We don’t occupy Libya so ISIS fills the vacuum

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.

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26 thoughts on “We don’t occupy Libya so ISIS fills the vacuum

  1. there was article early on that if Libya is turned into a failed state there was something like 20,000 ground-to-air missiles that could fall into terrorists hands

    dating back to “team b” in the 70s

    He is a leading neoconservative.[4] As Deputy Secretary of Defense, he was “a major architect of President Bush’s Iraq policy and … its most hawkish advocate.”[5] In fact, “the Bush Doctrine was largely [his] handiwork.”


    the original justification for Iraq was WMDs and that it would only cost $50B. WMDs were found but they were decommissioned tracing back to US from the 80s … the information got classified:

    there was something like $60B in shrink wrapped $100 bills on large pallets airlifted to Iraq for bribes/tributes to curtail the hostilities for short period.

    last decade, cousin of white house chief of staff Card … was dealing with the Iraqis at the UN and was given evidence that WMDs had been decommissioned, and then provided to Card, Powell and others, gets locked up in military hospital …. “EXTREME PREJUDICE– The Terrifying Story of the Patriot Act and the Cover Ups of 9/11 and Iraq”

  2. ” 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.”
    Memorable perhaps, but I think we need to remember that Thomas P.M. Barnett is a neo-liberal looking for a rule-set re-set. So they both kinda got us to the same position, only using different vectors.

  3. ““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.””
    But the point is, with both the neocons and neoliberals, they were not and still not talking about occupying anything, they were talking stability and my guess is that for neo-positioners such as the neocons and neoliberals stability begins at home. Whitter this is a winning or losing strategy, I think that verdict is still out. The neo-positioners only want a fort that is in a position to represent the potential of the US. While most of these forts are no longer occupied by Americans, I believe they are still there.
    The US fought at least 3 wars using fortresses in the wilds, just to not be seen as occupiers, and so it must be within the military culture to avoid occupation at any cost.
    With that in someone’s culture, it is not hard to understand why someone advocating the occupation of another country could be singled-out for removal.
    And while the neo-positioning element of our military may or maynot be the correct one to follow, I think we are still following it. I don’t think anyone in the world outside of the conflicts think the U.S. is occupying another country.
    “So now we have an ISIS outpost less than 200 miles from the EU.”
    The European’s ability to position themselves as occupiers is another matter. They built a whole business model around it, which ended up being a losing strategy because of said outposts (forts).
    In this case the outpost represents the potential of Islam. With this a given, it is probably only in the time it takes to forget colonizing was a losing strategy and the US before the rest of Europe follows Turkey’s tracks (pardon the pun) and moves out of their fortifications.

  4. When asked about our exit strategy and Dick Cheney supposedly said there isn’t one, that is the strategic answer right out of Thomas P.M. Barnett’s (TPMB) play book. While it seems counter intuitive that a neocon would use the strategy of a person such as TPMB, it makes since. Both Cheney and Barnett were disciples of Boyd. Barnett was involved in the transformation of the Navy, and Cheney, in a way, was transforming how the US was positioning itself in the world. I think to someone like Cheney (a disciple and neocon) and Barnett (a disciple and Catholic) 9/11 was a personal attack on TPMB, with his connection to the Twin Towers, as it was an opportunity for Cheney to ACT.
    But both Acted similarly. Or at least the strategy of one was very similar to the other’s. So when you think about it, a neocon following the strategy of a neoliberal into war is not that unusual. Both were trying to reach the same end,i.e. define your enemy.
    Now TPMB wanted to love his enemy and Cheney wanted to kill his enemy, but they were in harmony on how to go about it, i.e. let the enemy transform itself into something we can observe. As everyone must have figured out, when we got into Afghanistan and Iraq, the enemy was almost invisible. I mean it wasn’t hard to kill the ones we could see, but everything else was pretty much in a fog.
    We can see ISIS.
    So in answer to your question on what we might expect, the short answer is: to be able to observe our enemy. And I think the proof of that action can be found in the action originating around Benghazi. In other words, the events surrounding the attack in Benghazi is a tell to the answer of what we might have expected. We expected that we would not need to create another front in Africa. We expected the enemy to quickly define itself.
    I think that happened in both the Congress of the US, as the Conservatives tried to defund the government, and in the Middle East, as ISIS is formed.

