Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Return of the Angry Reader

by Victor Davis Hanson

Private Papers

In response to a column on Libya one reader wrote:

But Hanson’s argument here is much bigger than the embassy killings. Except, I’m not entirely clear what the thesis is. Is he saying it was a mistake to go into Libya? Is he saying it was right that we went into Libya to stop the genocide that was going to occur, but that Obama bungled it? Or simply that the “narrative” of Obama is wrong? What would Hanson rather have happened? This essay was not a reasoned argument. It was venting. There’s a difference and it shows in its lack of clarity.


Dear Reader,

You did not read the column, hence your confusion. I said that the murder of the ambassador was attributed by administration spokespeople to a spontaneous rebellion, prompted by a single nutty video, long past the time that they knew that it was not true: there were no demonstrations; only a well-planned Islamist hit squad attacking a poorly defended American consulate. We knew that fact within hours after Ambassador Stevens was killed.

Why did I write they were lying? Because the Obama administration, as I argued, was wedded to a pre-election rosy narrative of the Middle East: Obama had Osama bin Laden taken out, and thereby that fact rendered al Qaeda impotent; and Obama intervened in the Arab Spring and thereby shepherded in democracy. But the murder of an ambassador by Islamic terrorists suggested that both radical Islam is quite active and we in our triumphalism were woefully unready.

As far Libya, again the reader did not read what I wrote. I did not object to the removal of Gadhafi (who could?), but why it ended up a complete mess. Why? Let us count up what I wrote:

1) Obama did not ask the US Congress to use force, but he did ask the UN and the Arab League; that ensured we were subject to decisions that our own lawmakers were shut out from, and eroded bipartisan support for the effort at the very beginning.

2) Then we exceeded the no-fly-zone and humanitarian aid resolutions, by bombing: why go to the UN to sanctify its authority only to then erode it? Russia after that flip pledged not to get on board with any more US efforts.

3) We created a new “lead from behind” strategy, in which we did the majority of bombing and provided the greatest material support — only to give the greater credit to the French and British. That is not only illogical, but unsustainable; in every alliance, the heavy lifters make the heavy decisions. Note that Britain and France intervened because Libya was nearby, weak, and rich in oil; they kept clear of Syria perhaps because it was more distant, larger, and without much oil, despite the far greater carnage.

4) We romanticized the Libyan opposition, but never took the time or effort to learn who they were or who would benefit from our aid — thus the rise of postwar Islamists who drove out Westerners and desecrated British cemeteries and may well emerge as the strong horse. That’s why I wrote:

Libya was not so much liberated as descending into the chaos of tribal payback. Former Gadhafi supporters and African mercenaries were executed by those we helped. Islamists began consolidating power, desecrating a British military cemetery and driving out Westerners.

Was Libya worth it?

If it turns into a Sunni version of Iran, obviously not, given that Gadhafi was a monster in rehab, courted by the very nations who bombed him. The point is that we now have no control over what Libya becomes, as we have no control over what Egypt or Syria becomes. So as I said Libya is “a blueprint for nothing.” How clear can one be? Ceding authority to the UN, ceding authority to the Arab League, ignoring the US Congress, outsourcing leadership to the Europeans, failing to vet the opposition, failing to protect Americans on the ground, lying about the death of an Ambassador to preserve a false pre-election narrative — all that seems pretty “nothing” to me.

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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