What happens when a brutal regime gets replaced by an alternative and largely unknown entity? Exhibit A: Libya.
Shortly after Muammar Gaddafi bumped his head on a bullet, the "rebels" took over and promptly declared Sharia law. It's a start -- I guess. Though a start of what, no one's really quite sure. This week, a new set of Libyan "rebels" has emerged to replace the old ones, seizing control of Tripoli airport and diverting flights. It's just like the game Whack-a-Mole: Knock one down, and five more pop up.
They may sort themselves out and gradually get the hang of democracy, or they may just remain a set of tribal factions fighting for supremacy from now until eternity. Whenever Western intervention is involved in regime change, as was the case with NATO in Libya, there ought to be a certain moral responsibility to stick around until the country has stabilized -- ideally around economic development, natural resource extraction and trade.
Going in without a game plan for stabilization or, worse, as in the case of Afghanistan, allowing the ongoing source of destabilization and corruption to fester and thrive -- as with the opium fields and drug trade -- and then declaring the place a lost cause, arguably makes the exercise pointless. If it was a lost cause going in, and you weren't going to change that, then why bother? Just to temporarily replace a dictator with a bunch of fighting wannabe-dictators? And there had better be a substantial economic return for any of it to have been worthwhile -- none of which is owed to you when you hit 'n' split.
Which brings us to the newest global whipping boy, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, currently reading the part of Muammar Gaddafi in Act One of the same play we saw last year. This week, Syrian rebels fighting against Assad's forces are now calling for the protective cover of a United Nations "no-fly zone" -- which is exactly what happened in Libya right before mission creep, whereby air protection rapidly disintegrated into a ground conflict. It's unlikely Russia and China are likely to fall for that one twice, especially after being hesitant the first time.
Wondering when America is going to intervene militarily in Syria? Psst ... this IS the military intervention. That's why there's been fighting for the past 15 months. It's not like a dictator's iron fist suddenly got wobbly with carpal tunnel syndrome without some kind of external impetus.
As a WikiLeaks document illustrated in February, when the hacking collective Anonymous obtained private intelligence firm Stratfor's email communications, America was unofficially all over Libya while Obama bragged that the U.S. never officially had any boots on the ground. Right -- not in uniform, at least.
In one email, Stratfor asked: "You guys lending the opposition a hand?" A contractor on government assignment inside Libya responded: "Certainly are. They need it. At the request of a (U.S. government) committee and the (rebels). Been there since no-fly."
Fast-forward to Syria. WikiLeaks published an email from December 2011 in which an American private security firm representative is described by Stratfor as "intend(ing) to offer his services to help protect the opposition members, like he had underway in Libya," further stating that other private Western entities would "engage Syrian opposition in Turkey," and "the true mission is how they can help in regime change."
So there you have it: The interventionist efforts have begun and may even be wrapped up by the time anyone gets around to doing anything about it in any official capacity. We seem to have entered a new era of warfare in which a problem can regularly be resolved through unofficial military -- or, as it's known euphemistically, "security" -- intervention, all while people are busy whining about the lack thereof, just like a kid at the doctor's office crying about the needle going into his arm when the blood has already been drawn.
Maybe Americans are getting the kind of wars they deserve -- covert ones that circumvent the kind of moaning that military intervention has triggered in the recent past. The downside is that the responsibility for the outcome, and the rights to any spoils of victory, are obscured. Who's going to be responsible for cleaning up after the inevitable post-revolution tribal clashes? Certainly not the private contractors, who'll be off to the next gig. And who gets to lay claim to any economic benefits that might open up in a newly destabilized market? Not the nations who pretend they weren't even there.