  5. a little Cheney (and more “team b”) National Insecurity

    pg248/3534-40: The Team B experience was the first instance of institutionalized militarization of intelligence imposed on the CIA from the White House. The first instance of the CIA’s internal militarization of intelligence took place in the 1980s, when President Reagan appointed a right-wing ideologue, Bill Casey, to be CIA director, and Casey appointed a right-wing ideologue, Bob Gates, to be his deputy. Casey and Gates combined to “cook the books” on a variety of issues, including the Soviet Union, Central America, and Southwest Asia, tailoring intelligence estimates to support the military policies of the Reagan administration. After he left the CIA in 1993, Gates admitted that he had become accustomed to Casey “fixing” intelligence to support policy on many issues. He did not describe his own role in support of Casey.

    pg261/loc3722-24: Cheney and Rumsfeld resorted to the same technique they had used in 1976, when they had worked for President Ford. In the 1970s, they had created Team B at the CIA in order to politicize intelligence on Soviet military power. In 2002, they politicized intelligence in order to take the country to war against Iraq.

    note corporate representatives had approached former eastern bloc countries and tell them if they vote in UN for invasion of iraq, they will get approval to join NATO and directed appropriation USAID (that can only be used for buying modern arms from US military-industrial complex) also from “Prophets of War”

    pg134/loc2273-74: Another Team B member who was to make his mark later, under the administration of George W. Bush, was Paul Wolfowitz.

    Rumsfeld white house chief of staff 74-75, then when he becomes SECDEF, 75-77, he is replaced by one of his staffers, Dick Cheney. He is again SECDEF 2001-2006

    When Rumsfeld was white house chief of staff 74-75, Cheney was on his staff. Cheney then becomes white house chief of staff when Rumsfeld becomes SECDEF. Cheney is then SECDEF from 89-93 and VP 2001-2009

    OPM Contractor’s Parent Firm Has a Troubled History

    Founded in 1992 by the late investment banker Robert McKeon, Veritas Capital grew quickly by buying up government contractors and forming close ties with former senior government officials. Of the many defense-related investments made by the company, the most famous has been the 2005 purchase of DynCorp International, a scandal-plagued company that played a pivotal role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    … snip …

    How Private Contractors Have Created a Shadow NSA; A new cybersecurity elite moves between government and private practice, taking state secrets with them (also references oil rig company that was transformed into one of the largest defense contractors after former SECDEF and future VP becomes CEO, including no-bid contracts in Iraq)
    above includes references to some of the events around the spreading “success of failure” culture (make more money off series of failures)
    (note sometimes clicking govexec serves up a blank page and you have to repeat the click)

  6. The scary thing is that the political neoconservatives seem to believe their own propaganda. I do not think that we will see any admissions of mea culpa from this group. They have become the American equal to Leon Trotsky.

    Truth be told, most of the problems in America are self-inflicted in nature. The defense death spiral, the state of the economy, the decline of America’s middle class, and so on. I think that a lot of people in the US are still living in the past as well. The post WWII world is gone as is the idea of using military force to sustain a hegemony.

    The reason why is because certain factions in America benefit, sadly, even if the nation as a whole becomes poorer.

