It is a good thing that Moammar Qaddafi is gone, even if by barbaric means. So what did we learn from the 2011 misadventure, given that some are advocating much the same sort of action against Syria and Iran? Answer: Not much.
1. Small is easy. The bombing of Libya was billed as an idealistic effort to free an oppressed people from a tyrant. But the decision to take action was largely predicated on realist assumptions: that Libya was small and weak, and Qaddafi easily targeted — unlike Iraq and Saddam or Syria and Assad. We will not repeat the Libyan paradigm in Syria, not because Assad is not a tyrant or his people are not treated brutally, but because military intervention in a much larger and more volatile Syria would not be so easy. There need be no apologies about picking and choosing easy targets; but we suffer the wages of hypocrisy when we claim that the Libyan action was reflective of our overriding idealism about promoting systematic democratic liberation from tyrants. When one looks back at the operations in Iraq versus those in Libya, the difference was not morality, but the relative ease of the latter in simply removing a dictator, and the difficulty in the former of staying on to foster democracy.
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