Qaddafi Wanes, and Now Things Get Interesting

by Victor Davis Hanson

I considered the war against Moammar Qaddafi — admittedly a monster — to be ill-conceived, poorly articulated, unnecessarily drawn out, and predicated on the whims of the U.N. and the Arab League rather than on authorization from the U.S. Congress. But the only thing worse than a unwise war is losing an unwise war — and that is what the Obama administration has finally realized.

The bombing in Libya has escalated exponentially in recent days, in response to widespread Western criticism and embarrassing U.N. fickleness and NATO deadlines. Qaddafi’s end is most welcome — though there will certainly be more blood-letting required before he is gone entirely. I predict that there will be a split between NATO and the rebels as the ring around the die-hards in Tripoli tightens. There will be lots of retribution, tribal infighting, and, I think, racially inspired brutality: The rebels will want to settle four-decade-old scores, and the Europeans and Americans might not want to be seen nearby, much less be held responsible.

What Libya will look like in a year, no one knows. Without U.S. ground troops, we will have no say over the outcome — and ground troops would mean a politically unacceptable third Middle East occupation and reconstruction. Given the proximity of Libya to Europe, and the fact that the British and French started the intervention — not to mention their thinly disguised obsession with its oil — one hopes that those two countries will do their best to ensure some sort of consensual government. In the meantime, I am afraid that Libya’s sizable wealth and unaccounted-for arsenals may wind up in the wrong hands, as we have seen in the new unrest in Sinai.

As for outcomes, there are many scenarios, but these two may be the most likely: either a sort of on-again-off-again chaos until a military-backed clique or strongman emerges and the same old cycle resumes, or some sort of constitutional system in a decidedly Islamic context, analogous to the Turkish model. In the latter case, we could expect the new state’s foreign policy to be anti-Western, friendly to China and Russia, virulently and actively anti-Israel, and more accommodating with Iran and its subsidized terrorist appendages. Given Western insolvency, public weariness with the Middle East, the announced draw-downs in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the president’s leading-from-behind diplomacy, I think the region will do pretty much what it wants without any worry whatsoever about U.S. feelings or interests.

On our end, it would seem wise to keep our defenses strong and ready, and finally start exploiting our own sizable fossil-fuel reserves (especially oil and gas offshore) in the Gulf, the West, and Alaska.

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