    • “The reason why is because certain factions in America benefit, sadly, even if the nation as a whole becomes poorer.”
      True enough, but, now as you suggest and the US economy slips to number 2, the benefits American’s feel increasingly come from a foreign power.
      So globally, the movement is towards everyone with a global position becoming richer, except for those position at a disadvantage in the US. This includes the poor, but, as you also suggest, it increasing includes the Middle Class.
      This isn’t a problem until the environment in the US becomes unlivable, either structurally or culturally, and the global rich stop coming to visit something like Trump Towers.
      Towers seem to be prime targets for revolutionaries, and when those revolutionaries stop coming, it is hard to maintain those towers, off the wealth of the Poor and Middle Class.
      So, in a way, (like Trotsky?) Trump will probably do all he can to keep the global rich coming.
      They say Singapore is a good model for attracting the very rich.
      I think Singapore is a model that most American would not adjust well to, but, as I was once told and to paraphrase, “It is better to be of interest (which Trump is very interesting) than to be ignored [globally]”. One advantage in electing Trump is that America will be able to tell exactly our position in the world, by the position the global community takes in answer to The Trump.
      Trump reminds me of my old Union President, he was effective and disgusting all at the same time. We will be able to, like America read the minds of the Republican Congress on the election of Obama, tell what is on the minds of the global community, by their actions or reactions to a Trump Presidency.
      My guess is that they will, figuratively of course, slip a five in his back pocket and pat him on the top of the head.
      A disgusting gesture to be sure, but one well recognized by those like Trump and within the international Community.
      Maybe being of interest is even more important, if your hotels depend on it. 🙂

    • Another problem is that it’s far from number 2.

      The only meaningful measure of how well the US is doing is living standards. Read this:

      Ultimately, everything we spend on is, or should be to allow the citizens of a nation to get a high standard of living. The US is failing in that regard and I would argue many of the problems are self-inflicted.

      The War on Terror is estimated to cost $4-6 trillion, so about $50000 – $75000 for a family of 4. There does seem to be a negative correlation here between military spending and standard of living. Other studies have shown pretty negative correlations between inequality and social health.

      Ultimately, what this comes down to is that wealth is going from society to special interests, like the military industrial complex. The biggest problem is not Communism, Terrorism, China or whatever the political establishment would like to suggest – it is the “Keep the money flowing”-ism that plagues the special interests.

      It is crippling the American middle class and their standards of living. Unless that improves, this whole thing is moot. It is like spending money on a giant wall to surround the city while people are getting poorer in the city. That and whether the wall would defend the city is itself open to question.

  7. “Maybe being of interest is even more important, if your hotels depend on it.”

    There maybe some truth to this, and by extrapolation this campaign, at this stage
    is nothing more than a self promotion tour, he has no intention to become President.
    He is though appealing to a segment of the masses, with simplistic stands on
    “made in America” and illegal immigration issues, none of which addresses
    the core issue of monopolies, and oligarchy, of which he himself is a part.
    And here we have the real tragedy, in the western world, it’s all coming
    down to voting for the least worst option. There you have it,. yet another
    Bush. or a Clinton,,,we’re all F^&*ed!

  8. It is not just who the figure head is … but who they have behind the scenes pulling the strings … for instance

    VP (former replacement CIA director) … claims no knowledge of such activities
    because he was fulltime administration point person deregulating financial industry … creating S&L crisis
    along with other members of his family
    and another

    Later a son, presides over the economic mess, 70 times larger than S&L crisis.

    more members of family

    Lehman’s Gift To Jeb Bush For Funneling Pension Money: A $1.3 Million Consulting “Job”

    Securitized mortgages had been used during the S&L crisis to obfuscate fraudulent mortgages (posterchild were office bldgs in Dallas/Ft.Worth area that turned out to be empty lots. In the late 90s, I was asked to look at improving the integrity of supporting documents as countermeasures. Then loan originators were securitizing loans&mortgages and paying for triple-A ratings (when both the sellers and the rating agencies knew they weren’t worth triple-A, from Oct2008 congressional testimony). Triple-A rating trumps supporting documentation and they can start doing no-documentation liar loans. Being able to pay for triple-A eliminated any reason for loan originators to care about borrowers’ qualifications or loan quality, they could sell off (all loans as fast as they could be made) to customers restricted to dealing in “safe” investments (like large pension funds, claim is it accounts for 30% loss in funds and trillions shortfall for pensions), largely enabling being able to do over $27T 2001-2008

    From the law of unintended consequences, the lack of documents force the TBTF to set up the large robo-signing mills to fabricate documents for foreclosures (for which they’ve been fined tens of billions).

