March 24, 2011
A Liberal War in Libya
By David Warren
Real Clear Politics
As the days pass, and the intervention in Libya grows longer, my alarm also grows. The West digs itself into a position that is contrary to western interests, and can only advance the interests of our worst enemies in the Middle East. If I were to characterize the effect of the intervention - the actual as opposed to the stated effect - it would be, "Making the world safe for Islamism."
On Saturday I had space to flag the basic difficulty of the allied Libya "strategy," namely, that it is no strategy at all, and we don't know what we're doing. We cannot articulate what we want to achieve, beyond preventing the "humanitarian disaster" to which we are now substantially contributing. Western statesmen can't even agree if they want Gadhafi to be gone. Nor, apparently, have their generals been briefed coherently on the purpose of this war. They could not even explain if missile strikes on Gadhafi's compound were intended to hurt him.
This is another liberal, push-button war, from the Bill Clinton era; one intended to produce very few allied casualties. Twelve years ago I described the NATO attack on Serbia as a form of "experimental bombing." See what the techies can come up with, working from satellite photos. Hit anything that looks mean on the other side, and spare the rest of the landscape. Just "tilt that playing field" against Milosevic, or whichever nearly defenceless dictator we have decided to seriously dislike.
Note that liberal wars are never conducted against our more lethal enemies. Every argument for going into Libya counts 10 times for going into Iran, the one place where the opposition is secular and pro-Western. But it is taken for granted that we can't "do" Iran, because the ayatollahs might already have serious weapons up their sleeves. And besides the humanitarian crisis there has been going on for decades; the Iranian demonstrations are no longer "breaking news."
An air force isn't a "touchy-feely" thing. Contemporary weapons systems allow much greater precision than in the past (at a price: cruise missile barrages at more than $1 million a pop). But without matching accuracy in live-time intelligence, we still cannot know what we are hitting. And intelligence out of Libya is almost a contradiction in terms.
Russia and China waived their vetoes on the Security Council, granting us permission to score an own goal, then immediately launched their rhetorical opposition. The Arab League has said it never approved of bombing, just "no fly." And throughout the Arab world, we find that Gadhafi had friends. Also in Tripoli, surprise. And among terrorist cells in Europe.
But it is Gadhafi's enemies that disturb me more. As Niall Ferguson points out, when the allied intervention was announced, it was proclaimed from the minarets of Benghazi. And the cry throughout the city was not "God bless America," but rather, "Allahu Akhbar!" Our media insist on spotlighting a small unrepresentative minority of Westernized, middle-class people with cellphones and Facebook accounts, when the primary, organized opposition to the Arab world's autocrats are Islamist imams.
In Afghanistan, it was fairly argued, by opponents of the Bush invasion, that the CIA and our rich Saudi friends had sponsored the Taliban, to resist the previous Soviet occupation. We helped create the lethal enemy we were facing. As 9/11 showed, our former allies of convenience retained no sentimental feelings of obligation towards the West.
The history of CIA and other semi-secret Western support for the Muslim Brotherhood and similar Islamist factions - as allies against a common Soviet enemy - goes back to the early years of the Eisenhower administration. It was even understandable in the context of the Cold War. The enemy of my enemy is my friend; and after all, we once supported Stalin, against Hitler.
But now we are doing something more profoundly senseless. In the name of a "humanitarianism" that is not thought through, we are subtly joining forces with so-called "moderate" Islamists against isolated secular tyrants. We have foreign services sending feelers out to Islamist opponents of every Arab regime, in the name of "democracy" and "inclusivity."
From Obama down through the liberal intelligentsia we have blather about how the Muslim Brotherhood is "evolving" - as it embraces the tactical devices of modern Western political parties, from women's groups and youth clubs to electronic media and studied efforts by spokesmen to appear "cool." Yet all this remains in the service of a political ideology that is unambiguously committed to the spread of Shariah, and the destruction of us.
This is a very old story: the ability of the liberal mind to delude itself by confusing appearances with realities; by embracing the comfortably plausible in preference to the uncomfortably true. And finally, expressing genuine surprise when the whole effort blows up in our faces.