Monday, March 14, 2011

Libya is Not Iraq

In Iraq Then, Libya Now Ross Duluth of the New York Times tries to slow the momentum toward our giving military assistance to the Libyan rebels. In doing so, he argues that we have failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq War.
One [lesson] is that the United States shouldn’t go to war unless it has a plan not only for the initial military action, but also for the day afterward, and the day after that. Another is that the United States shouldn’t go to war without a detailed understanding of the country we’re entering, and the forces we’re likely to empower. 
Libya is not Iraq. As simple as this construction seems, Duluth misses it. The debate about Iraq hinged on the existence or near existence of weapons of mass destruction. Everything else was secondary. In Libya we are talking about limited action for a cause clearly related to our national interests. 

I worry that Duluth is likely to find a receptive audience in a war weary public, tending toward isolationism.  Such a tendency, informed by Duluth's strictures, would prevent us from acting not only in Libya but also in cases like Rwanda.  In the face of madness the question is what we can do. Sometimes the hard truth is that we can do very little. At other times, however, we discover that limited action has a good chance of success, sometimes far beyond the risks. In such cases, the responsible nation does what it can.  This is the case with Libya.
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