The What If Game

counterfactual

1. (Logic) expressing what has not happened but could, would, or might under differing conditions

—from the Free Dictionary

Leon Panetta, who has served his country marvelously well, is now out selling books. That means he is required to go to reputable places like 60 Minutes, as well as to cognitive sewers like Bill O’Reilly’s show. All in a day’s work, I suppose.

What you are not likely to hear discussed, especially if you watch a lot of cable television news, is the following, which is found in Panetta’s book, Worthy Fights:

President Obama revamped a nearly broken economy, waged an aggressive campaign against terrorism, extricated the United States from two wars, and refocused the mission of our military; the result is a safer nation and a more prosperous one.

Nope. You’re not likely to see much about that glowing assessment of the Obama presidency. What you will most likely see are interviewers and pundits obsessed with these two questions:

1. Did Obama make a grave mistake in 2011 by not leaving troops in Iraq? 

2. Did Obama make a grave mistake in 2012 by not arming the so-called “moderate Syrians”?

I have become sickened by the amount of bad-mouthing and second-guessing and ass-covering that has gone on relative to those two issues. Don’t get me wrong. I expect right-wingers to bad-mouth and second-guess President Obama. You can make a fine living in the conservative media world doing that. What I am a little surprised at, though, is the amount of ass-covering that has gone on among former Obama officials, including former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, as well as Hillary Clinton and now Leon Panetta.

So, let’s deal with the two main issues one at a time:

1. Did Obama make a grave mistake in 2011 by not leaving troops in Iraq? 

We all should remember that back in 2011 the biggest fear associated with not leaving troops in Iraq had little to do with the potential spillover from the budding conflict in Syria, which at the time had not turned into the completely chaotic mess it is today. The biggest worry was over whether our military departure would strengthen the hand of Iran, not only in Iraq but across the region. Keep that in mind as you hear all the know-it-alls today talk with certainty about what we should or shouldn’t have done in 2011. In our bombing of ISIL, both Syria and Iran are on our side. That’s how screwed up the whole thing is and I don’t know of anyone who predicted such a thing.

On this particular issue, Hillary Clinton, who was there at the time, had the president’s back. When asked about it in June, she said:

Let me say on Iraq, because it’s in the news and it’s a dreadful deteriorating situation, the deadline on Iraq was set – was set by the prior administration, that if there were not a status-of-forces agreement, which is the agreement under which American military forces can be positioned in a country to provide services that are agreed to or asked for by the host country … there would not be American troops.

And when President Obama came in, he was obviously not an enthusiast about the Iraq war from the very beginning, very strong critic of it, both its initiation and its handling. There was a lot of effort to work through with the Maliki government what such a status-of-forces agreement would look like.

At the end of the day, the Maliki government would not agree. So the decision was made, in effect. There could not be American troops left, without such an agreement.

On this point, Panetta, echoing criticism from Republicans, says that Obama should have pushed harder against the former prime minister of Iraq because keeping 10,000 troops there would have given us “leverage on Maliki to keep them in the right place.” I guess it never occurred to Panetta that the reason Maliki did not want to be pushed is because he did not want us around to keep them in the right place. That was sort of Maliki’s whole point.

In any case, all of that speculation makes for good Monday-morning commanding, but it is gross speculation. People should remember that when we were negotiating with Maliki about leaving troops there, we were talking about a residual force of some 3,000 to 5,000 to 10,000—depending on your source—which, in Panetta’s words, “could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.” Get that? After more than a decade in Iraq, it was still necessary to train and secure Iraq’s military as sort of a counterterrorism insurance policy. Exactly how long were we supposed to keep doing that? How long were we supposed to keep paying the premiums?

But beyond that, I will ask a better question—since I have yet to hear one journalist ask it—of all those who claim, either with certainty or something less, that we should have left thousands of troops in Iraq: What would have happened when ISIL came across the border? Where would we have gone to get our counterterrorism insurance check?

I’m listening.

