Here’s hoping things turn out differently this time.
By Joe Ellis
I get the distinct sense that at every level of the administration there is a deliberate effort to show the world we have learned from the past. There isn’t just a hope that things turn out differently. Instead, there has been a clear effort to make sure there is a night and day difference from the sins of our past. Sure, there are similarities: the UN has once again pledged military support, and good ‘ol Britain follows us into battle as our loyal ally; and in that respect it seem all too familiar. Nevertheless, there are very real differences from Iraq/Afghanistan and Libya.
First, there is the cause. The Bush administration told us a large component of the Iraq war would be democracy for the Iraqi people and freedom from a ruthless dictator. We were told the people were aching for liberation and all they needed was someone to come in and topple the regime. There was some mention that people would dance in the streets and stability in the Middle East would become a reality. This turned out to be a slight exaggeration.
However, the cause in Libya is very much about freedom, and possibly democracy (time will tell). The big difference? The Libyan people have taken the initiative to do what we presumed the Iraqis wanted us to do. They drove Kadafi’s forces out of their cities, and if it weren’t for last minute mercenary forces showing up they would have achieved their objective. Help has been asked for and granted, but only enough help so as to make freedom the people’s own achievement.
Secondly, our strategy going into this is not unilateral. When mercenary forces showed up in Libya with brutal force there were many who wanted to sit this one out, and with good reason. As Ted Koppel pointed out on NPR, we have a bad track record when it comes to our involvement in the region. Good intentions have led to horrid consequences, and there is no level of planning that can assure a positive outcome.
The Obama administration does not want any of this on their hands, and they have made sure the U.S. will play a supporting role only in the effort to suppress Kadafi forces. With French and British officials persuading the United States to take action, and China and Russia relinquishing their veto power, it feels drastically different.
This is the first conflict President Obama has not inherited, and it’s easy to see how badly he wants to show the world we’ve changed. The Bush era is over, the public has little appetite for further bloodshed, and there is zero tolerance for another prolonged war. By necessity this will be short, and our only hope rests in this being the conflict we have been told it is. If the Libyan people gain control of the country and there is peace within their boarder, perhaps this will lead us toward redemption. We can hope.