After assuring us that I was fantasizing in claiming that anyone anywhere is asking for U.S intervention in Libya, Anne Applebaum explains that what is instead being discussed is a “no-fly zone — but only as a U.N. or NATO action” and “with as little unilateral ‘American’ input as possible.”
I see: a U.N. no-fly zone. Using the Congolese air force? Supported by offshore Russian aircraft carriers? Liberal internationalists tend to use the phrases “United Nations” and “international community” and “world opinion” so promiscuously that they actually come to believe these fictions have some reality. There is no such thing as a U.N. no-fly zone. A U.N. no-fly zone is nothing more than a no-fly zone enforced by the only power that can do it — the United States — under cover of a U.N. resolution.
NATO? As in the current NATO operation in Afghanistan, where German troops don’t go out at night? Where the real fighting is carried out by the United States (with a major assistance from, as usual, the trusty British)?
And now a NATO no-fly zone over Libya. Who do you think will be taking out Gaddafi’s surface-to-air missiles and other antiaircraft infrastructure? The Belgian air force? Sure, Italy and Spain will participate — they will allow the U.S. aircraft pulverizing Libya to take off from their bases.
What Applebaum really means is not U.N. or NATO action but U.N.- and NATO-authorized action — undertaken overwhelmingly by the United States. No one has any doubt about which air force has the power, the training and the experience to carry out a no-fly zone. Applebaum’s objection to my claim that the world is looking for American intervention is nothing more than a complaint that I refuse to observe the niceties — the hypocrisy and the disingenuousness — of those who want America to save them but behind a fog of pseudo-multilateralism.
Applebaum’s second point is that this wish for a multilateral fig leaf, this allergy to too-overt American assistance, this demand for American rescue with as little U.S. visible presence as possible, is the result of the Iraq war and the blow it delivered to the U.S. reputation in the region.
This is nonsense. To believe that you have to believe that this phenomenon started in 2003. In fact, this allergy to an overt American presence has been a constant feature of U.S.-Arab relations going back more than a half-century. Since the Second World War — not the Iraq war — the Saudis have depended on us for their very wealthy independence. But they insist that any U.S. military presence be disguised and hidden. No display of American soldiering or uniforms. We anchor the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. Indeed, that’s the reason so much of our protection of the Gulf states is offshore. Better no one see us at all.
Why did George Bush 41 have to gather such a massive coalition before the United States could (with, again, significant assistance mostly from the British) liberate Kuwait? Did our Syrian and Egyptian “allies” take a square inch of Kuwaiti territory? Of course not. They, like the dozens of other superfluous “coalition partners,” were precisely the kind of window dressing people are looking for in Libya right now — so one could pretend as much as possible not to be the beneficiary of U.S. intervention. Hence our decision to let Kuwaiti troops march into Kuwait City on liberation day (a farcical reprise of our allowing de Gaulle to parade first into Paris on its liberation): to perpetuate the fiction of self-liberation and to publicly minimize the American role.
It’s a basic characteristic of superpower-client relations. Everyone wants American money, American protection, Americans’ favor — but no one wants to be seen taking it. This stigmatization of U.S. aid is born of envy, pride and resentment — and has been around forever. It is as attributable to the Iraq war as is climate change. Though I’m sure the case for that connection is being developed as we speak.