Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

I still have my doubts on Libya

Some weeks ago, Tom Ricks called me out for questioning NATO’s Libya operation. I still have my doubts. To begin with, the interim government is showing few signs of being "interim." In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just told the Libyan leadership that they must set a date for elections. She has also ...

PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images

Some weeks ago, Tom Ricks called me out for questioning NATO's Libya operation. I still have my doubts.

To begin with, the interim government is showing few signs of being "interim." In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just told the Libyan leadership that they must set a date for elections. She has also told them to honor the rule of law and not seek retribution against Muammar al-Qaddafi supporters. The regime appears to be doing just the opposite in both cases.

Many observers continue to question just who the Libyan leaders really are, and whether they are affiliated with Islamists. Whether those in power in Libya are Islamists, or whether Islamists will seize power, is simply unknowable at this time. Nevertheless, the new or emerging leaders of that country need not be Islamists to pursue policies antithetical to those of the United States. The policies of Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki, particularly vis-à-vis Iran and Syria, have been demonstrating that reality on a near-daily basis. 

Some weeks ago, Tom Ricks called me out for questioning NATO’s Libya operation. I still have my doubts.

To begin with, the interim government is showing few signs of being "interim." In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just told the Libyan leadership that they must set a date for elections. She has also told them to honor the rule of law and not seek retribution against Muammar al-Qaddafi supporters. The regime appears to be doing just the opposite in both cases.

Many observers continue to question just who the Libyan leaders really are, and whether they are affiliated with Islamists. Whether those in power in Libya are Islamists, or whether Islamists will seize power, is simply unknowable at this time. Nevertheless, the new or emerging leaders of that country need not be Islamists to pursue policies antithetical to those of the United States. The policies of Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki, particularly vis-à-vis Iran and Syria, have been demonstrating that reality on a near-daily basis. 

In the meantime, in the face of a massive defense budget crisis, about which my Shadow Government colleagues rightly are debating, Washington continues to pour money into its Libyan adventure. DoD’s latest estimate of expenditures, which runs through Sept. 30, already exceeds $1.1 billion. But this estimate does not include the cost of the F-15E that was downed in March, some $45 million, with a replacement cost that will be much higher. With operations still ongoing, the total cost of this exercise could well approach $1.5 billion. Some $375 million of this sum has already been "reprogrammed," meaning that the funds were taken from other, presumably important, DoD budget lines. The remainder is to be "reprioritized" within the baseline appropriation request, meaning, yet again, that other programs, previously considered sufficiently important to merit being included in the budget, no longer are all that important.

These sums do not, of course, include monies that will be spent to assist the reconstruction of Libya. It appears that Libyan bank accounts will not cover all reconstruction expenses such as programs to help Libya develop an appreciation for the rule of law, which, as noted above, its leaders still appear to lack.

The truth is that we have no idea what kind of country Libya will be in a year’s time, nor who its leaders will be, nor what its posture towards the United States and its interests will be. What we do know is that the operation continues, the costs continue to mount up, and other defense programs are being sacrificed to meet those costs, and new expenditures can be expected down the road. All in all, it is hardly a pretty picture, and certainly not something about which one should call out others. 

Dov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.

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