Many are ready to party about the political demise of the hated, eccentric, and foul Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi as rebel troops move into Tripoli. I am not partying. Here's why not.
The NATO intervention in March 2011 was done without due diligence as to who it is in Benghazi that it was helping. To this day, their identity is a mystery. Chances are good that Islamist forces are hiding behind more benign elements, waiting for the right moment to pounce, as roughly happened in Iran in 1978-79, when Islamists did not make clear their strength nor their program until the shah was well disposed of. Should that be the case in Libya today, then the miserable Qaddafi will prove to be better than his successors for both the Libyan subjects of tyranny and the West.
I hope I am wrong and the rebels are modern and liberal. But I fear that a dead-end despotism will be replaced by the agents of a worldwide ideological movement. I fear that Western forces will have brought civilization's worst enemies to power. (August 22, 2011)
Aug. 23, 2011 update: Claire Berlinski responds to the above by asking:
How exactly do we know that NATO did not perform due diligence? Would not publicizing the results of whatever intelligence operations they conducted have risked compromising their sources and assets? I am not saying that they did conduct due diligence: I do not know, could not know, and basically believe I should not know. I've made a democratic compact with my government. I trust it to keep some things secret from the world--and thus, given reality, from me--in certain spheres. I trust it to enter into treaties with other governments that do the same thing.
That's a reasonable question. I am no more privy to the inner workings of the U.S. government on this issue than is Berlinski but I am aware of the ad-hoc, rushed, and irregular way in which Western states decided to back the rebels.
Here is one important piece of evidence, from The New York Times of April 1, 2011, by Steven Erlanger and titled "By His Own Reckoning, One Man Made Libya a French Cause," discussing the role of Bernard-Henri Lévy in the French decision to go to war, which later impelled the U.S. decision:
in the space of roughly two weeks, Mr. Lévy managed to get a fledgling Libyan opposition group a hearing from the president of France and the American secretary of state, a process that has led both countries and NATO into waging war against the forces of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
It was Mr. Lévy, by his own still undisputed account, who brought top members of the Libyan opposition — the Interim Transitional National Council — from Benghazi to Paris to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy on March 10, who suggested the unprecedented French recognition of the council as the legitimate government of Libya and who warned Mr. Sarkozy that unless he acted, "there will be a massacre in Benghazi, a bloodbath, and the blood of the people of Benghazi will stain the flag of France."
Read the rest of the account for succulent but distinctly non-due diligence details of this one-man operation.
Aug. 25, 2011 update: A reader asks me to reconcile the above analysis with what I wrote on Mar. 10, 2011: "Humanitarian, political, and economic reasons converge in Libya to overcome legitimate hesitations. Working with international authorization, the U.S. government should fulfill its accustomed role of leadership and help Libya's opposition." Easily done: Half a year ago I endorsed protecting the civilians of Benghazi from Qaddafi regime depredations. I did not endorse helping the rebels to overthrow Qaddafi. Indeed, in June, I specifically came out against this goal.