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Sunday, August 31, 2014


Disgrace, also known as adding insult to injury. From the ravaging of the Benghazi consulate to this, the occupation of the abandoned American embassy annex in Tripoli. It is not surprising that the promoters of the gratuitous overthrow of Gaddafi are now largely silent.

As Talleyrand pointed out at the time, their game in Libya was ill timed, not just for poor, tragic Libya but also for a much bigger fish: Syria. Anyone paying attention knew in the spring of 2011 that Syria could become the central theatre in the moment some were then calling revolutionary in the Arab world. And anyone who knows anything about diplomacy knew then that all the prestige and power of the West and the affected regional states (not to mention Russia, then menacingly desperate to be seen, however pitifully, as a great power) had to come together to prevent what is, to date, the largest state collapse in recent memory, with the most far reaching consequences. If anyone thinks the contagion will stop at the Tigris in Iraq, or wait for outside powers to come up with a “strategy,” he is surely mistaken.

A good deal was squandered in the Libya adventure. But remembering how close NATO came to screwing it up (in good part because of America’s visible ambivalence over the wisdom of doing it at all), it is worth posing the question: was Gaddafi’s head really worth it? Prestige, power and public will are fragile, and sometimes finite. The action in Libya militarized the Western response to the Arab revolution. Someday things may look very different. But for now it’s hard to say that this was not a tragic case of too little, too soon.


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