Libya: The West’s Latest Dysfunctional Dependent?

This article appeared on The National Interest (Online) on June 20, 2011.
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Libya’s rebel oil chief is upset — deeply upset — with the NATO nations. In an interview with Reuters over the weekend in Benghazi, Oil and Finance Minister Ali Tarhouni vented his anger and impatience. He accused the West of failing to keep its promises to deliver financial aid to the new rebel government — a government that still controls only a little over half of Libya’s territory despite extensive NATO air strikes on Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. “We don’t have any (cash),” Tarhouni fumed. “We are running out of everything. It’s a complete failure. Either they (Western nations) don’t understand or they don’t care. Nothing has materialized yet.”

His comments highlight a troubling pattern that has emerged in U.S.-NATO policy since the end of the Cold War. The Western powers have become adept at creating weak, dysfunctional political and economic dependents through ill‐​advised military interventions. The United States and its allies did so in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and Iraq and Afghanistan during the following decade. After a decade‐​and‐​a‐​half of military occupation and swarms of nation‐​building international bureaucrats, as well as the infusion of billions of dollars in aid, Bosnia remains an economic basket case. Were it not for the revenues derived from the narcotics trade and other organized crime enterprises, both Kosovo and Afghanistan would be in even worse shape than the pathetic economic condition they’re in currently. Iraq’s government is trying to trace some $17 billion that has gone missing. That’s an appropriate indicator of the political and economic competence of the new, “democratic” Iraq.

Now, Libya (or more accurately, rebel‐​held eastern Libya) promises to join their ranks. Perhaps the most irritating aspect of the West’s growing gaggle of international political wards is that they’re not merely dysfunctional, they are incessant whiners. In addition to Ali Tarhouni’s brazen demand for the West to open its financial coffers, Hamid Karzai is once again accusing the United States and the other Western countries of being exploitive occupiers. Hardly a week goes by that the governments of Bosnia and Kosovo don’t call on the West to pay more and do more to satisfy their restless populations.

This miserable track record ought to be enough to discredit the concept of humanitarian military intervention and its conjoined policy twin, nation‐​building. But as the unfolding events in Libya confirm, Western policy makers are not merely slow learners, they seem incapable of learning at all.