Oh, some will say that if we had kept thousands of troops in Iraq that ISIL wouldn’t have dared come there to fight and to conquer in the name of Allah. You know, all that “peace-through-strength” stuff, the kind of stuff that only works to deter rational people. ISIL leaders, who use beheadings to send messages to Westerners, hardly qualify as rational people. They really do want to set up an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere, and the presence of U.S. troops would likely have made their resolve stronger not weaker.

That leaves us with the likelihood that had we left troops there in 2011, they would today be engaged in on-the-ground battles with ISIL. They would be fighting and dying. And there would likely be many thousands more U.S. troops there to fight and die with them. Is that what Obama’s critics really want? Huh? If they do, they should say so.

Finally, as I said, I have never heard a single journalist ask anyone, anyone who claims we should have left a residual force in Iraq,  just what that force would have done when ISIL invaded. Please tell us. What?  Panetta wrote in his book:

To this day, I believe that a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with al-Qaeda’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country.

On what evidence can he base his belief? We already know that many non-Kurdish Iraqi military forces left the battlefield—and left a lot of our equipment behind for ISIL to use later. Is it conceivable that a few thousand U.S. troops could have stiffened their spines? And would ten thousand troops wearing American flags have been able to tame sectarian violence that has been a feature of life in the Middle East since 632 A.D.? Is there even a shred of evidence to support such a claim?

If President Obama had done what Panetta and others asked him to do, if he had insisted on leaving thousands of our soldiers in Iraq, we would probably now be involved in a war that no one would have to go to the trouble of parsing. As it is, we are only using airstrikes to attack ISIL, and somebody else, somebody who has much more at stake at the moment, is doing the hard fighting and dying. From an American perspective, that doesn’t exactly sound like a grave mistake to me.

2. Did Obama make a grave mistake in 2012 by not arming the so-called “moderate Syrians”?

This one drives me out of my mind.

Hillary Clinton recently went out of her way to let the world know she was in favor of arming those mystical moderates in Syria, suggesting, but not insisting, that had Obama done so things would look a lot different now. But if you read the actual interview she did with Jeffrey Goldberg (misleadingly titled, “Hillary Clinton: ‘Failure’ to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS”), she actually said something very sensible. Goldberg had asked her if she agreed with former ambassador Robert Ford’s contention “that we are at fault for not doing enough to build up a credible Syrian opposition when we could have.” At the end of her reply she said:

I totally understand the cautions that we had to contend with, but we’ll never know. And I don’t think we can claim to know.

No. We will never ever know. And we sure as hell can’t claim to know. But there are a lot of people who, now that things have gone really, really badly, do claim they know. Leon Panetta has added some fuel to that mostly right-wing fire of certainty on this point by saying to 60 Minutes:

Scott Pelley: In retrospect now, was not arming the rebels at that time a mistake?

Leon Panetta: I think that would’ve helped. And I think in part, we paid the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS.

Maybe we did pay a price for not doing something. Maybe ISIS would not have grown so strong if we had flooded the battlefield with our weapons. But we will never know what kind of price we would have paid for doing something, for doing what Panetta thought, in good faith, we should have done. That’s what makes all this stuff so hard for leaders and so easy for after-the-fact critics. Panetta slapped President Obama on this issue by saying in his book:

Hesitation and half steps have consequences as well—and those remain to be determined.

Let me say here that Panetta is right to say that hesitation and half steps do certainly have consequences. Just like rushing in and taking full steps. That’s not exactly a profound claim. Both action and inaction have consequences that cannot be confidently known in advance. But if you listen to some folks talk today, they claim to have known exactly what the consequences of Obama’s hesitation to arm some Syrian rebels would turn out to be. Hooey.

The truth is that, forgetting what little we knew two years ago, we still don’t know today if there are really any Western-style moderates on the Syrian battlefield. We only know that, given what has developed, we have to take our chances and hope that the ones we think might be moderates don’t end up turning against us at some future point. It has come to that in Syria and Iraq. But we don’t know if it would have been better or worse if we had taken another course of action in 2012. One can easily imagine any number of scenarios, including one in which ISIL ends up with tons of American weapons that we shipped into Syria. Imagine how Fox “News” would have reported that, even as that network is fast to condemn Obama for his “dithering.”

