NATO's Libya mission ends. Was it a success?
It's too soon to tell what kind of new Libya will emerge in the wake of NATO's Libya mission. But Qaddafi's controversial death should not be taken as a sign that NATO's efforts were for naught.
With NATO officially ending its combat mission in the skies over Libya today – Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the endeavor one of the "most successful" operations in NATO's history – a new mission begins for scholars, pundits, and the merely opinionated: What just happened and was it worth it?Skip to next paragraph
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It promises to be hotly contested terrain in the coming months and years: between supporters of the "right to protect" doctrine and critics who say the NATO intervention was ill-conceived and could still result in more harm than good; between politicians who seek to frame President Obama as a bold and decisive leader or a feckless gambler; and between those who saw either a principled stand to help Libyans win freedom by NATO or an effort to control what comes next in Libya.
For now, all assessments are hampered by time. It's simply too soon to tell what kind of new Libya will be born. The country's vast oil wealth is clearly a positive, but its geographical divisions and absence of pluralistic political culture (thanks in part to Muammar Qaddafi's 42 years of one-man rule) could lead to major trouble.
Marc Lynch, a political scientist who supported the intervention (and has provided informal advice to the Obama administration in the past), acknowledges Libya's challenges, but argues that complaints of what might go wrong rather miss the point. He starts by pointing out that the most dire predictions made by doubters when the mission started in February – that Libya would end up partitioned between East and West, that the conflict would "become a quagmire," that the no-fly zone was the beginning of some sort of neo-imperial grab for Libya's oil – didn't come to pass.
"More broadly, I disagree with the many varieties of argument condemning the Libyan intervention as hypocritical or as actually undermining the norms against impunity. It's obviously true that the US, UN and international community have not applied the same response to a variety of other countries that they did to Libya. But the inability to prevent all atrocities is not a reason to avoid preventing one when the opportunity presents itself. Without the Libyan precedent the possibility of an intervention in Syria would not have even been considered. The development of a norm against impunity for violence against civilians won't be accomplished overnight or automatically be applied universally. But I believe that the Libyan intervention did prevent an imminent atrocity and could be one important step in building that norm."