Libya Is Turning into a Catastrophe: Where Are All the Pundits Who Cheered for Its Invasion?


As the fifth anniversary of the NATO invasion of Libya approaches, news that the Pentagon is preparing to send troops to the north African country barely made headlines in the U.S. The Islamic State, and other jihadi groups control large swaths of the country and a unity government remains elusive. Libya, which had one of the highest standard of living in Africa before the 2011 invasion, has since become a failed state and a safe-haven for various radical groups. It’s also almost entirely been forgotten by most of the mainstream media.

Publications like New York Times, and The New Yorker have done a fairly thorough job following up, documenting the day-to-day struggles of those living in post-invasion Libya, but, unlike in 2011, it isn’t leading nightly news broadcasts or discussions among cable talking heads. Nor is it a hot topic for the 2016 election. In short, the disaster the United States helped create -- because, unlike Iraq, it doesn’t involve American soldiers coming home in body bags -- has been relegated to the B section, a classic cycle-of-violence world news story rarely put in the context of American military aggression. Most cynical of all: those who advocated most loudly for the war, who cheered on the NATO bombing and the CIA-assisted rebels, are silent.

The people of Libya have gone from their most urgent priority to a non-entity in a matter of five years. Their well-being, while once ostensibly the most important matter for prominent liberal pundits like Nick Kristof, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Peter Beinart, is a total non-issue; rarely if ever mentioned by those who championed regime change. But back when the U.S. was prepping for war, they seemingly cared about little else at the time:

Nick Kristof: "Bill Clinton endorsed a no fly zone over Libya. He used one over the Balkans to save lives & we can do the same now."

Anne-Marie Slaughter: "The international community cannot stand by and watch the massacre of Libyan protesters. In Rwanda we watched. In Kosovo we acted".

Peter Beinart: "And showing that they can be stopped somewhere—first in Bosnia and Kosovo, hopefully now in Libya—may make dictators pause to reflect that they could be next."

Today? Neither Nick Kristof nor Anne-Marie Slaughter have tweeted a substantive reference to Libya since November 2014 and February 2015 respectively and both were in reference to an article calling them on their support for regime change by Glenn Greenwald. Before that Kristof hadn’t substantively mentioned Libya since November 2013, or roughly two-and-a-half years ago and Anne Marie Slaughter has been silent on the topic since August 2014, over a year-and-a-half ago, when she did so in the context of pushing for intervention in Iraq. Anne-Marie Slaughter and Nick Kristof are frequent tweeters, both having sent out about 25,000 posts on the popular social media platform.

Peter Beinart, who was one of the most vocal liberal advocates for war, hasn’t tweeted out a substantive reference to Libya since December 2013 - twenty-seven months ago - and like Slaughter only did so to push for intervention in another country, this time Syria. Libya as such is not only rarely mentioned, it's only done so to help push for further military invasions.

Slaughter, Kristof, and Beinart haven’t written any follow-up articles on Libya over the past two years as Libya has descended further into a failed state. In 2011, Slaughter and Kristof both wroteself-congratulatory articles about the “successful” bombing in the fall of 2011; both, in retrospect, very prematurely. Much like the early Iraq War apologia, these are typically marked by hand-picked token Arabs echoing American NatSec conventional wisdom. Kristof has mastered this infomercial-like trope, most notably in his August 2011 Libya war-boosting piece, "Thank You, America!":

As I was walking back from Green Square (now renamed “Martyrs’ Square”) to my hotel on Wednesday morning, a car draped in the victorious Libyan flag pulled up and offered me a lift. “I just want you to feel welcome here,” explained the driver, Sufian al-Gariani, a 21-year-old salesman. He beamed when he heard where I was from and declared: “Thank you, Americans. Thank you, President Obama".

A very ringing endorsement of Mr. Kristof's position, indeed. Where's Sufian now? Unimportant. While there certainly were Libyan elated to see NATO involvement what of those what weren't? What of those who did initially but now regret this decision? 

Destroying a country’s civil society, it turns out is fairly easy, rebuilding it appears to be much more difficult, especially when the foreign powers doing so have no material interest in anything other than managing chaos. Since this chest-beating by our cruise missile heroes in late 2011? Nothing.

If those, like Kristof, Slaughter, and Beinart, still think the invasion was worth the costs, shouldn’t they, given the pending deployment of American troops and the rapid rise of ISIS, be called on to justify it? Even if they think, despite all the unrest left in the war's wake, it was worth it, shouldn't a five-year review be worth an afternoon of their pundit time?

This is part of our pundit class’s habit of treating regime change like a video game rather than a sober political decision. NATO goes in, kills the big bad bad guy and now the game is won. What happens after the final level, after the Evil Dictator is killed, is irrelevant. Cut to heavily curated crowds of cheering civilians, pump your chest in a series of self-congratulatory op-eds and move on (which, in the case of the three pundits in question, meant campaigning for another regime change in Syria). What happens in 2012, 2014 or today is irrelevant unless it paints a rosy picture, which in the case of Libya never came.

Absent this they simply ignore. No update, no mea culpa, no “what we did wrong.” And when the topic is broached by others, as was the case with Greenwald in 2014, simply blame the vague, catch-all "follow-up" or “planning for the aftermath.” Same catch-all excuse for the destruction of other countries offered up by countless Iraq war cheerleaders: it was the “planning for the aftermath.” Always the “aftermath.”

Never mind the fact that the “aftermath” was precisely the reason anti-war advocates opposed regime change in Libya to begin with. Just as with Iraq war boosters are prone to credulously turn around and sheepishly ask: Who could have known? Except several left wing voices knew and said what would happen in no uncertain terms. Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, the aforementioned Glenn Greenwald, Michael Moore - a whole host of pundits and politicians were skeptical due, in large part, to the lessons of Iraq.

Even after Greenwald pointed out Slaughter and Kristof’s silence on Libya over a year ago - and we know both read it because they both responded on Twitter - they, along with Beinart, still haven’t followed up. No reporting. No dispatches. No interviews with hand-picked Arabs who help prop up the State Department narrative.

As ISIS furthers its grip on Libya and American troops ready to join yet another fight overseas, it's prudent to ask those in a position of power to at least follow up on the mess they themselves help create.

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