To all this, I will here cite the words of our wise, if freethinking, Vice President:

We Americans think, in every country in transition, there’s a Thomas Jefferson hiding behind some rock or a James Madison beyond one sand dune. 

Given what has happened across the Middle East over the past two years or so, given how Islamic belief systems in the region are mostly incompatible with our idea of democracy and our expansive conception of human rights, any Jeffersons or Madisons over there are more likely to be beheaded than to lead a revolution that ends with a secular republic.

And that should make everyone at least a little sober in their judgments.

__________________________________

[Getty UN photo; Haider Al-Assadee/EPA Iraq photo]

“That Was Our Policy,” Dick Said

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”

Aeschylus

sick to his Obama-hating core, Dick Cheney and his intellectual clone, daughter Liz, wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal (“The Collapsing Obama Doctrine”) that featured this not-meant-to-be-ironic line:

Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. 

In his final press briefing before leaving the Administration, Jay Carney was asked about that comment and replied,

Which president was he talking about?

But Harry Reid did one better. Today on the Senate floor he said:

If there’s one thing this country does not need, is that we should be taking advice from Dick Cheney on wars. Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history. To the architects of the Iraq War who are now so eager to offer their expert analysis, I say…thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, we have already tried it your way and it was the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of the country.

Now, it is common for those who championed the Iraq war to dismiss critics like Reid by rubbing in their faces that infamous vote in 2002 to go to war. Harry Reid, along with 28 other Senate Democrats including Hillary Clinton, did indeed vote in favor of authorizing military action against Iraq. But unlike Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic primary, Reid isn’t afraid to say he was wrong. Today he told Sam Stein:

“Do you know how I feel about that?” Reid asked during a sit-down interview in his office with The Huffington Post. “I’m sure this is no big surprise,” he said, pausing for ten seconds before continuing in a muted voice: “What a mistake.”

“I should never have voted for that,” Reid went on. “But I accepted what [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell and the others said. But it took me just a matter of a few months to realize it was a bad mistake, and my record speaks for itself. I’ve spoken out against what was going on, not once, not twice, but lots of times. And I’m sorry that I was misled, but I was, and it was a mistake for me to vote for that war.”

Mistake, indeed. Heck, even sellevangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson gets it now. So does the survivalist-baiter and gold-seller and slanderer Glenn Beck. But that Cheney-Cheney editorial never mentioned anything about pre-war mistakes, only alleged post-war ones. The Cheneys said not a word about misleading intelligence reports or faulty evidence. They did say, though, something that deserves more scrutiny:

When Mr. Obama and his team came into office in 2009, al Qaeda in Iraq had been largely defeated, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of U.S. armed forces during the surge. Mr. Obama had only to negotiate an agreement to leave behind some residual American forces, training and intelligence capabilities to help secure the peace. Instead, he abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Leave aside that part about al Qaeda being largely defeated. Until our invasion of Iraq, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq to defeat. They came there to fight us. But did Obama abandon Iraq? You hear that all the time from those who want desperately for Obama to validate their monumental mistakes by continuing them, by keeping, I guess forever, American troops in a hostile environment like Iraq.

But I want to take you back to 2010, when a happier Dick Cheney, if there is such a creature, was basking in his Iraq “victory.” On ABC’s This Week, Jonathan Karl asked Cheney about Joe Biden’s foolish remarks in 2010 regarding how Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration,” and Biden’s wise remarks about how “the war in Iraq was not worth it”:

CHENEY: I believe very deeply in the proposition that what we did in Iraq was the right thing to do. It was hard to do. It took a long time. There were significant costs involved.

But we got rid of one of the worst dictators of the 20th century. We took down his government, a man who’d produced and used weapons of mass destruction, a man who’d started two different wars, a man who had a relationship with terror. We’re going to have a democracy in Iraq today. We do today. They’re going to have another free election this March.

This has been an enormous achievement from the standpoint of peace and stability in the Middle East and ending a threat to the United States. Now, as I say, Joe Biden doesn’t believe that. Joe Biden wants to take credit — I’m not sure for what — since he opposed that policy pretty much from the outset.

KARL: I think what he wants to take credit for is taking resources out of Iraq, the fact…

CHENEY: That’s being done in accordance with a timetable that we initiated, that we  that we negotiated with  with the Iraqis. I mean, that was our policy.

