Why a slow-moving NATO is good for Libya
Smoke billows from the site of an explosion across an area in which strongman Moammar Gadhafi has his residence, in Tripoli on June 7, 2011. The complex that includes Gadhafi's residence has been consistently targeted by a NATO air campaign in Libya.
June 17th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Why a slow-moving NATO is good for Libya

Editor's Note: Stephan Richter is the editor-in-chief of The Globalist.

By Stephan Richter – Special to CNN

Seemingly all the major U.S. newspapers, including the New York Times and Washington Post, are editorializing harshly that NATO (read: Europe) shows itself a complete failure in Libya.  It acts too slowly, with too little force — and proves shamefully dependent on U.S. firepower.

Following on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates' stern warning about the future of NATO, such displays of what increasingly seems like self-righteous indignation were to be expected.

To be sure, the European response to Libya leaves much to be desired.

And yet, I wonder: Imagine the Europeans had brought to bear all the firepower imaginable and had done so rapidly.  Would the world be better off?

The answer is not a matter of conjecture and speculation, but of hard evidence because there is a relevant precedent: Iraq. The key question that needs to be asked is: Just what has shock and awe brought us in Iraq?  Or in Afghanistan for that matter?

Read: Libya, globalization and oil

The evidence is that even the best-resourced military the world has ever known, rife with its impressive hell-from-the-sky and boots-on-the-ground skills, has not succeeded where it moved fast, in Iraq. Far from it.

Hundreds of billions of dollars and a decade later, the United States is likely to have very little to show for its interventions, especially considering the human lives lost and financial treasures expended in those two large-scale missions.

The key question is this:  What does all that firepower really yield?  Cockiness?  Temporary, mucho macho self-satisfaction?  A live-action training ground for toys for boys?

Read: How Qaddafi mastered the globalization game

In the end, what has been forgotten amid all the naïve and, yes, boyish, fascination with state-of-the-art military equipment is that all those conflicts require a political solution.

And the prospects for that definitely do not get advanced much by rapid, "decisive" military action.  Quite the opposite: The action may come too fast, exceeding ground commanders' ability to steer the process of political change.

Remember L. Paul Bremer, that dapper Timberland "boot guy" who quickly determined, in his infinite wisdom and really quite idiotically, to dissolve the Baath Party instead of cleansing it and preserving a semblance of a non-Shiite, non-Iranian-steered power structure in Iraq?

Read: Italy, Libya's former colonial master

Those are exactly the kinds of mistakes that are made if things go too well and too swiftly militarily.

So the bigger question, with the U.S. media rush toward rapid action in Libya, is:   Who's kidding whom?  The Europeans are far from perfect — and they know it.  But it is important to recognize that their scarce-resources-induced go-slow approach actually helps settle the political battlefield in Libya.

Assume the NATO partners and related parties had succeeded wildly and toppled Gadhafi in next to no time.  The problem has been all along that, when it comes to the opposition, we don’t know whom we are dealing with, who had the skills to lead — and we are still grappling with these questions.

Read: The war on Tripoli and the U.S. Marines

So what time has really been lost?  The "delay" has only prevented us from making yet another rash, L. Paul Bremer-like pact with yet another potential devil.

As things stand, Libya's post-Gadhafi regime, in a way, is slowly shaking itself out by virtue of allowing plenty of members of the previous elite to disassociate themselves from the despot.

As a result, a gradual internal self-cleansing process is taking place, which can only be said to help the transition — and lay the groundwork more deliberately for the subsequent transformation, which is going to be difficult enough.

Even in Poland, perhaps the biggest success story in terms of self-liberation, it took eight long years, from the imposition of martial law under General Wojciech Jaruzelski in December 1981 to October 1989, when Solidarnosc had finally won the upper hand.

Given that, how could Libya, fraught with tribal conflicts as it is, realistically expect to have a transition lasting but a few weeks?

Read: Libya and Germany’s exit from history?

