The Libyan War Is Not Making The US More Popular In The Arab World
By Taylor Marvin
Favorable Attitudes to the United States, 2008-2011
The poll’s limited sample means this isn’t a definitive survey of Arab opinion, but it is still informative. What’s particularly interesting is that the NATO intervention in Libya hasn’t translated into greater support for the US among Arabs. As Adam Serwer points out, this significantly weakens the original justification for the war:
“…this is particularly bad given that part of the administration’s underlying rationale for intervening in Libya was to shift the regional narrative that the U.S. only supports brutal dictators and not the democratic aspirations of Arabs.”
By this measure, the war in Libya has been almost entirely a failure. The rebels’ failure to promptly break the stalemate with loyalist forces has forced NATO countries to escalate their air campaign far in excess of what was originally imagined, has raised tricky questions about the constitutionality of executive branch military interventions in the US, and drawn international attention to the relative weakness of NATO as an expeditionary force. The ability of rebel leaders to impose meaningful disciple on their forces has also been increasingly questioned, and suggest that post-Qaddafi Libyan leaders will have a difficult time establishing functioning unified government. Violent reprisals and looting are common occurrences in war, and will likely continue after a rebel victory. By entering the Libyan civil war NATO has tied its credibility to an eventual post-Qaddafi regime it has no control over, creating the potential for an embarrassing implicit NATO endorsement of an abusive Libyan government. Adding evidence that the Libyan war has apparently had a negative effect on Arab perceptions of the US — interestingly, higher Arab approval for Sarkozy suggests that most Arabs don’t identify Europe as the primary architect of the Libyan intervention — does not leave a very high payoff for the US even in a best-case conclusion of hostilities. While the costs of the Libyan war have admittedly not been high in comparison to other recent American wars, it’s doubtful that it will ever fulfill any reasonable cost/benefit calculus. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is morally indefensible (though in terms of pure human suffering, prolonging the war has likely imposed more costs than a quick Qaddafi victory), but most of the benefits the US hoped to win from a successful Libyan intervention are no longer possible.