Yes, that’s right. It was their policy. That was about the only thing Cheney got right in that exchange. Pulling out the way we did in 2011 was their policy. But now that things don’t look so good, it is suddenly Obama who “abandoned Iraq.” Horseshit. Just how long were we supposed to leave our troops there? A hundred years? A thousand?

I want to cite a right-winger (and senior staffer under Bush-Cheney) who said “George W. Bush warned that if America withdrew from Iraq, American troops would eventually have to return.” Yeah, well, he’s right. Bush did warn us about “withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready.” The problem is that Bush said that in 2007. And we stayed until 2011. And we left then because Bush, presumably because his commanders told him we would be ready, signed in 2008 the Status of Forces Agreement that Obama followed. Only in the strange brains of conservatives, most of whom were wrong about Iraq from Day One, can all of this mess be Obama’s fault.

But the Cheneys have a profound hatred for the President. Predictably, their tribute to family delusions that The Wall Street Journal eagerly published, came with this:

…President Obama seems determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.

And to end their hit piece, the Cheneys wrote:

President Obama is on track to securing his legacy as the man who betrayed our past and squandered our freedom.

That is what it has come down to, ever since Barack Obama dared sit his pigmented posterior on the Bush-Cheney-stained furniture in the White’s House. Obama means to do the country harm. He is, as Liz Cheney said last year, “working to pre-emptively disarm the United States.”

Whenever I hear talk like that, I regret that the newly inaugurated President Obama didn’t start his first term by ordering his attorney general to investigate Liz Cheney’s dad for possible war crimes. That would have been one way that Obama could have proven to all Americans that rather than desiring to take America down a notch, his intention was to elevate our moral standing.

 cheney behind bars

Sexy Claire McCaskill

Anyone who says we can’t cut money at the Pentagon doesn’t understand what’s going on with contracting at the Pentagon.”

—Sen. Claire McCaskill

It’s not exactly a sexy subject, like the ongoing and unseemly fiscal cliff fight, but it is the kind of stuff that politicians are supposed to be doing, instead of creating artificial austerity crises:

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a sweeping overhaul on Tuesday of the U.S. government’s wartime contracting procedures, the largest such reform in decades. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) amendment, included in the national defense bill, is aimed at improving oversight and cracking down on the rampant waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars in contracting practices.

Before Missourians sent her to Washington, legislatively sexy Claire McCaskill was our state auditor, and her concern for the government’s fiscal accountability and integrity inherent in that job has now borne some national fruit, that is if House Republicans, responding to contractor’s demands, don’t lop it off in the conference committee.

Five years ago she helped (along with Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia) pass legislation that created a commission to study waste and fraud involved in wartime contracting, and after years of investigation the commission found, according to McCaskill’s press release, that,

the U.S. had squandered up to $60 billion through waste and fraud on contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The panel identified major failures in contingency contract planning, execution and oversight within the government. It concluded that such waste will increase if accountability across government is not improved as U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

Think about that: $60 billion down the drain, or, better put: in somebody’s pocket who didn’t deserve it. That $60 billion could more than pay for the federal government’s emergency sexy claireaid to areas hit by Superstorm Sandy (Obama is planning on requesting $50 billion or so from Congress).

And while we, day after day, witness what is going on in Washington over whether to fiscal-cliff ourselves into another recession, we can for a moment admire McCaskill’s political pugnacity on this issue:

While these wars wind down, we can’t lose the urgency to correct these mistakes and prevent them from being repeated in the future,” said McCaskill in a statement. “Protecting taxpayer dollars isn’t the flashiest issue. But it’s a promise I made to Missourians, and it’s something I pledge to continue fighting for, with dogged determination, until this legislation is signed into law.”

That, my friends, should be why we send people to Washington. Not to hold the economy hostage so rich people can save a few more dollars in taxes.

What Are The Troops Supposed To Think Now?

David Wood won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, after he published a series of articles on the severely wounded soldiers who have returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He has covered military and national security issues in a lot of dangerous places in the world for a number of publications. As his HuffPo bio reads:

He has been scared much of his professional life.

