costs attendant to it will be much greater. Why?

  • There is no guarantee that the military forces of a U.S.-NATO-Libyan-mujahideen coalition can long survive as a functioning entity, let alone defeat Gaddafi. U.S.-led military coalitions are zero for three in winning interventions to date in Muslim lands — Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan — and the Islamist portion of the Libyan resistance will be as inclined to attack “crusader forces” as they are Gaddafi’s. The word quagmire is much overused, but this situation would surely merit that description.
  • If a U.S.-NATO invasion defeats Gaddafi — then what? A stable democratic successor regime? An Islamic government? A combination of the two? Or a failed state? The last option probably is the most likely, which means either a long-term Western occupation — which would spur an Islamist insurgency — or a quick Western skedaddle which would leave Libya to the best organized portion of the resistance, the Islamists. (NB: Hows that for a lose-lose situation?)

Both of these bad options are in the future and so remain avoidable. But the West already has suffered an enormous loss by choosing to try to destroy Gaddafi’s regime, which the Wikileaks’ documents show was an anchor of the West’s counter-al-Qaeda efforts in the Maghreb. If Gaddafi survives, his regime will be hesitant — to say the least — to renew cooperation, and it will be weaker and facing a reinvigorated and now well-armed domestic Islamist opposition.

This, in turn, will mean Tripoli will have less control over its borders and so the movement of North African mujahideen into and out of Tunisia and Algeria will be much improved, causing increased trouble for the still inchoate regime in Tunis and the already-at-war-with-al-Qaeda regime in Algiers. Needless to say, reliable access to Algeria’s energy production is infinitely more important to the United States and its European allies than anything to be found in Libya.

The unnecessary Libyan intervention, then, is marching toward a disaster for the U.S. and NATO, as well as toward a triumph for the Islamist movement inspired and symbolized by bin Laden. There are absolutely no unintended consequences at play in the deteriorating situation. It is the direct and utterly predictable result of the daft, messianic Wilsonianism of Obama, Clinton, McCain, Graham, Sarkozy, and Cameron, leaders who, by intervening to install democracy, are on the verge of making the Maghreb and Egypt safe for the spread of Islamist militancy.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.