Friday, June 24, 2011

To Spite Their Face

House Republicans are expected to vote (again) today to strip funding from U.S. involvement in the NATO Libyan intervention. This time, the vote will be to strip funding for offensive operations while leaving in place funding for the support operations that primarily characterize U.S. involvement in Libya.

The Libyan intervention has devolved into a purely political issue with little reference to the underlying policy problems. Although this result has been the decided work of Republican politicians—who, even at the outset, were for it before they were against it—the Obama administration’s abject mishandling of the War Powers issue has contributed greatly. No matter, the determination of House Republicans to embarrass, rebuke, or otherwise cow President Obama over Libya leads this Editor to question whether they are cutting off their nose to spite their face.

The drive for such political gains seems completely divorced from the question of what happens if Qaddafi remains—arguably the only question that with which policymakers should be concerned.

It seems clear that summarily abandoning Libya and its rebels would leave Qaddafi in power. He is of course significantly weaker than he was in mid-March but he is not yet beaten, and the rebels are not yet strong enough to oust him on their own. It seems equally clear, then, that the Libyan rebellion would be crush—and likely in a fashion significantly more brutal than what is occurring in Syria today. The humanitarian costs would be galling. Moreover, if allowed to remain in power, Qaddafi is likely to allow Libya to be used by various non-state actors with a grudge against the United States or the West—just as he did during the 1980s.

Of course, neither Qaddafi nor Libya itself will present a traditional state power threat to the United States or the West. But, as we have seen over the last twenty years or more, the threat posed by non-state actors allowed to operate with impunity in ungoverned (or permissively governed) spaces is as significant as it is difficult to address. It is flatly incoherent to advocate for heavier direct U.S. involvement in Pakistan to address the multifarious armed groups operating there on the one hand and then to argue for the abandonment of Libya on the other. To do so would be to simply create more opportunities for non-state actors to arm, train, prepare, and launch attacks.

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