Victor Davis Hanson: Our Libyan March Madness

Roundup: Historians' Take

[NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.]

The Obama administration’s Libyan strategy is a paradox — resulting from the president’s belatedly announcing that Moammar Qaddafi must go, using military force against him, and then denying that our objective is to see him leave. The president seems more knowledgeable about the tournament chances of two dozen college basketball teams than he does about the Libyan labyrinth. So let us review what follows from a campaign that has not been approved by Congress and is not supported by the American people — but which we must now hope works, given the commitment of American troops.


The Obama administration, after over two weeks of unrest in Libya, grandly declared that Qaddafi had to go. Why? I think because it seemed then almost certain that the rebels were just about to throw him out. We did not wish to seem calculating, opportunistic, and on the wrong side of history, as we had when we belatedly piggy-backed on the rather easy departures of dictators/not dictators — and former allies — Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

But any student of the Middle East could have reminded the president that Qaddafi is not Mubarak or Ben Ali, but more akin to Ahmadinejad, Assad, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. Tyrants of that stripe don’t leave when told to. They equate exile with a noose. Such thugs stay in power until they are killed or driven out by overwhelming military force — usually well beyond what dissidents and insurgents can muster.

After nearly three months, there is also still no typology, even if informal, offered of Middle Eastern unrest. The Obama administration has not explained how our muscularity with Libya fits into our larger policy of embracing “outreach” to Syria, not “meddling” in Iran, and keeping silent about Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain and about the popular unrest in the Gulf and Jordan. Where do we intervene in the region, for what and on behalf of whom, and how and for how long?...

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