The Libya intervention marked the third time in a decade that Washington embraced regime change and then failed to plan for the consequences. In 2001, the United States toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan but gave little thought about how to stabilize the country. In a memo to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld early in that campaign, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith argued that Washington “should not allow concerns about stability to paralyze U.S. efforts to oust the Taliban leadership. … Nation-building is not our key strategic goal.”
.. Symbolizing the lack of concern for rebuilding the country, Bush’s pick for Garner’s successor was L. Paul Bremer—a man Bush had never met, who wasn’t an expert on Iraq or post-conflict reconstruction, and didn’t speak Arabic.
.. It was a cheap war for the United States at just $1.1 billion. But these days, it seems, a billion dollars buys you a shit show. Libya could end up looking like, in the wordsof British special envoy Jonathan Powell, “Somalia on the Mediterranean.”
.. We might be able to explain a one-off failure in terms of allies screwing up. But three times in a decade suggests a deeper pattern in the American way of war.
.. In the American mind, there are good wars: campaigns to overthrow a despot, with the model being World War II. And there are bad wars: nation-building missions to stabilize a foreign country, including peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. For example, the U.S. military has traditionally seen its core mission as fighting conventional wars against foreign dictators, and dismissed stabilization missions as “military operations other than war,” or Mootwa. Back in the 1990s, the chairman of the joint chiefs reportedly said, “Real men don’t do Mootwa.” At the public level, wars against foreign dictators are consistently far more popular than nation-building operations.
.. When I researched my book How We Fight, I found that Americans embraced wars for regime change but hated dealing with the messy consequences going back as far as the Civil War and southern reconstruction.
.. But many Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, and Australians see peacekeeping as a core military task. Japan will only send its forces outside the homeland for peacekeeping missions in places like Cambodia and Mozambique. In a poll in 1995, Canadians said their country’s top contribution to the world was peacekeeping
.. So why do Americans fight this way? The practice partly reflects the country’s success at winning interstate wars versus its struggles at nation-building and counterinsurgency. People naturally want to stick to what they’re good at.
.. Americans often believe that malevolent actors repress a freedom-living people: Get rid of the evildoers and liberty can reign.
.. And so America goes to war with an extremely short-term mindset, quickly toppling the bad guys but failing to prepare for the later challenges to come. All eyes are on smiting the oppressor because this is the kind of war people want to fight. The problem is that societies like Libya, Iraq, or Afghanistan are deeply traumatized by years of dictatorship, sectarian division, or civil war. Thomas Jefferson is not going to suddenly pop up when the wicked rulers are dispatched.