In a column this week for the New York Times, Ross Douthat echoes a theme we’ve been developing at Via Meadia for some time: that the bloody unintended consequences of our Libyan humanitarian intervention–from a civil war in Mali to a rise in Islamic radicalism in the region–should give pause to the “Right to Protect” crowd and their righteous rhetoric. Writes Douthat:
[A]t the very least, the intimate connection between the two civil wars should complicate the Libya hawks’ easy moralism. If interventionists want to claim credit for saving lives in Benghazi, they need to acknowledge that their choices may have ended up costing lives in Timbuktu. If they want to point to the immediate consequences of the Libyan war as vindication for a “responsibility to protect” doctrine, they need to acknowledge the second-order consequences for people who will never have the benefits of our protection.From a strategic perspective, too, toppling a dictator in one country looks rather less impressive if his fall helps give rise to a theocracy nearby. Mali may seem strategically inconsequential today, but so did Afghanistan when the Taliban first swept to power.
Read the whole thing to remind yourself why–pace the pundits–there are no easy choices in foreign policy. As Douthat concludes:
The goal of the Obama White House throughout our Libyan quasi war was to keep our intervention as limited as possible. In this, it largely succeeded. But just because our involvement was limited does not mean that the long-term consequences will be limited as well. War has a life of its own: insurgencies spread, weapons intended for one cause end up in the service of another, and turmoil is rarely contained by lines drawn on a map.