Lessons of Libya

Muammar Qaddaffi, Libya’s dictator and long-time terrorist
sugar-daddy, has agreed to dismantle his WMD programs and allow
international inspections. The NYT’s December 20th article Lessons
of Libya
, covering this development, is unintentionally

An honest account would probably have read something like this:

When Qaddafi saw the Hussein capture pictures they must have scared
him silly. Realizing that the U.S. is no longer in the mood to take
shit from tin-pot tyrants in khaffiyehs, and that the U.S. military
could blow its way into Tripoli and give him a free dental exam in
less time than it would take for an utterly impotent U.N. to pass the
resolution condemning American action, he crawled to the Brits
whimpering “Don’t let your big brother hurt me,

Instead, we’re treated to a bunch of waffle: “To an extent
that cannot be precisely measured” and “yesterday’s
announcement also demonstrates the value of diplomacy and United
Nations sanctions”. I suspect the NYT will deny as long as it
can the real lesson of Libya, which is the same as the lessons of Iraq
and Afghanistan and, for that matter, Yugoslavia. And that is this:
the disarmament of rogue states has never once been accomplished by
the U.N. or by diplomacy or ‘international opinion’, but
is now being driven simply and solely by the fear of American military
power and the will to use it.

We are in what Karl Marx would have called a world-historical
moment — the first time that American hyperpuissance has
defanged a dictator without actual war. All the rules will
be different from now on, and Qaddafi (wily survivor that he is) has
figured them out well ahead of the Western chattering classes. The
most important rule is this: do not make the U.S. fear what
you might become, or it will break you.

Indeed, it seems very likely to me that future historians will date
the beginning of the 21st-century Pax Americana from Qaddafi’s
crawfishing. The U.S. is not merely maintaining its lead in economic
vigor and military heft over any conceivable opposing coalition, that
lead is actually increasing. Demographic trends (notably the fact that
Europeans and Japanese are not breeding at replacement levels) suggest
that U.S.’s relative power, in both ‘hard’ and
‘soft’ terms, will continue to increase through at least

The most visible indicator of this change, aside from the collapse
of awful governments in any number of Third-World pestholes, will be
the marginalization of the U.N. That organization, which has never
had hard power, will now lose its soft power as well. It might have
been different — but France and the other nations who aimed to
set the U.N. up as a geopolitical counterforce to the U.S. overplayed
their hand in the run-up to the liberation of Iraq. For that effort,
the capture of Saddam and Qaddafi’s surrender in the face of an
American-led New World Order are fatal blows. The U.N. may survive as
an umbrella for international aid agencies and a few technical
standards groups, but in the future it will constrain American
behavior less, not more.

The ripple effects on Middle Eastern, European, and U.S. domestic
politics will be significant. Even Arab News is
beginning to come around to the realization that the U.S. did the Arab
world a favor by deposing Saddam Hussein, and his capture
significantly betters the odds that the reconstruction of Iraq will
succeed. Since U.S. power has actually accomplished the peaceful
disarmament of a rogue state, making political hay in Europe from a
case against U.S. unilateralism is going to become steadily more
difficult. And in the U.S., the antiwar opposition is increasingly
marginal and demoralized as the war goes well and George Bush’s
re-election now looks like a near certainty.

To borrow Churchill’s phrase, this is not the end of the War on Terror.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Categorized as Terror


  1. Personally I think you ought to buy the damned NYT, write their editorials, and maybe act as editor too. Helluva good rewrite of that paragraph. Dunno about end of beginning or not. But it’s not a bad start on a beginning.

  2. The most important rule is this: do not make the U.S. fear what you might become, or it will break you.

    Don’t forget this lemma based on N. Korea’s actions:

    Become what the United States fears as quickly as possible so that they will leave you alone.

  3. I’m not convinced that Europe and Japan are who we need to be looking over our shoulder at in the economic power marathon. China strikes me as insufficiently committed to anything resembling free information flow to become truly efficient, but India scares me. They’re huge, they’re somewhat English-speaking, they have a growing high-tech infrastructure…they’re certainly not without (major) things holding them back, but they show potential. And they already have the bomb.


