And we were expecting what?
There is strain of neocon thought that says that the Third World is filled with people yearning to establish tolerant, secular democracies. This may well be true, but it’s the second half of the neocon proposition that gets us into trouble: If we just help them get rid of the “Big Men” (Thomas P.M. Barnett’s memorable description) who currently oppress them, the process will proceed more-or-less automatically.
The New Yorker has an update on our latest experiment, “ISIS Rises in Libya,” by Jon Lee Anderson.
Wary of appearing to be occupiers, the NATO powers that had helped liberate the country stood by as it fell apart.
Last week, David Cameron’s special envoy for Libya, Jonathan Powell, acknowledged that the West bore some responsibility for Libya’s collapse. “We made a mistake leaving Libya so soon after Qaddafi’s downfall,” he told me. “We thought they didn’t need any Paul Bremers”—a reference to the American official who controversially ran Iraq after the U.S. military invasion—“but in fact they did need help.”
He’s right about one thing — they didn’t need any Paul Bremers. But they might have heeded the observation of Colin Powell:
The famous expression, if you break it you own it—which is not a Pottery Barn expression, by the way—was a simple statement of the fact that when you take out a regime and you bring down a government, you become the government. On the day that the statue came down and Saddam Hussein’s regime ended, the United States was the occupying power. We might also have been the liberating power, and we were initially seen as liberators. But we were essentially the new government until a government could be put in place. And in the second phase of this conflict, which was beginning after the statue fell, we made serious mistakes in not acting like a government. One, maintaining order. Two, keeping people from destroying their own property. Three, not having in place security forces—either ours or theirs or a combination of the two to keep order. And in the absence of order, chaos ensues.
Truer words are rarely spoken. He means police, garbage collection, trains, electricity, running water, schools, and hospitals. If you aren’t prepared to run the country, either don’t go in or get ready to live with the consequences: If you aren’t willing to be the government, you can bet there are people who are, but you may not like them.
Powell gave this interview in 2007, but by 2011, his warnings had faded from the memories of British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarcozy. So now we have an ISIS outpost less than 200 miles from the EU. The New Yorker notes one of the unexpected consequences:
In a parallel phenomenon, armed trafficking gangs in Libya are driving most of Africa’s illegal immigration across the Mediterranean to Europe. As many as a hundred and seventy thousand are thought to have made the crossing last year, with thousands dying en route.
What Powell didn’t say, by the way, was what level of effort would have been needed to occupy Iraq in the manner he prescribed. When you take into account the size of the country, the cultural and religious differences, and the depth of Iraqi nationalism … who knows? Had he brought this up publicly before the war, he might have suffered the same fate as then Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, of whom then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz testified:
“Some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion [from General Shinseki] that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam (Hussein) Iraq, are wildly off the mark,” Wolfowitz declared. “It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in a post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself.”
And Shinseki was fired.