    If that wasn’t enough, they also start packaging securitized loans/mortgages designed to fail, pay for triple-A, sell to their victim customers, and then take out CDS gambling bets they would fail (creating enormous demand for dodgy loans & mortgages). Largest holder of CDS gambling bets was AIG and was negotiating to pay off at 50-60cents on the dollar, when the secretary of treasury steps in and forces them to sign a document that they can’t sue those making the gambling bets and to take TARP funds to payoff at 100cents on the dollar. The largest recipient of TARP funds was AIG and the largest recipient of face-value payoffs was TBTF formerly headed by sec-of-treasury

    2010 CBO report that after PAYGO expires (spending can’t exceed revenue),
    then tax revenue was cut by $6T and spending increased by $6T for $12T budget gap (compared to PAYGO financial responsible baseline budget). Middle of last decade, comptroller general was including in speeches that nobody in congress was capable of middle school arithmetic for how badly they were savaging the budget.

    End of 2008, just the four largest TBTF still had $5.2T “off-book” (with only appropriated $700B, justification of TARP for buying toxic assets was possibly pure fabrication)

    Bernanke fought hard battle in the courts to prevent disclosure what he was doing behind the scenes with the tens of trillions in ZIRP funds. After the FED was finally forced to make public what they were doing, Bernanke told the press that he thought that the TBTF would use the ZIRP funds to lend to mainstreet, but when they didn’t, he had no way to force them (but he also didn’t stop the ZIRP funds)

    Note supposedly one of the reasons Bernanke was chosen as new chair of the FED was because he was a depression era scholar. However, the FED had tried something similar in the 30s and wallstreet had reacted similarly … so there was no reason that Bernanke should have expected them to do anything different this time.

    To bail-out TBTF, the Federal Reserve buys the off-book assets at 98cents on the dollar (they had been going for 22cents on the dollar summer of 2008) and provides tens of trillions in ZIRP funds (TBTF uses to buy federal debt). Interest on debt now pushing half trillion/annum (after PAYGO expires). In theory FED could use ZIRP to buy treasuries directly and fed debt wouldn’t cost anything, but TBTF would be out nearly half trillion.

    After 6 Years Of QE, And A $4.5 Trillion Balance Sheet, St. Louis Fed
    Greenspan Imagines Better, Alternate Universe in Which Greenspan Was Not Fed Chair

    • The fff.org article is miss-leading. Which party is in power does make a difference, but, because of feedback and feedforward, when the administration changes from “R” to “D” or from “D” to “R”, there is a limit on what a new administration is able to accomplish. I am not sure that is a bad thing.
      I mean to me Libertarians are basically anarchist, so they are not really big on any kind of government and the article had a bias to begin with. I think, obviously, that it was written to promote that bias. If an anarchist gets into power, they will make Reagan look like a free-wheeling progressive. Which, if you look at the candidates in the Republican Party today, he was. 🙂
      On the other hand, if you look at where the resources are coming from for both parties, there is a lot of truth to the fff.org article. I think most corporations in America are multinational, and the resources are coming from the global corporate economy.
      In other words, the means (resources) for both parties are basically coming from the same world view. It is only after examining the ways and ends of each party that a difference starts to show up.
      I mean, you understand that both parties are Capitalists, and all capitalist pretty much act in a similar manner. It is only the position they hold in the world that differentiates the R from the D.
      “It is not just who the figure head is … but who they have behind the scenes pulling the strings … for instance”
      I think the commentator is right, and while Obama used much of the Clinton’s team in handling the financial crises and used much of the Bush/Reagan team in dealing with terrorism, the actions were done according to the Democratic platform of paying as you go and from the position of supporting a strong federal government. A government that the Libertarians and, to a certain extent, the Republicans don’t want to support, as the Republicans have no interest in seeing that the things they want are paid for.
      So the difference between parties are hard to see, but there is a difference. If you don’t see any difference it probably means you are drinking from today’s popular anarchist cup.
      Which is fine, if you like drinking alone in today’s global world. I think the rest of the US has to find a way of adapting to reality.

  9. Had a professor at the Air Force Academy, an army light colonel, who liked to remind us that the ghost of General Shinseki stalked the halls of the pentagon, intoning ’10 years, 500,000 troops.’

