Economist Robert Higgs famously described the ratchet effect, in which the state uses crises of one kind or another to expand government’s power and scope. Often times a crisis will give the state the opportunity to establish measures previously planned for, but difficult to impose absent some disaster that supposedly necessitates it.
Josh Rogin reports at The Cable that the State Department had planned to increase the US military presence in Libya long before the recent attacks on the consulate building that killed four Americans. And now the crisis appears to have expedited those plans.
Prior to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the State Department and the Marines Corps had been discussing deploying Marines to guard the U.S. Embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli “sometime in the next five years,” according to the Marine Corps.
…The State Department won’t discuss the specifics of its security posture in Libya before the attack, but the Marine Corps has briefed congressional staffers on the issue, for example in a Sept. 13 email obtained by The Cable.
“Typically, when a new embassy is established, it takes time to grow a new [Marine Corps Embassy Security Group] detachment,” wrote Col. Harold Van Opdorp, director of the Marine Senate Liaison office, in the e-mail. “[In conjunction with] the State Department, there is discussion about establishing a detachment in Tripoli sometime in the next five years.”
Rogin writes that “out of the 285-plus US diplomatic security facilities worldwide, 152 have Marine Corps detachments,” but the plan is to increase this considerably.
“Overall, the plan is to grow the number of MCESG detachments worldwide to 173. It is also important to note the detachments are charged with protection of the chancery. Perimeter security is the responsibility of the HN [host nation] police/security forces,” Van Opdorp wrote.
The first crisis in Libya that Washington took advantage of was the supposedly impending mass slaughter Gadhafi was going to commit against the Libyan people. This concern was probably inflated. As the Cato Institute’s Ben Friedman wrote in the National Interest back in April:
Along with many commentators, President Obama and his aides insisted that Qaddafi promised to slaughter civilians in towns that his forces were poised to retake last March. Thus, intervention saved hundreds of thousands of lives. A minor problem with this claim is that Qaddafi’s speeches actually threatened rebel fighters, not civilians, and he explicitly exempted those rebels that put down arms. More importantly, if Qaddafi intended to massacre civilians, his forces had ample opportunity to do it. They did commit war crimes, using force indiscriminately and executing and torturing prisoners. But the sort of wholesale slaughter that the Obama administration warned of did not occur—maybe because the regime’s forces lacked the organization needed for systematic slaughter.
I have sufficiently debunked the humanitarian rationale for the NATO air war in Libya elsewhere, but suffice it to say that Washington doesn’t decide to go to war unless they perceive the interests of the state can be furthered. So the Libya crisis was used to justify a war which helped put in place a regime more deferential to US interests. Immediately following the attack on the consulate, the Obama administration – true to the ratchet effect – ordered more drones over Libyan skies, sent in at least 50 additional US Marines, and had an American warship equipped with Tomahawk missiles patrol the coast of northern Libya. Ultimately, the more resources allocated to US foreign policy in Libya, the stronger Washington’s foothold in that country will be. And whatever other crises occur, don’t expect US power and force to recede in Libya in response.