March 27, 2011

Libya can save U.S. in Mideast

Rather than compounding the military campaigns to which President Bush originally committed us a decade ago, the intervention in Libya can become part of a broader transformation that ultimately stabilizes the region, restoring and even breaking new ground in the credibility and legitimacy of U.S. influence and power in the Middle East.

Libya seems to be a perfect fit for U.S. intervention. Despite the Bush administration's rapprochement with Libya, unlike Mubarak in Egypt, Muammar Qaddafi is hardly seen as Washington's ally, so there's little of that imperialist baggage or angst. The United States is acting under a genuine coalition, including participation of Arab forces. The Arab League, and China and Russia, have stepped back from their original assent to the Libya intervention, but they were fully aware that the UN Security Council resolution was authorizing more than a simple "no fly zone".

The United States was too involved in Mubarak's fortunes to intervene in Egypt, and Bahrain is home to our Fifth Fleet and it's Arabia's new Achilles' Heel. Qaddafi has established himself as the quintessential isolated fanatic dictator, and not without merit. Also, enabling the rebel tribes to remove him may open opportunities for further mayhem, but in reality Al Qaeda has failed to manifest itself in any of the Mideast turmoil, including in Libya where Qaddafi and other critics of international intervention have revived Osam bin Laden as the poster child for status quo tyranny.

Qaddafi has generated nearly as much fear among his fellow Arab leaders as he has among his own population, and the region faces no obvious power vacuum. None of Libya's Arab neighbors -- Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, or Sudan -- stands to gain strategically if the Qaddafi era ends, and this distinguishes it from the ill-fated 2003 invasion of Iraq which removed the primary check on Iran's military intentions.

Yes, the U.S. military is painfully over-extended in Afghanistan and Iraq, with additional interference from our Pakistani allies and our Iranian anatagonists. Yes, we can scarcely afford the trillion-plus dollars of war debt betqueathed by the previous administration. But this may be our best chance to begin redeeming the post-Cold War and post-9/11 diplomatic and moral capital that Bush squandered. We need it, and the world needs it, and we all need the Middle East to get back on track.

A result short of instant Mideast democracy can still help our effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, both militarily and inspirationally. And for the first time in a long time, we might be able to cultuivate a stable and sustainable grand strategy.

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