The Washington Post

Libya, Krauthammer and the shadow of Iraq

In response to Charles Krauthammer's blog post, let me quote, once again, the first sentence of his column of March 4: "Voices around the world, from Europe to America to Libya, are calling for U.S. intervention to help bring down Moammar Gaddafi." And let me repeat: This is a fantasy. No voices anywhere, in any part of the world, are calling for U.S. intervention to bring down Moammar Gaddafi. There is no "strange moral inversion" or "hypocritical double standard" in the international debate about Libya. There is some discussion of aid and of a no-fly zone -- but only as a U.N. or NATO action, only as a last resort, only to prevent genocide (Rwanda is being cited as a precedent) and only if it can be done with as little unilateral "American" input as possible. Even though it might save them, at least some Libyans oppose even this: The slogan "No foreign intervention: Libyan people can manage it alone" has its own banner and its own Facebook page. This, not the question of whether we should send in the Marines -- and that was a joke, by the way, about the shores of Tripoli -- was the first point of my own column.

Here was the second point: Krauthammer chose to use the Libyan catastrophe as yet another justification for the war in Iraq. His column asserted that Iraq remains a source of inspiration for Libyans and others: "to the Middle Easterner, Iraq today is the only functioning Arab democracy," he wrote. Well, I supported the war in Iraq, I am glad Saddam Hussein is dead and I hope Iraqi democracy succeeds. But, unlike Krauthammer, I do not think that the war has been in any way helpful to the cause of democracy in Libya. On the contrary: It looms like a black shadow over everything Americans do and say in the Arab world.

Why do Egyptian democrats fear they will be stigmatized by U.S. aid? Why do Libyan rebels handcuff friendly British soldiers and send them out of the country? Because Iraq was a disastrous display of incompetence, not a splendid success. Krauthammer misread my column. I wasn't criticizing him for supporting an invasion of Libya. I was criticizing him because he still insists on misreading history. The promotion of democracy in the Arab world has been made far more difficult and dangerous by the war in Iraq. Why is that lesson so hard to learn?

Anne Applebaum writes a biweekly foreign affairs column for The Washington Post. She is also the Director of the Global Transitions Program at the Legatum Institute in London.


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