. . . or in this instance, "We shoulda done something."
They're everywhere these days - America's chest-thumpers, those who insist that the US stand ready to jump in anywhere, anytime, to fix some ill. Thus, John McCain and his amigos are all over Obama for not getting the US in the fight in Syria - and I suspect that Mitt will be all over that one on Monday.
But the red-blooded American boy I want to spotlight today is Max Boot, who has penned for the LA Times a "too little too late" verdict on Obama's policies in Libya, in which he accuses Obama of repeating George W. Bush's mistake in Iraq. Boot's point about Iraq, of course, is that Bush went in too light, without a plan to secure the peace and rebuild the country. Anyone who's read Thomas Ricks' account in Fiasco knows that to indeed have been the case. But Obama's intervention in Libya was intended certainly to be the "un-Iraq" alternative: no boots on the ground, no US involvement in nation-building. Indeed, the principal rationale for the intervention was the newly emerging R2P ("responsibility to protect") policy, which was seized upon because Qaddafi had begun to mouth off about essentially exterminating the opposition. Obama knew that the American public had no stomach for major involvement in another Middle Eastern country, and that the teetering American economy ought not be asked to support such an involvement.
Boot seems to have forgotten all of that:
The Obama administration has waited about as long [as Bush did in Iraq] to get serious about security in Libya. Not until last month, just days before the attacks in Benghazi, did the State Department and Defense Department ask Congress to redirect $8 million in Pentagon funds to send Special Forces teams to help build a 500-strong Libyan special operations force, to be modeled on the highly capable Iraqi and Afghan special operations forces that have been created over the past decade.
Good idea, but it's too little too late. Why wasn't such an initiative undertaken a year ago when Kadafi was overthrown? And why is it limited to 500 special operators? However good those troops will turn out to be, by themselves they cannot possibly control thousands of militiamen.
A more ambitious program is needed, to be undertaken not only by the United States but by the same European and Arab allies that waged war to topple Kadafi (especially Britain, France, Qatar and the United Arab Republic). The goal would be to help build a state in Libya capable of controlling its own territory. This won't require the dispatch of large numbers of ground troops, just trainers and advisors. Libyan troops could also be sent to other nations for instruction, just as some Iraqi police recruits were trained in Jordan.
Nation-building (or, more accurately, "state building") is an enormously difficult and time-consuming task, but it is also inescapable if we are to avoid more fiascoes like the deadly assault on our Benghazi consulate.
OK, first - is he serious about the need for the US to go into Libya for nation-building? As if what we did in Iraq and Afghanistan - at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars - has worked out all that well for US interests? Or, more important, for the interests of Iraqis and Afghans?
Second, does Boot really believe that it's the US's proper role to insert its advisors to build a national army for the Libyan government and then expect the Libyan government to sic that army on already established and armed militias? Is that not a prescription for civil war? How is that going to serve US, or the Libyan people's, interests?
Third, as Britain deals with new fiscal austerity and Europeans in general are nervous as hell about the global economy, does Boot really expect them to step up and take on mounting even a small expeditionary force to send into a highly volatile Libya?
Methinks Mr. Boot is still stuck in pre-2001 US-is-hyperpower mind-warp. Of course, Messrs. Romney and Obama will likely feel it politically expedient to retreat there as well on Monday night. With regard to which, a must-read - especially, seems to me, for Max Boot - is Scott Shane's fabulous NYT essay, which exhorts us all to face up to America's problems, and limits.
The neocons (like Boot) and others who insist ever more shrilly that the US DO SOMETHING - in Libya, in Syria, in Iran - need to take some slow deep breaths, get a grip, and start coming to terms with America's new military and economic realities. John Wayne's been dead a long time now.