In closing, it's worthwhile to reflect on NATO:  NATO, or so it seems, increasingly only brings out the worst in the transatlantic partners these days, even when it seems they are finally pulling on the same rope and in the same direction.

I remember attending a dinner in Washingtonat a very pro-NATO organization — and some people around the table, ardent transatlanticists, spewed with disgust over the Europeans' actions in Libya.

"Wimps,” "incompetents," "cowards" were probably among the nicer words I heard.  My own view, that the NATO intervention actually gave the previously rather ephemeral "responsibility to protect" some real meaning (and also created a precedent), didn't cut it.   Neither did my point that, in comparison to the eternal hesitation in the 1990s in dealing with the Balkans, this ought to be considered progress.

If you engage, I was told, bring maximum force.  Act decisively.  Since the Europeans, as a matter of political and public will, as well as of finances, were not only unable to do it now, but really will be unable to do so at any time in the future, why uphold the charade that is NATO?

And there you have it:  On the rare occasions when one might surmise a happy meeting of the minds between those who are usually keen to pull the trigger and those who are hesitant to do so, it's still not good enough.

That is indeed a wide ocean to bridge, one that will perhaps prove unbridgeable.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Stephan Richter. To read more of The Globalist’s features on Libya, click here.


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  1. THE

    We can clearly see that the People of America and the European Union Need to pay for the Services of Liars Anonymous for many of their Journalists, because this is VITAL for their own safety, and for the safety of their Neighbours, their Friends, and their Relatives.

    We can clearly see that the People of America and the European Union Need to pay for the Services of Murderers Anonymous for many of their Politicians, because this is VITAL for their own safety, and for the safety of their Neighbours, their Friends, and their Relatives.

    The American Constitution says that America Needs more than one Hardened Liar and Uncontrollable Murderer in Politics, because People might start seeing the American President as a Puppet of Bankers and Plutocrats.

    The South Africans have a Proven way to Protect Civilians, and that was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the People of America and the European Union Need to Persistently DEMAND a Truth and Reconciliation Commission VERY SOON, and do this before it is too late for themselves, for their Neighbours, for their Friends, and for their Relatives.

    The People who Confess at the Truth and Reconciliation Tribunal will be both past and serving American and European Union Politicians and their Main Stream Media People, along with the Lying Journalists who will admit to the World what they Truly Are.

    These American and European Union Politicians Need to Confess that they have Uncontrollable Urges to Murder People, and that they love to masturbate when they see People suffering, because it gives them such good orgasms, and this is why they are Professional Liars and Excuse Makers in order to cover up their Despicable Personalities, and their Evil Crimes against Humanity.

    The People of America and the European Union NEED to hear all the Dirt and Filth of these People during the American and European Union Truth and Reconciliation Commission Process.

    If the People of America and the European Union do not hold this Truth and Reconciliation Process, but Cowardly and Foolishly Sweep Any of It Under the Carpet, then the Wise ones among the People know what will happen to their Neighbours, their Friends, and their Families.

    Elections in America and the European Union cost lots of Money, and the Bankers, the Plutocrats, and the Corporations only give the American and European Union Politicians Money to get elected or re-elected in the first place if they can blackmail them to be their Puppets.

    The Unelected Western Bankers, Plutocrats, and Corporations have the Firm Guarantee of the Total Compliance of these Corrupt Politicians at the expense of even any semblance of Democracy for the Voters in America and in the European Union.

    Many People are convinced that most of the American and European Union Politicians are Puppets, and this was Guaranteed by them Lusting for the Dirty Money of the Bankers, the Plutocrats, and the Corporations.

    To receive this Dirty Money, these Corrupt Politicians Secretly Agreed to be Filmed in acts of Bestiality or Paedophilia to ensure Total Obedience to the Schemes and Whims of the Behind the Scenes White Ruling Euro-American Plutocratic Elites.

