How Libya revealed the huge gap between U.S. and European military might

A campaign devised to showcase the benefits of multilateral action has done exactly the reverse. Easy talk about declining power, multipolarity, and cooperation raises a fairly straightforward question: Exactly whose cooperation do we mean to obtain? Here, the reply also tends to be straightforward: the Europeans, obviously. Leaving aside the question of will—that is, whether the Europeans wish to cooperate in garrisoning the farthest-flung precincts of (what used to be) American influence—is it really necessary to point out that, given the assumption European power alone would suffice to persuade Qaddafi to back down, someone on the Obama team ought to have inquired about European capabilities—that is, whether the Europeans can do this or, more to the point, anything at all? Because, for ten years—or 20, or 60, depending on one’s reading of the international scene—it has been fairly straightforward, obvious even, that the Europeans have left their historical role to history…

If it reveals anything, the war in Libya shows that Obama’s predecessors didn’t spin their proclivities for unilateral action out of whole cloth. “The Libyan crisis has strikingly exposed the lack of a European defense policy: no ability to achieve a common political vision and no capacity to take on an operation of this kind,” said French defense analyst Bruno Tertrais, while a European diplomat predicted to the German news agency Deutsche Press Agentur that a common European defense policy “died in Libya—we just have to pick a sand dune under which we can bury it.” Indeed, the Germans have remained strenuously neutral during the conflict, other than to snipe at the French and the British, while the latter, according to The Washington Post, have nearly run out of bombs to drop.

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