  4. Perhaps, although I think you write off China to quickly as they seem to be able to create a stronger economy without greater political freedom, for better or worse. But India? I don’t know, you’re right that they are rapidly improving themselves, but unlike China they don’t seem to be doing a great deal on the international stage yet (aside from annoying western nations by hogging IT jobs) Perhaps its because the interplay locally between China and Pakistan is keeping their attention focused? At least for the moment it doesn’t look India and Pakistan will be playing “hot potato” with each others nuclear weapons.

  5. The only prolem with your theory is it’s unsupported by the facts. Khaddafi began the negotiations in March, before the war had started. So unless he peered throuh time to see Saddam captured 8 months in the future, it had no bearing on his decision.

    It seems likely that his decision was financially rather than fear driven, hoping to end the sanctions against him.


  6. Quaddafi opened negotiations with the British (and us I presume) right before the Iraq War, and then folded unconditionally a week after Saddam’s capture, All of which is pretty damn coincidental if you try to spin it any other way. No doubt he hopes to improves his economy by securing it against our possible invasion, but he wouldn’t be so very happy to deal unless he thought there was immienent danger.

  7. While negotiations may have begun before the Iraq war to ease sanctions, I don’t think they would have been as successful if the war had gone differently. Qaddafi and other third world dictators are finally being frightened into behaving better. I think it’s about time we(the US) finally use all this extra military power we have for something constructive.

  8. Quaddafi saw the writing on the wall (and started negotiations with the Brits) as soon as he saw the UN and the axis of weasels get wiped out in their attempt to stop the US, the UK and the Coalition from moving in on Iraq. The capture of Saddam was just the final push over the edge. Quaddafi may be dumb but he ain’t stupid.

  9. I think Bruce hits the nail on the head. The key benefit of the Iraq war has been the sidelining of the UN. While in a way it is a shame that Saddam Hussein (a secular, westernised leader who I never saw in a keffiyah) had to be the one to get in the way, backing off would have been seen as giving in to the UN, which would have been disastrous for the future.

  10. I think there’s a good way to fend off the US: get one tenth of its military power, and they’ll never risk a campaign against you. Come on, why is this perpetual war against terrorism never directed against countries that have something at least resembling an army?

  11. Um…last I had checked, Iraq had significantly more than 10% of American military power in-theater, considering they had somewhere around one million uniformed soldiers, plus Soviet/Russian-supplied war technology.

    Admittedly, our soldiers and technology are better, but 10+ times better?

    The fact is, if the intelligence services ever start discovering indications that North Korea is either planning to attack us, or is supporting terrorists, we’ll beat them like a foster child.

  12. neo “con-man” wrote:

    Don’t forget this lemma based on N. Korea’s actions:

    Become what the United States fears as quickly as possible so that they will leave you alone.

    It remains to be seen whether the US is, in fact, leaving North Korea alone. I tend to think that Orson Scott Card is right in his analysis when he suggest that North Korea is being subjected to intense diplomatic pressure that cannot be made public.

    But never mind that. In any event, it is ludicrous to suggest that the US fears North Korea. The US can vaporize NK at any moment, and the North Koreans are completely powerless to prevent this. (Sure, maybe they have a couple of working nukes. That doesn’t mean they can actually use them to attack the US in the half-hour or so between when the American ICBMs are launched and when they detonate? Not a chance.) The US also has the capability to crush NK in a non-nuclear invasion. So why has it not done either? Simply because either action would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people — some of whom would be US soldiers, but the vast majority of whome would be North and South Koreans. It isn’t in the national interest of the US to precipitate such a nightmare scenario unless all the alternatives are worse. In other words, the US policy is actually motivated by compassion, not fear. If fear were the only motivating factor, the most sensible policy would be “destroy them now, while we still can.” Instead, the US is pursuing a policy of containment, isolation, and intense diplomatic pressure in the hope that a way can be found to defuse the NK time bomb instead of deliberately setting it off.