    The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Process will not charge any of those who Willingly Confess, and People should understand that this includes even those who voluntarily were Filmed in acts of Paedophilia to gain the Dirty Campaign Finance from the Bankers, the Plutocrats, and the Corporations.

    A Copy of this Document should be placed in every Letterbox in America and the European Union in order to delay the eventual and inevitable Military Dictatorships in these Countries.

    These American and European Union Politicians and Journalists and their Puppets Around the World will be asked if they have been Secretly Vaccinated with Genetically Engineered Lethal Viruses that would kill 99% of Earth’s Population within a Week of it being Released into the Environment from American Military Bases Around the World.

    June 17, 2011 at 6:50 am | Reply
    • John Denver's ghost

      I can summarize my reply to your post with two words. China sucks.

      June 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
    • Rashid

      Are you one of those "neo-progressives" who thinks a cabal of bankers is running the globe? There is medicine for that.

      June 19, 2011 at 2:05 am | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Why so harsch on NATO? It's doing a great job! Take a look at all the sites of relevance in Tripoli! They are rubbles now, bombed to smithereens. The civilians are well entertained by the fireworks in the sky over Tripoli every night.
    No doubt this fun were long gone, had the French and Brits not relinquished their ferocious spree of activities to the NATO end of March!

    June 17, 2011 at 9:54 am | Reply
  3. sjdsh

    A supervised democratic election(Gadhafi's son suggested yesterday) OR more humanitarian bombing(USA/NUTO)??Oh no no,good lordy no! We must BOMB Libya into a democratic new lifestyle!(like we did for Iraq)That way they'll enjoy their freedom even more,and Not hate us for ours. Those that survive that is,not to worry though.Just soooo happy and excited for them!What was that Crazy Gadhafi's kid thinking anyway? Really must get with the program people!

    June 17, 2011 at 10:02 am | Reply
    • Rashid

      You mean an election where one candidate has killed 100,000s of thousands over 42 years and is just washing his hands off the blood of 15,000 more, and you want Libyan's to vote for him for another 42 years of dictatorship? How silly can one get? And then this candidate will use his death squads to rig the elections - isn't that obvious?

      June 19, 2011 at 2:03 am | Reply
      • apostlejf

        you really need a nap and wake up in the real world!

        June 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  4. Robert Wilson

    It's about time. Thank goodness we didn't have twitter in WWII or people would have expected it to be over by December 8. Remember the stories about the rebels in the early days? Remember the stories about how a bunch of kids with guns were running willy-nilly to the front with no order at all? What if they'd run all the way to Tripoli? In the last few months the rebel government has been able to train and organize, and form a real government. In these days of everything instant, we want everything done right now, but there are consequences to that. A Somalia in Libya would have been the outcome in Libya if Qaddafi had been toppled right away. Now we can have hope that something better will come about. Hope that is, far from certainty.

    June 17, 2011 at 10:34 am | Reply
  5. Richard

    This article presents the most annoying argument trick in the book: the false choice. The choice is not between a massive invasion and the current policy.

    NATO is clearly hampered by lack of political will and resources. IF the United States were to dedicate more drones and helicopters to the battle, it would not result in a too-hasty collapse of the Qadaffy regime. A measured increase in force would have saved lives. The current bloody stalement is the worst case scenario.

    June 17, 2011 at 11:56 am | Reply
    • Rashid

      Well said and that is exactly how I think. NATO has decided not to kill Ghaddafi's soldiers and mercinaries. It is like playing tennis with one leg in chains. If NATO bothered to use more drones, A-10s and actually attacked Ghaddafi's thugs instead of empty buildings and car lots in Tripoli, the pro-democracy forces would have overrun Tripoli by now.

      June 19, 2011 at 1:59 am | Reply
      • apostlejf

        I promise you Rashid you need a nap! You have been deceived son Libya will never be the same, it will be nothing from this point forward but filled with fighting e.g., Iraq! It is obvious that you do not know western civilization, the usa gives a damn about no one not even its own people! you my friend are a foolish one! wake up before it is too late!