On this official-unofficial Veterans Day, Mr. Wood said the following on MSNBC about the implications of the David Petraeus scandal:

The thing that struck me about the Petraeus story is the damage that this puts on the troops and veterans. Because, look, the military for the last ten or fifteen years has emphasized that it’s a values-based organization. And the primary value that I hear talked about all the time, particularly in combat among what I call the working class of the military—the sergeants and lieutenants who do most of the heavy lifting in combat—the key value is, “doing the right thing when no one’s looking.” And there was nobody in the military, I think, who exemplified that more than David Petraeus. He talked about it all the time.

Now to find out that he was not only not doing the right thing, but lying about it, is, I think, devastating and will have a long-term, corrosive impact on the troops…I mean, think about the young kids who are in basic training now who are being taught, “do the right thing when no one’s looking.” Well, what are they supposed to think now?

While a lot of right-wing folks are wondering how Petraeus’s troubles figure into their wild conspiracy theory about a gigantic Obama administration cover-up of Benghazi, it’s nice to know someone is thinking about something else, something much more important.

Iraq And Iran, Truth And Consequences

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was asked this morning on MSNBC what he thought about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Here is his reply:

We are beginning to face the reality of what we have accomplished, namely, that we have destabilized Iraq; we have destroyed it as a state; we have reignited sectarian conflicts; we have contributed to ethnic distinctions between the Kurds and the Iraqis. 

We have a problem on our hands, which we didn’t solve by war, and which we cannot resolve anymore because we can’t continue to war indefinitely. It is a contribution to greater middle-eastern instability. 

Even as we see that sectarian violence has increased since we left Iraq, Mr. Brzezinski notes that, 

There are some people who are overtly arguing now—overtly!—that we should start a war with Iran. I don’t think that’s going to be exactly a very constructive contribution to greater middle-east instability…starting wars in the Middle East was not the solution ten years ago and it is not a solution two or three years hence… 

If Republicans want to make Iran an election issue, Democrats should welcome it. If Republicans don’t want to make it an issue, Democrats should insist on it. If there ever is a war with Iran, it should be because we are forced into it, not because conservatives talk us into another foolish preemptive act.

The War On Terror And Aid To Joplin

I just want to remind everyone who has a Scroogish opinion about federal disaster aid to Joplin of one thing: The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are costing us at a minimum $3 billion—every week of the year.  To put that in perspective, that’s the reported estimated damage caused by the tornado that hit our city a week ago, destroying or severely damaging almost one-third of it.

Here is a conservative estimate of the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars—no offsets for them, you know; all have been and are being paid for with borrowed money—as of 8:30pm Central Standard Time:

 

If you follow and buy into the argument by Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, you get a much higher number.  Just in the case of the Iraq War, Stiglitz estimated the cost to be, well, his book (co-authored with Linda Bilmes) was titled, “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict,” so you get the idea.  It’s a lot.

Stiglitz believes that the Iraq war has had particular macroeconomic effects that are not part of the calculation most people make when totaling up the cost of the war.  For instance, he argues that “the war has led to higher oil prices.”  In his book he only conservatively attributed a $5-10 increase to the war, but believes “a reasonable number would be at least $35 and probably much more.”

He also argues that the war spending in Iraq didn’t and doesn’t have much of a stimulative effect on our economy, either in the short or long run:

If we spend money for somebody from Nepal to work in Iraq it does not stimulate the American economy in the same way as building a road in America or hiring a teacher in America. It certainly does not increase long-run productivity in the United States.

The third argument he makes, related to the Joplin emergency funding issue,  is this one:

This war was financed totally by deficit financing, unlike any other war.  Normally when countries go to war they talk about shared sacrifice. As America went to war we lowered the taxes on upper-income Americans. Really very strange behaviour in a context in which we already had a large deficit. The national debt has grown by almost $1 trillion just because of the war and by 2017 we estimate it will rise by another $1 trillion.  That is a lot of money.

He adds:

These three factors have led to a depressing of the U.S. economy today and weakening the U.S. economy in the future.

