Back in 2011, the Libyan intervention was a bit of an obsession of mine. It wasn’t just that we were starting yet another deployment of American military power in the Middle East. It was how desperate liberals, after years of complaining about Iraq, wanted to be seen as tough, cool, and serious. Self-styled liberals and progressives fell all over themselves to declare this a good war. When it comes to foreign policy, American political journalists and analysts fall into two camps: those who support every conceivable military operation imaginable, and those who take a kind of tick-tock approach to warmaking, being sure to balance their rejection of one conflict with the aggressive embrace of another, in order to prove how Very Serious they are in the village that is elite political media. A potential third alternative– a profoundly necessary alternative, given the last decade and a half of American failure– is a set of pundits and journalists who recognize that military intervention is almost always a disaster for both America and the people on whose behalf our military supposedly intervenes, and who therefore oppose military adventurism and aggressive foreign policy as a matter of principle. This third alternative essentially does not exist within connected, elite media.
In the immediate aftermath of the Libyan intervention, Ackerman spoke for the liberal hawks, if only after the fact. Here’s what he had to say in 2011:
In the spirit of intellectual honesty, I need to concede that I got the Libya war wrong. Several Danger Room pieces under my byline ran this year predicting that Libya was an open-ended mission, lacked a clear plan for victory, and could lead to NATO peacekeepers battling post-Gadhafi insurgents. While reasonable people can disagree about whether the war was in the U.S. interest (or even legal), or whether President Obama portrayed it honestly, the fact is that the war successfully ended after eight months, contrary to consistent predictions on display here.
We owe it to you to acknowledge forthrightly that we were wrong, and probably too blinded with fears of Iraq 2.0. It’s not just the Pentagon that has trouble with predictions.
This is a Very Serious fellow! And a seriously very wrong fellow. Libya is in chaos. Nothing was finished. Nothing was successful. The country is broken, utterly broken. The political apparatus is in shambles. Basic governance has failed. Militias vie for control. Ordinary citizens lack any control of their country and suffer without basic services. All of this was predictable. Some of us warned as much at the time. Like me!
what actually matters– what has moral valence– is the material condition of the lives of the Libyan people. Nothing there is finished. Nothing is settled. To call it a democracy now would be an absurd act of projection. Many corrupt men are now freely operating in Libya, armed to the teeth and with a feeling of entitlement. Some of them want to execute homosexuals, oppress women, and adopt Islamic theocracy. Some want to ensure the ascension of their tribe or clan. Some just want to get their piece of the pie. But that’s the reality. There is neither security nor stability yet, and anyone who actually cares for the future of the Libyan people would admit that.
As I said at the time, the time frame of genuine humanitarianism– of ensuring that actual human beings are capable of living lives with basic material security and democratic power– is far, far longer than the time frame of pundit careerism. To declare Libya won at that date was wrong on its face, as there was no possibility that anyone could have safely said that security and political stability had been established. Those things take time, and I’m afraid our political media doesn’t have time to wait.
So Spencer. (In the spirit of intellectual honesty!) Care to revise your opinion on Libya?
Update: Some people are saying to me, well, it may not have ended successfully for Libya, but from the point of view of NATO, it was a successful mission. That doesn’t make any sense. The only pretext for this war was humanitarianism. There was never any self-defense argument made. Since the humanitarian outcome was the only goal, and the humanitarian situation is a disaster, you can’t call Libya a win for intervention.