        June 24, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • apostlejf

      please take up arms in the usa and say yes I am going to kill the president, yea they will shoot you down like a dog in the streets! please the rebels are wrong to take up arms and say they are going to kill their leader and when he responded to their aggression they cried like lil b_ _ _ _ _ _! No tell the rebels to man up if they are that tough! No the rebels are a bunch of thugs! The west has deceived Libya as it has every other nation, welcome to the world of being a fool!

      June 24, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  6. Globe2020

    It is an amazing cycle of TIME for Nato it can't stop while on the other hand it can't continue on like this. The formula for this type of situation is lead or leave. You can't continue your wars keep borrowing from others. Pretty soon you have to knock Mr. Lee's door again for another stimulus package.

    June 17, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  7. Onesmallvoice

    It would have been far better if our so-called NATO "allies" didn't respond at all to Libya's civil war. All these thugs did was to increase the death and destruction in Libya 100 fold. Evidently these lowlifes feel no shame at all and that's disgusting!!!

    June 17, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  8. Ezol

    The article misses out the obvious point, NATO has no mandate to over throw the regime. They're not 'allowed' to put serious numbers of troops on the ground. Based on the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan this is maybe a good thing.
    The more important issues are the lack of UN / NATO / US actions over Syria and Bahrain, same goverment crackdowns.
    The good point of the article is how collaspe of power will be handled, will unlike Iraq and Afghanistan a sensible amoutn be spent on genuine good humanitarian stuff, or will it all go to European contractors in an orgy of tax payers
    Euros/Pounds. Most of American expenditure in Iraq/Afghanistan has gone to US corperations.

    June 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Reply
    • Hari

      Casi ITAWY. The house in Malibu is less child friendly house of Brad and Angieb4s homes. If I donb4t rmbemeer it completely wrong Brad purchased it right after his divorce and it was meant to be a bachelor pad. Instead Brad fell in love with Angie and they started a family together. I donb4t like the high windows either. I, too, am a traditionalist as far as building a house is concerned. But Brad seems to be a fan of the modern architecture. He still respects the old architects too but the Malibu house represents more of a modern architecture. Off the topic. Ib4m wondering why there hasnb4t been any pics of the JPs in Hungary recently. I respect their privacy but I would so love to see new pics of Brad, Angie and the children.

      July 13, 2012 at 3:00 am | Reply
  9. Black Eagle

    NATO moves slow only when it cannot move fast... It appears the wars and deceit NATO is spreading around (or trying to), may finally have a negative impact on itself and on NATO's ability to move!!!
    NATO, AS A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION HAS OUTLIVED ITS NORMAL LIFE SPAN!!!
    Some say, in 25-50 yrs, NATO will be found only on the "dark pages" pf WORLD HISTORY. Evev Robert Gates calls NATO as "IRRELEVANT!!!" and he knows things we do not know....

    June 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
    • gary

      And mistakes after mistakes NATO perform killing the civilians .. Disturbing images at the latest video reportage from Tripoli : http://rt.com/news/nato-admits-civilian-deaths/

      June 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  10. Thatsnotrue:[

    Pull out!!! It's civil dispute....NATO's there for the oil.

    June 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • Rashid

      Canada has 45 times more oil than Libya. Why would NATO bother at all for Libyan oil, when Canadian oil is higher quality and same price of $100 a barrell?

      June 19, 2011 at 2:09 am | Reply
      • Mark

        Rashid even if Canada has better quality, NATO simply wants more and more oil in their control, so now they can have canadian and Libyan, simple as that.

        June 19, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  11. craig sanes

    A good point in this article is being made with regards to NATO's fundamental role.. protect. True enough, considerations must be given to the aftermath of any intervention, but, nonetheless, this does does not detract any from the justification of the first engagement. If allied nations, or those deemed to be under conditions that qualify as unacceptable sufferage, and more to the point if such may lead to regional instability, then NATO is abliged to act. That is its post cold war function.

