Go to war. Then think about it.
It''s the story of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya.As The New York Times writes:
"As NATO airplanes and attack helicopters struck fresh targets in Tripoli and the oil port of Brega on Sunday, senior British and American officials said there was no way of knowing how long it might take for the rebellion against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi — already in its fourth month, and the third month of NATO airstrikes — to drive him from power. . . . Britain’s foreign secretary . . .hinted at concern in Western capitals about what might come after the toppling of Colonel Qaddafi. . ."
Libyan TV may not be the most reliable source, but it broadcasts comments from a French journalist and a former Foreign Secretary of France.
"The NATO countries . . . are perpetrating crimes against humanity."
"You ask me about the conduct of the French leaders, but the only thing I know is that they have gone crazy. President Sarkozy hosted Qadhafi a few months ago at the Élysée Palace,with a red carpet and all the grandiose honors. Two months later, Sarkozy is leading a crusader war. . . ."
These stories are not simple. From Vietnam onward the cases began with credible justifications, but continued into swamps where good intentions went seriously bad. John Kennedy explained an escalation in Vietnam as part of containment against Communist expansion. Neither Lyndon Johnson nor Richard Nixon got out of a civil war where the United States was backing an ally that early on proved embarrassing. The cost was more than 58,000 American deaths, and perhaps one million Vietnamese.
Iraq began with concerns about weapons of mass destruction, along with aspirations about a cruel dictator and democracy. It has cost more than 5,000 American military deaths, and the figure of one million appears in estimates of the Iraqis killed in the chaos that continues.
Afghanistan began with 9-11 and a concern to deliver a heavy blow to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and others considered to be its sources. It continued, like Vietnam and Iraq, with a reluctance to leave a situation that was far from stable, even though foreign intervention may have been contributing to the instability. Afghanistan has yet to produce death estimates in the ranges associated with Vietnam or Iraq, but it falls short of success by any measure.
The criticism of European and American activities in Libya by distinguished personnel also had their parallels in movements against Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. None of those wars had produced sizable casualties before reservations or outright condemnation came from well known sources with backgrounds in the military, government, academy, and media.
Beginning one of these adventures is easy. Ending is the hard part.
Vietnam may have had the most understandable beginning. It was still in the shadow of World War II, which may have convinced generals and politicians that it was possible to win a war. Korea was not a rousing success, but helped to establish the principle of containing Communism. Iraq may yet prove to be the war with the flimsiest reasoning, the highest cost, and the least accomplishment. The onset of operations in Afghanistan may have convinced Islamic extremists about the costs of attacking the West, but the subsequent failure of outsiders to find an end game may convince Islamic extremists that they can outlast the West.
Libya may have started well by governments ashamed of their lack of action to prevent slaughters in Rwanda or Yugoslavia, but previous records of outsiders joining civil wars does not bode well for what has yet to come.
International action is an attractive idea, but the politicization and corruption of the United Nations are prominent warning signs. Big powers have meddled in the details of those they consider their underlings since the earliest use of the term "empire." Clumsy rather than elegant is a term proving useful right up to the present.
French efforts to convene an Israel-Palestine peace conference, which the American State Department calls premature
American and United Nations condemnation of burning of a West Bank mosque, apparently by Jewish settlers, including an official comment that they "undermine efforts to promote a comprehensive peace in the region"
Insofar as the attack on the mosque had already been condemned by Israeli authorities, the language of American and United Nations officials may only add to Palestinian feelings that they have a monopoly of justice in this fight, and increase their resistance of any compromise. Barack Obama did no less when he demanded a halt to construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and an agreement about a Palestinian state within a year.
A Palestinian call on the international community to intervene and protect it from the settlers is one more expression of the Palestinian Authority''s pathological dependence on others. A reasonable person might ask if the PA needs help to keep a gang of settlers from burning a mosque, how ready is it for statehood.
We can argue if the American President, and colleagues in France and elsewhere have done no more than add some nails to the coffin of a peace process that was already dead and awaiting burial, or if they are provoking an uptick in animosities that will produce a new wave of violence where there had been relative quiet.
Well meaning, clumsy, stupid, or destructive?
Pick an adjective and stick it on the picture of your choice.