Those who think U.S. troops should be in Libya are wrong

The recent fight between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz over the 2011 Libyan Civil War is spilling out into other parts of the conservative and libertarian blogosphere. AP wrote a couple days ago on the kerfuffle and how Cruz is attempting to straddle the fence between the hawks and the doves with various degrees of success. Hot Air alum Noah Rothman is also weighing in on the issue, writing at Commentary how he believes Libya would have been more safe if U.S troops had stuck around (emphasis mine).

That collapse came suddenly. What had been designed as an air war that would degrade Tripoli’s ability to wage a campaign of terror on civilians in Libya’s rebellious west soon transformed into air support mission for anti-government forces. Six months into the air campaign, and after just 64 NATO-led strikes on Gaddafi’s capital, the dictator was forced to go into hiding. Hillary Clinton immediately expressed qualified support for Libya’s ramshackle interim government, even before Gaddafi was captured and murdered by his countrymen – a fate that stiffened the spines of the Arab leaders facing similar unrest in their countries, and cemented their resolve to resist their ouster at all costs…

It’s easy for some to suggest that Western interventionism is the problem here, and the world would be better off if the cries of the civilians Gaddafi slaughtered went ignored. That’s only an argument that can be made from outside the Oval Office, but it is one that has a broad political constituency. To claim that Libya is a “neo-con” failure, however, is a willful misrepresentation of neo-conservatism. Libya is a disaster today as a result not of Western engagement but withdrawal. Cruz has drawn the worst lesson from the Libyan debacle: half-measures will almost always produce suboptimal results.

The problem is Rothman ignores several factors regarding U.S. involvement in foreign entanglements. For one, the American military had around 140K total troops actively engaged in combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2011. That may be just a fraction of the 1.4M total military members in 2011, but it ignores where the troops are and what their mission was. One Air Force veteran told me she had two months notice before deployment into a combat zone, but also noted some people get at least five months notice. notes it can take even longer for some troops to be ready to deploy:

Experienced military wives often say that the six months before deployment is the worst phase.  Spouses make the effort to enjoy their service member before the inevitable parting, but those efforts are thwarted by unpredictable work-up schedules.  For instance, family dinners around large meals are fouled by the service member coming home late. It’s not his fault that another unit failed to pass their ‘quals,’ but the family feels resentful nonetheless. Promised birthday parties and soccer games are missed because of extended sea trials or war games.

But it also depends on the branch of the military and mission scope. This isn’t The Unit or The Activity, where troops go out on moment’s notice. Good mission planning tends to take time, especially in unknown territory like Libya. The U.S. has to vet allies or else it will run into the same situation it did after the “surge” in Iraq . General David Petraeus decided to arm Sunnis as a way to convince them to fight against Al Qaeda. Once the U.S started focusing on Afghanistan more than Iraq in 2011 (the same year the airstrikes in Libya happened), it didn’t take long for Iraq to splinter. Remember, Sunnis felt ostracized by the Shi’a Iraqi government even before the U.S. pulled out. The spiral was going to happen in Iraq regardless as to how long the military was there. Al Jazeera even reported it’s gotten to the point where Sunni sheikhs are starting to support ISIS in the Anwar province of Iraq. This doesn’t mean all of ISIS is Sunni or every Sunni is an ISIS supporter, but it points out just how bad the strategy of “the surge” was.

The other issue Rothman doesn’t answer is how long he would have kept troops in Libya to “maintain order.” The U.S. was/has been in Iraq for over 12 years, and it’s still a hellhole. Afghanistan is still fighting the Taliban after U.S involvement for 13+ years. Should the U.S. put 300K troops each in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep the peace? Should they consider doing the same thing in Libya? That would mean only 3-400K U.S. troops wouldn’t in warzones, which isn’t a wise strategy to take. This is why the idea Libya would be more stable if troops had gone in and taken over is ludicrous. It’s here where Cruz is correct about half-measures not equaling results. Sure Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi are gone (and they were definitely “bad guys”), but what’s replaced them is absolute chaos. U.S. and NATO involvement in the Middle East and Northern Africa is why ISIS is on the rise. The only way to fight a war is to go all out and level everything. If politicians aren’t willing to do this, then they need to just not be involved in foreign entanglements. It’s better to consider letting free trade and individual businesses try to convince other individuals of the merits of freedom. It isn’t exactly wise to try to force it upon others at the barrel of a gun.