Libya: Don't panic, it has only been four days.

Military analysis.
March 23 2011 6:28 PM

Is Libya Like Kosovo?

Let's hope so.

Read more of Slate's coverage of the  Libya conflict

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One disturbing note: According to a West Point study of the foreign fighters who joined the anti-American insurgency during the Iraq war, the largest number by far—on a per capita basis, twice as many as from any other country in the Arab-speaking world—came from Libya, specifically from eastern Libya, mainly from Benghazi and Darnah, the strongholds of the rebels we're now protecting.

It may be that these same rebels will like us if our efforts help them overthrow Qaddafi. But that's not a sure thing, and, in any case, it's beside the point. Even if Libya's new leaders carried copies of Thomas Paine in their rucksacks, they would find themselves reigning over a wasteland, and not just physically—a country bereft of democratic traditions, institutions, or the slenderest levers of a civil society. Someone's going to have to step in and spend tens of billions of dollars and devote years or decades of hard effort, to helping the Libyan people develop such things—and to do so with the backing of a large police or military force to provide security in the meantime—or face the prospect that a nastier group of people, from within or outside, will take over and impose a different sort of social order, a new, perhaps more threatening, dictatorship.

The biggest flaw in U.S. strategy for the Iraq war was the failure to do any planning for postwar stabilization. This failure unleashed all the nightmares that followed. Libya is not Iraq. Obama's motives for intervening in Libya were much different from George W. Bush's motives for invading Iraq, and the level of this intervention is explicitly much lower—more, at least avowedly, in support of the European and Arab leaders who took the initiative and have more vital stakes in the outcome. But there are still lessons to be gleaned from Iraq's postwar power vacuum and the chaos that ensued as a result.

Obama took such pains to make clear that the United States was playing a mere supporting role in the Libyan war—and even went ahead with a scheduled trip to South America to demonstrate that this war is not a major, all-consuming thing—in part to make clear that we wouldn't be playing more than a supporting role after the war is over.


But who will? Who can? And shouldn't someone have thought this through before the bombs started falling?

Correction, March 29, 2011: This article originally misstated the type of U.S. planes that could fire Joint Direct Attack Munitions. They are B-2 bombers, not B-52s. (Return to the corrected article.)