Victor Davis Hanson: Lessons from Libya?

Roundup: Historians' Take

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.

Is the horrific murder of the loathsome Qaddafi a sign of things to come or an aberration of the mob? Will Libya become a Somalia on the Mediterranean or follow Tunisia’s path (which itself is not assured)? Some conservatives will argue that the removal of Saddam, the fostering of consensual government in Iraq, and support for constitutional government elsewhere in the Middle East — despite the demonization and eventual near destruction of the Bush administration — set the stage for what followed. Liberals will counter that “leading from behind” diminished knee-jerk Anti-Americanism by lowering our profile and allowed others to help along Qaddafi’s exit at little cost.

Some general observations:

1. As we see with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt, the end of dictators is not the end of problems. The more the U.S. invests, the more it has some control over the outcome—and yet the more it will spend money and lives, the more political criticism it earns, here and abroad. Note that the U.S. can control the postbellum government much better in an Iraq or Afghanistan than in Libya or Egypt, given the greater military investment, but now at a political cost in blood and treasure that is no longer sustainable....

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