Yglesias Award Nominee

“The reasons for rethinking the intervention go beyond Libya itself. I had placed a great deal of emphasis on the demonstration effects of an intervention. My hope had been that the intervention would act to restrain other autocrats from unleashing deadly force against protesters and encourage wavering activists to push forward in their demands for change. Unfortunately, this only partially panned out and had unintended negative effects. U.S. cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council states in Libya compelled it to turn a blind eye to the simultaneous crushing of Bahrain’s uprising.

The worst effects were on Syria. The Libya intervention may have imposed a certain level of caution on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leading him to search for just the right level of repression to stay beneath the threshold for international action. But that didn’t last for long and his violence quickly escalated,” – Marc Lynch, in a bracing reflection on his misjudgments in the fast-moving era of the Arab Spring.

I await the other advocates of the Libya debacle to approach this kind of intellectual honesty. Larison, meanwhile, notes that

the demonstration effect and deterring-dictators arguments never made much sense, as I said many times back in 2011.

What I found the most troubling was the argument that such a major move, with unforeseeable consequences, was justified urgently to avoid a potential massacre. In other words, a humanitarian emergency was used to brush away all the usual weighing of the pros and cons of such a grave decision as to go to war. Which, to my mind, only underlines the necessity of restoring the Congress’s full control of war powers.