Libya’s Slippery Slope

Barely 24 hours after the first Allied air strikes, President Obama’s high-flying Libyan adventure is losing altitude. The smoke hadn’t cleared from the first air strikes when the head of the Arab League complained that “what happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives. What we want is civilians’ protection, not shelling more civilians.” Russia and China, who abstained at the Security Council, are already getting restless.

There’s trouble on the horizon.

Initially skeptical of intervention in Libya’s civil war, the President reportedly bowed to pressure from a triumvirate of women in his administration: Hillary Clinton, National Security Council director of “multilateral affairs” Samantha Power, and UN ambassador Susan Rice. Yet the President imposed some conditions, according to the New York Times:

The president had a caveat, though. The American involvement in military action in Libya should be limited — no ground troops — and finite. ‘Days, not weeks,’ a senior White House official recalled him saying.

Years, not weeks, is more like it – that’s how fast we’re sliding down the slippery slope into a full-bore campaign of “regime change” in Libya. And that will be just fine with the three Vengeful Valkyries of the US State Department.

Power is a former journalist who says she was “obsessed” with Bosnia during the run-up to the Balkan war, and whose “human rights” agenda is a perfect reflection of the liberal “humanitarian” interventionist mindset. She was briefly famous when, during the Democratic presidential primary, she decried Hillary Clinton as a “monster.” Well, it looks like she’s more than made her peace with the monster – and, indeed, become a bit of a monster herself, – as the two team up to push us into yet another Middle Eastern war.

Married to Cass “Let’s Infiltrate the Internet” Sunstein, a White House adviser, Power is indeed obsessed with dispensing “social justice” worldwide as an instrument of US foreign policy. If she had her way – and she may yet – US troops would be in Darfur, Rwanda, and any number of Third World hellholes, nation-building, handing out goodies, and getting shot at by the grateful populace.

Susan Rice, former Undersecretary of State for African Affairs during the Clinton administration, is yet another “humanitarian” in search of “genocides” to avenge. Like Power, she believes we ought to have intervened in Rwanda, and is part of a hard-liner clique, including her mentor Madeleine Albright and the late Richard Holbrooke, that holds the view the US must take a more interventionist stance in Africa, which, Rice avers, is undergoing its “first world war.” And she means for us to take sides in that war. When Ethiopia invaded Somalia, in 2007, Ms. Rice cheered the advance of the Ethiopian dictator Mele Zenawi’s armies as they rampaged through the country. Zenawi’s regime is now targeting neighboring Eritrea. Will the White House, under Rice’s tutelage, support that, too?

The leading member of this Amazonian triumvirate is, of course, our Secretary of State, whose support for US intervention in Libya was signaled early on when Bill Clinton said we ought to go in. Hillary’s key role in dragging us into Libya’s civil war hardly comes as a shock. During the presidential primary, she distinguished herself from Obama by assuming a “tough” foreign policy stance, famously running an attack ad that conjured a hapless President Obama getting a call on the red phone at three in the morning. Rather than rethink her position on Iraq, even after the disastrous consequences of the invasion began to roll in, she held her ground and refused to back off her support for the war. As I said at the time of her appointment:

“Remember the Clinton ad about the phone call at three in the morning? Well, now it looks like it’ll be Hillary making that call, if and when it has to be made – a clever bit of political jiu-jitsu on Obama’s part that has generally gone unremarked amid the praise for the alleged smartness of the Clinton appointment. What’s not so smart, however, is that he’s essentially conceding the realm of foreign affairs to the Clintons.

What we’ll have, in effect, is a co-presidency, with Obama taking the lead on domestic matters … The Clintons, on the other hand, will be put in charge of shoring up the Empire and reassuring our allies that the only ‘change’ will be a regression: don’t worry, we’re just going back to the 1990s.”

Which is where we are today. President Clinton set a new record as far as the sheer number of times he intervened abroad: Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Kosovo – this last, you’ll recall, at Hillary’s persistent urging. The “humanitarian” wing of the War Party is in the saddle, and they are just as ideological, just as bellicose, and just as self-deluded as their neoconservative counterparts on the right.

Gadhafi has promised “a long war.” Is the US prepared for that? For – make no mistake – it is the Americans who will be asked to take up the main burden of what is bound to degenerate into an extended “peacekeeping” operation. Our European allies just don’t have the military capacity, and none of the Arab countries, for all their bluster, are up to the job, either.

Gadhafi may come on as a madman, and may indeed actually be a madman, but there is a definite method to his madness, and it has served him well so far. For over 40 years, he’s managed to stay in power in a very rough neighborhood, surviving the bombing of his palace by Ronald Reagan and crushing every sign of internal rebellion up until now. He also has a significant base of support in the western provinces, and from some tribal leaders in the south.

I see that the US and its allies are now backing off the “regime change” rhetoric, but that won’t be so easy. Having taken that first step into the Libyan quagmire, we’re fated to slide down the increasingly slippery slope of Libya’s complicated internal politics, until we land smack dab in the middle of a godawful mess.

Our too-smart-for-their-own-good policy wonks in the State Department are convinced they’re getting ahead of the Arab Awakening and that the US will be greeted as a liberator by pro-democracy forces everywhere. Except, of course, in Yemen, where we’re backing another President-for-life who just murdered peaceful protesters: oh yes, and also except for Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, where peaceful protesters are being killed and jailed by pro-US monarchs. But that is really the least of our worries: after all, a global hegemon doesn’t have to answer to anybody, and so calling out our inconsistencies has little impact in Washington.

No, our real problem is going to be the Libyan opposition. Having adopted them, we are stuck with them – and subject to their further demands. And first and foremost among those demands is going to be regime change. Rather than stay in Cyrenaica, the eastern part of the country which has its own historical identity and separatist aspirations, the rebels are determined to march on Tripoli – and they will be wanting (nay, demanding) air cover, arms, “advisers,” and other forms of aid, which they are sure to get.

There are no half measures in war. Sooner rather than later, the President is going to have to decide if the US wants to commit US forces to Libya in a big way. “Days, not weeks,” is a fantasy. The Libyan rebels have now been placed under our protection: we are the champions of their cause. From protecting Benghazi, we are already well on our way to establishing yet another American protectorate in the Middle East. The empire expands, even as the economy shrinks, and one has to wonder: how long can this go on?

Americans, in voting for Barack Obama, voted for less intervention, fewer wars, and the prospect of real change in our foreign policy of global intervention. They didn’t sign on to a “team of equals,” and nobody asked them if they wanted American foreign policy turned over to the Clintons.

The President will live to regret the day he allowed himself to be nagged into ordering US military intervention in the Libyan civil war. Gadhafi is not just a clown, he’s a dangerous and sinister clown: to get in the ring with this madman is a mistake. Gadhafi will goad and lure him and his Amazons ever deeper into the Libyan quicksand, until there is no hope of early extrication. Now that the US and its allies are involved, the Libyan despot can play the anti-Western, anti-imperialist card with some credibility: this will shore up his previously waning support in the west and the south.

It is indeed going to be a long war, one that will cost us much more than we can ever hope to gain.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].