Friday, April 8, 2011

In Libya, a tie goes to the rebels

Kevin Drum worries about a potential draw in Libya:

How likely is it, after all, that either the United States or its allies will be willing to accept a long, dull stalemate like this? In a sense, it would be even worse than the kind of grinding, inconclusive war we're fighting in Afghanistan, where we can at least concoct stories about progress and eventual victory. But if Libya settles down into a partition with essentially no fighting at all, no such stories will be possible. We either accept the partition or we don't.

There's not a lot of precedent to go on here, but it doesn't seem like the kind of thing the American (or French or British) public would accept for long. Sure, nobody would be dying, so there probably wouldn't be huge public protests, but we'd still be committing ourselves to an expensive, indefinite military operation with no goal except to protect the partition of a country nobody really cares much about it in the first place.

Um, au contraire, I'd say there's quite a lot of precedent to go on. We're currently bogged down in a vastly bigger, lengthier, and more indefinite military operation, and public pressure to end that operation is minor at best. And musing about the American public's willingness to accept a stalemate both presupposes that the American public knows and cares about the current state of Libya, and posits some sort of bizarrely exceptionalist American desire to "finish the fight." Speaking of which, by the way, a reminder: the three biggest American wars of past ninety years all ended in a partition, conclusions which, somehow, the public was able to accept.

Still, more broadly, I think Drum's right that a stalemate is likely. But as regional observers pointed out at the outset of Libyan mission, a stalemate is not a bad outcome. In a partitioned Libya -- de facto or otherwise -- a lot of Benghazians are alive that wouldn't be otherwise. It puts much of Libya's oil resources out of Qaddafi's reach, and puts pressure on his regime to reach some sort of agreement with the rebels/protesters/opposition. In this case, a stalemate isn't really a stalemate. It's just a qualified loss for Qaddafi.

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