Here We Go Again: Telling the Libyans What to Do

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We just can’t help ourselves. No sooner did it look like Khadafi was on his way out then the promoters of “post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization” and “stability operations” were on the march. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, told the world that “NATO has to pick up the pieces.” He called for an “international force…for some time to help restore and maintain order,” including at least “hundreds of military and police advisers,” and, at most “an international force of several thousand troops.” (Financial Times, 22 August 2011)

Max Boot went further, arguing that “Libya will need aid and, like it or not, peacekeeping troops,” including economic assistance and expert advice,” plus the inevitable “outside stabilization force.” (Los Angeles Times, 24 August 2011) The providers of good will, advisers of merit, and profit-seekers cannot be far behind. Based on what British blogger Julian Lindley-French called NATO’s”huge expertise in stabilization and reconstruction” (Lindley-French’s Blog Blast 24 August 2011) learned over the past decade, it is now Libya’s turn.

What on earth are we thinking?

That huge reservoir of experience has left a staggering Iraqi economy and polity behind, having failed to achieve much of the goals the Americans set out for themselves in 2003 (or was it 2004, when the goals all changed, or 2008 when they changed again) thanks to the civil war unleashed by the American invasion.

And the “success story” in Afghanistan remains to be found, with Karzai’s “government” mired in corruption, its security forces not up to the task, and an economy based largely on the growth and export of an illegal crop.

Isn’t it time to take stock here and recognize that the western countries have a pretty sorry record of bringing stability and reconstruction to other countries. The Europeans brought colonialism, and were chased from the scene. And the Americans brought a talent for destruction and a well-intentioned desire for near-term results, but little long-term success in telling other countries what to do.

Maybe the Libyans ought to be asked what they think they need, and relied on to do the best thing for their country, using substantial assets available for the task, before the well-intentioned, but not always terribly effective folks from outside crowd the Tripoli airport.