Stephen Walt asks a good question: Whatever happened to the war in Libya? The front-page-worthy Obama War #4 has flickered out a bit in the past week or two, yes. This is indicative of a few things. First, it is hard to decide what to focus on when the national security state has put so much on our plate, as Glenn Greenwald lists in this introduction:
In just the past two months alone (all subsequent to the killing of Osama bin Laden), the U.S. Government has taken the following steps in the name of battling the Terrorist menace: extended the Patriot Act by four years without a single reform; begun a new CIA drone attack campaign in Yemen; launcheddrone attacks in Somalia; slaughtered more civilians in Pakistan; attempted to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki far from any battlefield and without a whiff of due process; invoked secrecy doctrines to conceal legal memos setting forth its views of its own domestic warrantless surveillance powers; announced a “withdrawal”plan for Afghanistan that entails double the number of troops in that country as were there when Obama was inaugurated; and invoked a very expansive view of its detention powers under the 2001 AUMF bydetaining an alleged member of al-Shabab on a floating prison, without charges, Miranda warnings, or access to a lawyer. That’s all independent of a whole slew of drastically expanded surveillance powers seized over the past two years in the name of the same threat.
But secondly, it is notable that the national security state absolutely relies upon the forgetfulness and apathy of the American people. A fourth unnecessary war is appalling at first, but when it persists for over 100 days, working up the same disgust and protestation can be difficult. This is one aspect of the public sentiment that ensures the national security state a free pass when they decide to start another war (here is another). That Americans are getting used to (and apathetic about) the illegal Libya adventure is precisely what Obama and the Pentagon were counting on to allow the continued bombing that we’ve seen along with what seems like the inevitable introduction of ground troops/long-term occupation. As this Wikileaks release of a CIA report regarding public opinion on the war in Afghanistan proved further, “Public Apathy Enables Leaders to Ignore Voters.”
It’s been evident for some time now that ground troops will eventually be “necessary,” but Walt offers some additional historical context for that notion (in addition to the American public’s apathy giving the war parties a free pass):
back when NATO first got involved, a number of people made the obvious comparison to the 1999 war in Kosovo. Both wars were launched on impulse, there were no vital strategic interests involved, and both wars were fought “on the cheap” through the use of airpower. NATO leaders expected the targets to succumb quickly, and were surprised when their adversaries (Milosevic in 1999, Qaddafi today) hung on as long as they did.
But there’s another parallel that deserves mention too. Serbia eventually surrendered, and I expect that Qaddafi or his sons will eventually do so too. But in the case of Kosovo, NATO and the U.N. had to send in a peacekeeping force, and they are still there ten years later. And Kosovo has only about 28 percent of Libya’s population and is much smaller geographically (some 10,000 square kilometers, compared with Libya’s 1,800,000 sq. km.) So anybody who thinks that NATO, the United Nations, or the vaguely defined “international community” will be done whenever Qaddafi says uncle (or succumbs to a NATO airstrike) should probably lower their expectations and prepare themselves for long-term involvement in a deeply divided country.
I simply cannot see a near-term end to the Libya war in which the U.S. and NATO simply pick up and leave. Can you?