He also believes that “lax monetary policy” by the Federal Reserve, which was implemented in order to compensate for the decreased purchasing power in the economy resulting from higher oil prices, led to a distortion in the economy that itself contributed to the pre-collapse bubble before the fall of 2008.  How do you calculate that cost?

Finally, Stiglitz points out that the long-term cost of disability payments and health-care costs for wounded soldiers, and the cost for replacing equipment lost or damaged during the war, all add up to his final cost of what he called “a war of choice.” 

And the simple point is that in the case of the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan—both wars of choice that have been deficit-funded—no one in the Republican Party argued that the costs of the wars had to be offset in the budget or else there would be no funding for those wars.

As a commenter on this blog pointed out,

Picking up the pieces of disasters such as the one that hit Joplin is one of the many reasons why we have a government in the first place.

So, before anyone argues with me about “bailing” out Joplin, or argues that the costs of emergency funding for our city should be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget and thus become part of a protracted political fight, please tell me why you weren’t arguing since 2001 for cutting the budget to fund our war efforts.

That’s what I thought.

Time Will Tell

“We don’t know what the outcome will be.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

I remain agnostic about the wisdom of the United States—even with the United Nation’s resolution and international, including Arab, cooperation—intervening in Libya. 

At this time, there is no way of knowing whether what we are doing is the right thing to do.  In fact, we may not know for many, many years whether it was wise or foolish of President Obama to join in—lead, really—the international military operation against Gaddafi, and anyone who says they do know is not telling the truth.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen said on CNN this morning:

How this ends from the political standpoint, I just can’t say.

Of course not.  And here’s why:

…on a per capita basis, no country sent more young fighters into Iraq to kill Americans than Libya — and almost all of them came from eastern Libya, the center of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion that the United States and others now have vowed to protect, according to internal al Qaeda documents uncovered by U.S. intelligence.

That troubling bit of information was advanced in an article by David Wood, a seasoned journalist who has covered “military issues, foreign affairs, and combat operations” for Time and the Los Angeles Times, among others. 

Here is the title of his piece:

Anti-American Extremists Among Libyan Rebels U.S. Has Vowed To Protect

Wood references the Sinjar documents, a collection of al Qaeda computer data captured by Americans in 2007 in a predawn raid near Sinjar, Iraq, six miles from the Syrian border. The documents included background information on around 750 foreign fighters, who migrated to Iraq to kill American soldiers, many of those fighters coming from among the very people we are now pledging to protect. Wood wrote:

Almost one in five foreign fighters arriving in Iraq came from eastern Libya, from the towns of Surt, Misurata and Darnah.

On a per capita basis, that’s more than twice as many than came from any other Arabic-speaking country, amounting to what the counter terrorism center called a Libyan “surge” of young men eager to kill Americans.

Wood also notes:

Eastern Libya has been described by U.S. diplomats as a breeding ground for Islamist extremism. In diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, the region’s young men were said to have “nothing to lose” by resorting to violence. Sermons in the local mosques are “laced with phraseology urging worshippers to support jihad,” one diplomat reported.

As Wood is careful to point out,

extremist elements make up only a portion of the resistance to Gaddafi and have been present in every popular uprising in the region stretching from the Iranian revolution to the Egyptian people’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

So it would be inaccurate to say that it necessarily follows from the continued destabilization of Libya that some kind of anti-Western coalition is waiting to replace Gaddafi. But it would be equally inaccurate to say a Western-style democracy will emerge.

The truth is that especially in that part of the world, no one knows what effect our action or inaction today will have on events tomorrow.  After all, it was just five years ago—five years ago—that the Bush administration normalized diplomatic relations with Libya and rescinded Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress at the time:

We are taking these actions in recognition of Libya’s continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 1, 2001.

Who could have predicted all the events that have happened in North Africa and around the Middle East since Rice’s announcement to Congress in May of 2006?

Not one pundit or politician, that’s who. The same number who can’t predict future events today.

Obama’s action is risky and only time will tell if it was worth the risk, but unlike the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this time there will be no ground invasion of Libya and thus no occupation.  However, if there ever were to come such an invasion and occupation, then the future following that decision becomes quite foreseeable.

Indeed, we can see it in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

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