Years ago, I read that “The Godfather” was a movie that every man should watch. And I’ve watched it many a time. Hell, years ago I found the “definitive” version of the movie — “The Godfather Saga” — where they had chopped up the first two movies, then put them back together so every scene occurred in chronological order. And the day the boxed set came out, I found a whole shelf of them mispriced at Wal-Mart and got it for half price.
(I should put in a spoiler alert here, but dammit the movie is almost 40 years old.)
At one point in the movie, there’s a major gang war going on in New York. Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) settles the war by offering major concessions: if the fighting stops, he will forswear vengeance for his son Santino’s death and give up some of his power to the other families. He doesn’t get many concessions in return, but the peace is made and the killings stop.
Over the years, the other families begin to chisel away at the Corleone empire, and the Corleones (first Vito, then son Michael (Al Pacino) passively accept it. They are working on their own plan: to get out of New York and into Nevada, and out of crime and into legitimate business. They don’t mind much having some of their criminal empire pared away; it’s parts they wanted to shed anyway.
But on one day, Michael Corleone brings out his family’s revenge. With all the rest of the New York crime families thinking that the Corleones are pretty much finished, Michael arranges for the assassinations of the heads of the other families and several others who have wronged his family. In one fell swoop, the Corleones have reasserted their power and left their enemies reeling.
That came to mind when I was considering the rather complicated relationship between the United States and Libya over the last 30-odd years, prompted by Doug Mataconis’ observation that President Obama’s authority to wage his UnWar without Congressional assent expires very, very soon.
Doug’s focus is on the War Powers Act, and that’s certainly worthy of further scrutiny, but here I want to focus on the psychology and dynamics of the US-Libya relationship that led to the current UnWar we’re not fighting.
For most of the past three decades or so, Libya has been our enemy to various degrees. They have openly attacked us, we have openly attacked them. They have carried out terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, and sponsored many more. They have used their embassies as bases for terrorism, even once having a sniper fire from the British embassy. They made themselves a pariah nation among the global community, where almost no one wanted to have dealings with them. In brief, if ever there was a nation that needed smacking down, it was Libya.
But almost a decade ago, K-Daffy (there is no commonly accepted English spelling of his name; I saw this one a while ago, and latched on to it) suddenly saw the light. Or, rather, he saw the light that came from feeling the heat. Shortly after the US-led invasion of Iraq and almost casual toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, he started talking to the British. And the Brits — probably playing “good cop” to our “psycho cop” — helped K-Daffy have his “come to Jesus” moment. Over a few years, K-Daffy surrendered his WMD program (far more advanced than anyone knew), admitted his responsibility in many terrorist attacks, paid reparations, and gave up intelligence on some of the terrorists he’d backed over the years.
In brief, he’d been “scared straight” and was very much interested in getting into the community of nations — and off the USA’s shit list.
And we obliged. We accepted his apologies and his reparations, and allowed him to make steps towards rehabilitation. He was still the same rotter he’d been all along, but he was making the right sorts of steps — and we encouraged him. After a couple of decades of sticks, we ought to toss him a carrot or two. It wasn’t as effective a cure for the disease that was K-Daffy, but it was still worthwhile — and a hell of a lot cheaper.
It also sent the right kind of diplomatic signal — we’d tried to kill K-Daffy (once, officially; unofficially, who knows?), but we were still willing to work with him if he stopped being such a shit on the world stage. And if we could “rehabilitate” K-Daffy, then perhaps we could also come to accomodations with dictatorships like Syria, Iran, or even North Korea. All they had to do was stop being such miserable shits.
Libya’s rehabilitation was one of the finest achievements of the Bush administration, and one of the greatest benefits of the Iraq invasion — so, naturally, it’s been underreported almost to the point of being ignored.
One of the key aspects of it, though, was a tacit pledge from the US: if K-Daffy got his act together and kept his nose clean, we’d leave him alone and not try to take him out, too. That was the biggest carrot — getting off our shit list.
That lasted right up until the “Arab Spring” moved into Libya, and K-Daffy found himself challenged by rebellious Libyans. For a brief moment, it looked like K-Daffy was vulnerable.
And that’s when the Europeans saw an opportunity to get rid of him, so they pounced.
Whoops, I forgot. I’m talking about the Europeans. They skulked around, muttered a bit, reminded us of all the times they’d tagged along with us, then got on our backs while we pounced.
Now, the sheer folly of going back on such a beneficial deal we’d struck with K-Daffy was bad enough. But that wasn’t enough for these bozos we have pretending to be running this country couldn’t content themselves with screwing up just that. No, they had to also ignore the classic advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”
It’s a tossup, which was the dumber decision: to strike at K-Daffy on behalf of the rebels, or to go at it half-assed. In favor of the first one, it completely undid all the diplomatic gains we’d achieved by rehabilitating him and committed us to the “rebels,” about whom we knew virtually nothing — not even “will they be better than K-Daffy?”
On the other hand, by going in half-assed, we let ourselves be seen as impotent and indecisive and weak, especially when these open acts of war were double-talked as “kinetic military action.” We came in too late and too weak to assure victory for the rebels, but by coming in at all saved them from a quick defeat. In short, we guaranteed a prolonged stalemate that only drags on the fighting and the killing.
My own position might seem a bit contradictory, but I think is consistent: I didn’t favor the intervention. But once that decision was made, I said we should go “all in” and do all we had to in order to remove K-Daffy from power. The worst possible scenario, I thought, was for us to waffle around a bit, then go in just enough to fail and not only leave K-Daffy in power, but show him as having withstood our attacks.
In brief, pretty much the way things stand now. What I didn’t take into account was Obama also managing to set up a Constitutional crisis in the process, by ignoring the War Powers Act.
But that’s a whole ‘nother topic, and I’ve already written way, way too much for this one posting.