Failure and unintended consequences: these are often hallmarks of U.S. military interventions. Who could have imagined, for instance, that forcing open the Kingdom of Japan at the point of U.S. Navy guns would eventually lead to bombs falling on ships from that same navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii? Or who could have foreseen that attempting to tip the scales in favor of French colonial forces in Vietnam in the 1950s would end in tripartite U.S. military failures in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the 1970s? Or who could have known that arming Islamic militants against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s would lead to the 9/11 attacks and a never-ending Afghan War in the twenty-first century, or that a quick, triumphant war against Iraq in 1990-1991 would morph into a debacle of an invasion and occupation of Iraq 12 years later? At some point, however, it should become clear that military interventions in distant lands have a strange way of begetting disastrous consequences.
Take Libya. In 1986, President Ronald Regan launched air raids against Libya, including a failed “decapitation” strike against the country’s leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. In 2011, Gaddafi was still in power when President Obama intervened in a civil war there. This time, Libyan rebels killed Gaddafi and the U.S. celebrated a clean victory at little cost. “Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives,” President Obama said.
Once again, mission accomplished. Or so it seemed.
Almost immediately, however, those unintended consequences began multiplying. First, nomadic Tuareg fighters who had served the Gaddafi regime looted Libyan weapons caches, crossed the border to their native Mali, and began taking over the north of that country. Anger within the Malian armed forces over government mismanagement of the rebellion resulted in a military coup, led by a U.S.-trained army officer. With the country in turmoil, the Tuareg fighters then declared an independent state, Azawad, in Mali’s north. Soon, however, heavily-armed Islamist rebels pushed out the Tuaregs, took over much of the north, instituted a harsh brand of Shariah law, and set in motion a humanitarian crisis that has caused widespread privation and sent refugees streaming from their homes. Now, talk swirls of a proxy war, involving a coalition of African nations supported by the U.S. and France, to liberate northern Mali.
What could go wrong?
Today, TomDispatch regular Ira Chernus takes a hard look at how another kind of fallout from the U.S. intervention in Libya — the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi — has played out during the presidential campaign. While President Obama and former Governor Romney squabble about the facts surrounding the attack, hundreds of thousands of Malians suffer from the unintended consequences of the American intervention there. And whoever is elected, expect more blowback from the Libyan conflict and the interventions that are likely to follow from it, with similarly “unexpected” results in the years to come. Nick Turse