  13. esr:

    I like your logic, but I have difficulty agreeing with your optimism.

    “the beginning of the 21st-century Pax Americana”?? Oh, I only wish! And yes, if there is one, Libya’s capitulation will certainly be seen as the beginning of it.

    On the other hand, all it takes is a period of relative quiet and prosperity, a well-meaning American president with a short memory, and there goes the ball game. We’d be back to appeasement and all the rest of it, until the NEXT crisis.

    ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’ I do hope that we don’t forget that lesson. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

    cautiously yours,
    Daniel in Medford

  14. North Korea, being annoying to all of its neighbors including the PRC they depend upon for food, is juggling an awful lot of animosities. The PRC has the ability to pull the plug at any time just by closing the border. The US wants the PRC to pull the plug, not for the US to have to invade. That way, the PRC has to take responsibility for the inevitable post Kim mess.

    The idea of the US going it alone or being the only one to understand the threat posed by these states is and has always been oversimplistic.

  15. The problem with this idea is that it leaves exactly zero room for non-violent action. Whenever any change is brought about by non-violent action, one can always say “Ahhhh, but the non-violence only worked because I had a gun tucked into my PJs”.

    So let me turn that on its head: that violence only works because you have people willing to repair the damage using non-violent action: that is, via the free market.

  16. Money quote from Christian Science Monitor story:

    “Ultimately economic isolation was the chief factor in Qaddafi’s turnaround, experts say. “Qaddafi got out of the terrorism business in the 90s, and he’s getting out of WMD now because domestically he’s up against a wall,” says Mr. O’Hanlon. “The greatest incentive…is the prospect of reestablishing economic relations” with Europe and the US.”

    It’s nice to know the experts agree with me.



  17. hearn: Yes, at least ten times better. US force multipliers, training, and the like compared with Iraqi conscripts with no morale, bad or broken equipment (which is itself decades behind ours), and the Iraqis had, in terms of actual military force, practically no army at all, let alone one 1/10 as strong as the US forces deployed in theater.

    wukailong: Who do you suggest? North Korea? Yes, brilliant idea. Obviously the determining factor there is the North Korean army’s size, not the fact that they’re a stone’s throw from Seoul and quite probably have nuclear weapons.

    I can’t think of any nation on the earth that has a military force equal to 1/10 the US’s deployable military power. (As an American, I think that’s a profoundly good thing, too, though I wouldn’t be at all upset if Britain or Australia had such a force.)

  18. “What would happen if the Patriarchy learned of this?”
    “War,” said the kzin. “A heavily provisioned fleet would attack the puppeteer worlds…”
    “And then?”
    “Then the leaf-eaters would exterminate my people down to the last kitten. Louis, I do not intend to tell anybody anything…”

    — from Ringworld, by Larry Niven. The thugs and hoods of the world are starting to learn that it is dangerous to be dangerous – and fatal to be too dangerous.

  19. I can’t believe how impressed you are with this.
    Writing an entire article on how fantastic it is to be the bully of planet earth is enough to make me toss my cookies. Just because you sound smart doesn’t mean that you are. Adding to this you have people like Steve (currently at the top of the comments list) who are nearly as far up your b*m as Tony Blair is up George Bush’s. I think I might need some time in ICU to recover.
    What has happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places have been crimes against humanity. You strike me as the kind of person who will use the term “collateral damage” instead of dead woman and children. I can understand it though, with so many accolytes it might get a bit difficult to think that you might get something wrong, as the sun rises and sets with you.
    The plain truth of it is that America is a bully. Bullies only have power for short periods of time. At some point their victims band together for revenge or they do something as a result of their own stupidity that causes their own downfall.
    Good luck with that bullying thing.

