So he’s finally gone. We understand the Libyan joy. The American Twitterati and cable news pushing gruesome photos and the like? Not so much.
At 9:00 AM this morning ‘experts’ on cable already proclaimed today’s events proof of the ‘Libyan Model’ for handling other regional struggles, whether Yemen or Uganda. American airpower and C4ISR [if necessary insert NATO as delivery platform cut out] with a few special forces on the ground (SAS, French, DO/JSOC, etc.) would allow local peoples to *look like* they toppled their regime. They get the credit, dictator X is gone, and as Joe Scarborough said, “the people cheer America and wave American flags. That’s the important part.”
American fixation applying yesterday’s events to tomorrow is — as you know – a long standing, proud tradition. One could be part of a family called ‘Stop the Spirit of Zossen’ and even, you know, spend years talking about it together. Today, just to pick a pundit at random, Robin Wright intoned (without irony) how the above Libyan Model might be applied in the future. Remember in Spring and Summer of 2002 those who wanted to apply “the Afghanistan Model” to drain the swamp and impose regime change? Almost the exact same words: American airpower (JDAM and Daisy Cutters new to the pop lexicon), special forces and indigenous troops would avoid another Vietnam. All the rage, in Time magazine, etc. And that was when the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Times and a congressional hearing actually meant something.
Obama’s bizarre assertiveness re bombing Libya and its quixotic aftermath will set precedent with more unforeseen consequences than the “Libyan Model”. One wonders if the UN next time, particularly Russia and China, will accept so-called humanitarian authorizations. Reading official press and government comments from Moscow and Beijing, we doubt it. Americans celebrating the moment gloss over Libyan circumstances which proved uniquely conducive to NATO’s actually rather ineffective intervention. Domestic tribal interactions, proximity to Egypt and Tunisia and most importantly Western history on the ground, both long ago all and recent all helped a stand-off engagement.
The Libyan Model will gain bureaucratic traction in Washington as DoD and the defense socio-economic class are finally realizing that the salad days are gone for real. The Air Force and Navy are expected to emerge *relatively* better off than the Army. In part because the land wars naturally are winding down and the other services wisely sell their kinetic fire on target capabilities. In part because notions like the Libyan Model intoxicate with whispers of continued U.S. geopolitical global relevance and power projection on the cheap.
To believe in the Libyan Model is to embrace continued American self-image as imperial arbiter, or if not arbiter, not insolvent former hegemon. And that America will need an imperial punditocracy, pamphleteers, grants, cable appearances and so on. That Americans will eschew learning dirty details of languages, history, etc. – no reason to expect embracing area studies now. Someone will Tweet all the details necessary anyway.
The Brits maintained the facade of empire on the cheap for a while. So it’s not like this is anything unprecedented. Still, because Libya’s outcome today rests on so many sui generis factors, American reliance on the Libyan Model may prove short lived. Even the model peddlers back off when given hard choices such as Syria.
All of which is a diversion from the realities of real power and genuine power projection. And preparing for that clash with what we have today and can expect to deploy tomorrow even with the wisest of foreign policy judgment.