    On the other hand, it can be said, when placed in comparison with Afghanistan and Iraq, in particular, that the outcome of our intervention could lead only to further instability, and at the very least to prolonged and unintended investments of time and resources. Iraq has been a money pit for the US, And, perhaps not without irony, leads to beg the question..what then is the developing nature of NATO intervention, today? Or more broad in scope, as the outcomes will lead to correlated results with wholey US endeavours, what direction have coalition forces in that region been taking with regards to regime change?

    One thing for certain that modern history has taught the would be military saviour is 'be careful what you wish for.' Our decision to train and circulate Manuel Noriega is testament enough. And in response I believe that foreign policy on these issues has very much reflected this awareness. With Iraq, Afghanistan, and now apparently with Lybia the military trend seems to moved more towards the direction of compromise and sustainable enclosure of the emergency; like a bunch bandaids on a critically ill patient, but with plenty more bandaids to spare.

    And honestly at this point what other resolutions beyond that could there be. Our options thus far have been, one, pull out and avoid further interventions in the future... disasterous for the global community, two, come in full force, which has been politically unstable..( No one ever being reminded from their own militaries past just what exactly 'full' commitment means. No society does this anymore, just a fiew remaing despots.) And thirdly we have what seems to be the beginings of our final evolution for joint military and ancillary economic and relieg intervention.. Seal the dam, try to keep everything contained within as much open for business as possible, and incorporate as much of every faction as possible into this new sort of pseudo reinfrastructuring.

    Seems a terrible direction, but what others are there. We are not about to change the way these regimes function, their populations interact, nor the way their government and coalittions from within take shape.. over night..nor for that matter over the next century.

    And we are not suppossed to, they are. And that might be the toughest realities of all that we and the world now finally have to face: If we are there for any reason above all it is not just for the oil or for the global community. It is because the region has shown no attempts at governing itself. Deals are made, foreign militaries are kept on retainter to maintain the status quo; has been so since 1914. And now that is all gone, and we have nothing to replace it with. So get used to patch work and a growing stockpile of bandaids, because they are going to be needing more and more of them before anything like a coordinated and developing system can be built.

    June 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  12. Tony

    do you the world is run in an arbitrary way. NATO has a UN mandate and that is its mission there. It is Russia and China who are opposing action in Syria. Don't go making judgments about things you do not understand

    June 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  13. Karl

    The onset of the initial assault on Lybia was to establish the ability to command a no fly zone. That objective was met. The objective to protect civilians from the assaults by the residing military of Lybia has been poorly defined and executed. When NATO command cannot determine the depth of scope required to effectively execute the mission what is left is a poorly managed force near equivalent to those "rebels" fighting for their freedom on the ground.

    June 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  14. bismark

    canada is very interested in the oil.don't you forget that even the ocean still accept rain.greedy men never get satisfied with what they have

    June 19, 2011 at 7:19 am | Reply
  15. netcommentator

    What has shock and awe brought in Iraq? Well, a lot, Change! A new government, certainly free enough to exercise rights to free speech and even assembly. That that are terror strikes is just part of the ME scene. Is it better? not clear given that the Shiites will rule and kill the Sunnis when the US leaves. But that is the conundrum: either advocate despots who keep "peace" or help bring about a somewhat democratic state. Overall the latter is better the first.

    June 19, 2011 at 11:09 am | Reply
  16. Harryt

    Just imagine such an inept NATO facing the Soviet Union during the cold war. Lucky for us all.

    June 20, 2011 at 2:25 am | Reply
  17. mkkpt

    What a trashy, lazy article. You had one main argument but danced around it with cheap and popular pot shots. I was hoping for you to engage into a much more reasoned discussion after you had finished flailing around like a retarded schoolgirl.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:16 am | Reply
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