  20. anon: I’m sorry you think that way. It is true that many people have died as a result of US invasions in said countries. But many, many, many more are alive because of it. As each day continues, more names can be added to that list, because if Saddam et. al. were still in power, more people would still be dying under their rule.
    And those that live now have not just more freedom, but they have the opportunity to grow and better themselves and their country. They can raise their families with ‘less’ fear and have more opportunities that you so obviously take for granted.
    Open your eyes.

  21. Wellll…. Fernando…. we’ll take the eight hundred years to go before the fall right now. Like you said… sooner or LATER.

    As for the bring out the crying towels living in hunger while alive…. humm, you can’t be hungry in a mass grave, can you?

  22. “Pax Americana”? Sheesh, Eric. At the end of WWII, when the US commanded more than 50% of gross global product, we could have afforded to enforce such a thing. Today, with a declining share of global product, an aging population, and an administration intent on running such huge deficits that we face the very real possibility of a balance-of-payments crisis, it is insanity to contemplate such a thing. The only way it might be feasible is by enlisting all other democratic, advanced nations in the cause, but then, we’re doing our best to piss our allies off.

    Dumb. Classic example of imperial overstretch. The Pax Sinica, perhaps, after the US has exhausted itself trying to change the Arab world.

  23. by pissing off our allies, i assume you are referring to the french. i fail to see how they have ever been our allies. they have only ever helped us to help themselves. to me, that is not an ally, but a fair-weather friend.

    as for the war being about the oil, you DO realize that it would have been easier, cheaper, and less risky to just drop the sanctions and BUY the oil, right? rather than spending billions of dollars, losing a few hundred American lives (which is quite amazing, considering that it was a war), and making a second term in office a more difficult goal to achieve.

  24. And that is this: the disarmament of rogue states has never once been accomplished by the U.N. or by diplomacy or international opinion, but is now being driven simply and solely by the fear of American military power and the will to use it.

    … except for the signal case of Iraq, where each day of failing to find WMD drives home all the more forcefully what opponents of the war were saying before it started: the inspections program was working.

    Indeed, one reading of the script is: the US stood behind the UN’s efforts to get Saddam peacefully disarmed until it knew the job was done, then proceeded to pile in and exploit the consequence of that – that Iraq was suddenly easy to conquer.

    Thus has the US managed to discredit a UN project that worked – indeed, the prime reason why the UN is now useless is that the US has chosen to make it so. Once your country has been bankrupted by the costs of your spiraling deficits, you will fail to live up to the obligation of looking after the messes you have created; and there will be no UN to pick up the pieces.

    Mean time, the number of poor bastards being killed by Saddam’s regime is thankfully zero, but the local extremists are making an anti-heroic effort to make up for it; if we can’t get sane safe government going under the stable control of someone better than Saddam, the only benefit of this war (assuming we don’t count big profits to large western engineering corporations on contracts the local Iraqi engineering industry could deliver for a tenth the cost) suddenly crumbles to ashes in our fingers and we’ll be blamed

    for the mess that happens while we’re in control
    for the mayhem that happens between our departure and the arrival of stable government and
    for the brutal repressive successors of Saddam that take control of that government once it stabilises.

    All this on top of those with long enough memories to remember western support for Saddam back in the ’80s (the hey-day of his evil, notably
    the era of his use of western-supplied
    chemical weapons against citizens of Iraq; which didn’t get a squeek of protest from such close buddies as Dick Cheney – yay for the champions of freedom !).

    Let us all hope the saner factions in Iraq are able, now, to build a truly multilateral sane government the people of Iraq can all unite behind …

  25. samkit: you DO realize that it would have been easier, cheaper, and less risky to just drop the sanctions and BUY the oil, right? rather than spending billions of dollars

    You ignore a few things, namely:

    1) that the key difference is in the *control* of the oil:; France & Russia were negotiating contracts that would likely have been honored after a UN-led invasion (unlike what I expect to happen now),

    2) that governmental debt is a *good thing* in the eyes of the current administration. Just like the massive kick backs to the richest (a direct reward), massive governmental debt is a transparent setup to borrow that money and paying interest too (an indirect reward).

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