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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lessons Learned

by digby

Steve Clemons answers Juan Cole's stirring support for the Libyan intervention with a number of good points. But echoing Jonathan Schwarz from last week, I think this remains the the most troubling practical concern:

The Aspen Institute Germany, based in Berlin, is holding over this weekend a meeting of former US government officials -- including some former Cabinet level officials -- and North Koreans on the subject of denuclearization and bilateral relations.

According to one of the US attendees, the North Koreans 'wanted' this meeting to put forward expectations they have of the United States -- wanting to trade resumption of nuclear negotiations for US inputs of food, fuel, and economic support over the next year. 2012 is a very big year of transition and consolidation for North Korea. 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and has been marked by the North Korean government as the pivot year for North Korea's "economic revival."

At the same time, the former US official attending these talks told me that North Korea is watching the Western intervention in Libya and seeing the lesson that forfeiting nuclear weapons was a mistake made by Moammer Gaddafi. North Korea and many other nations are seeing that if one acquires nukes, keep them. They are the only ultimate security these regimes can count on in collisions with the West.

This official said that we are likely to see more unpredictable behavior and saber-rattling from North Korea as it reminds of its hard edge and it manipulates the fears of its neighbors by rationally deploying what appears to outsiders an erratic irrationality.

Obama felt he had to intervene in Libya. Juan Cole and Anne-Marie Slaughter and many of my progressive friends have been cheerleaders for this move. I accept what the administration has done -- but want to move out of the action as soon as possible.

But in any tally, we need to add to the negative roster that we have sent the signal to nations that nukes are a great security blanket and don't be fooled by the West in giving them up.

With Qadaffi it's particularly pertinent because the US very ostentatiously welcomed him in from the cold just a few years ago and used him as poster boy for the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine. It can't be lost on Iran either that it didn't work out all that well for him (or that the US didn't even think about military action to support their own uprising.) This is the kind of "signal sending" and "credibility" that is actually meaningful.

Juan Cole makes many good points in his piece and I can't fault him. I still disagree overall because I think that the motives are much more complex and opaque than the government is admitting and that we aren't particularly good at this and usually make things worse. Most importantly, I think we are fighting wars in this region mostly because we are engaged in a Great Game over oil and that it needs to be discussed so that we can start having a rational discussion about energy.To the extent that there are other strategic reasons, the most important is around keeping nuclear arms out of the hands of extremists and rogue states and this latest adventure is probably counter-productive for the reasons Steve Clemons and Jonathan Schwartz raised above. I still feel quite strongly that "humanitarianism" is really far down the list of official concerns even as it's being raised as the main motive for our actions. It's a delusion that no populace in a mature nation, much less a military empire, should have --- raining bombs for "good" is a dangerous concept even in the clearest situation.