    • Thanks — did he say whether the ghost got any more attention than the real general?

      [For those who are taking this too literally, Gen. Shinseki is very much still alive.]

    • I think Chet is right. It could be that Gen. Shinseki was correct, but does the guy, he’s not talking to, know it? And if he knew would he care, because the situation is well in hand?

      • This was a decade ago but I think part of the joke is that if he were listened to he wouldn’t have to haunt the halls.

      • “but I think part of the joke is that if he were listened to he wouldn’t have to haunt the halls.”
        Do you have any evidence in that being the case? I mean it is getting pretty easy to target the IS. Isn’t there a time coming when someone is going to put the hammer down on the Colt?
        Or will we simply be out of ammunition, and will have to resort to shooting arrows?

  10. I feel like my comment just spiraled well beyond what was intended. And once again, the joke was 2005/2006ish, so pre-IS by a lot and before the need to make a desert and call it peace. I don’t know if Shinseki or the professor made the point but it was that to occupy and pacify a country sized like Iraq post invasion would take half a million and 10 years and that was what would be necessary but not sufficient for success. (I think Shinseki based it on experience in the Balkans?) At the very least that’s enough of a footprint to have a chance to keep the country from disintegrating right from the get go though my guess is it’d still fall apart, just slower but that’s getting way outside of my purview and I’m still trying to figure out why invading Iraq seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Anyways, it was a joke so a simplification of the situation and one from a decade ago so not pertinent to the situation now. Or maybe I’m missing something that you’re getting at. But either way, back when the US invaded if you operate on the assumption that we will go in then more troops and maybe a plan for after the invasion might have made a difference. I don’t see how it would have made things any worse.

    • “I feel like my comment just spiraled well beyond what was intended.”
      Sorry, I didn’t read the part where you said the ghost had been purged, so I assumed it was still there, and my comment was addressing him (it?) in the present.
      If the ghost is still there, then it has been made irrelevant, because it is obvious that we didn’t go into Iraq with any of what Shinseki had in mind. So the ghost has been rattling the halls completely out of context.
      ” I don’t see how it would have made things any worse.”
      The only way it could have been worst is if India and Pakistan had exchanged nukes and we are now in the middle of a nuclear winter, because, also obvious (at least to the ghost of the present), Saddam wasn’t a threat and OBL ended up in Pakistan.
      Which, when it comes down to it, I don’t think the Bush Administration cared about either points, nor what Shinseki had to say.
      It was all about a rule-set re-set (Thomas P.M Barnett), and never going home.

    • Murr,

      The problem is that nobody knows how many troops it would take to occupy a Middle Eastern country, so different from us in language, culture(s), and religion. Half a million sounds like a lot, but it could also just mean more targets.

      On the other hand, half a million represents less than 1.5% of the population.

      The best treatment of this issue that I’ve read is van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War.

      • “The problem is that nobody knows how many troops it would take to occupy a Middle Eastern country,…”
        That’s not really the problem. General Stanley McChrystal knew, but got taken-out before he was able to implement it in Afghanistan.
        I can’t speak for McChrystal, but my guess is that a military (any military) has such a strong structure and culture of its own that if it positions itself within a civilian population at a ratio of 1 solder for every 60 civilians, then all that other stuff goes away.
        The problem is you are occupying another country and I think history tells us that the occupied country’s culture is sooner or later going to breakdown the structure and culture of the occupiers.
        Of course this is all speculation on my part, but the environment writes the first source code of all those living within the environment and also acts as a virus in all other systems within the said environment.
        I suppose the real problem is that this virus eats up the resources and ethics of the occupying force and re-orients the occupiers in such a way that it loses its advantage in the environment it came from.
        So the problem is one of time not position.The occupiers need to leave before the virus has time to eat through its structure or combine time and distance and out maneuver the virus.
        Which brings us back to Boyd and the topic of spiraling.

  11. McChrystal was only quoting a historical fact. If it would, in fact, work in Afghanistan would be anyone’s guess.
    Those who would have to be the one of 60 didn’t seem interested in finding out whose guess was the right one, as it worked against their advantage.

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