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 Reagan launched air raidsagainst Libya, including a failed “decapitation” strike against the country’s leader, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi. In 2011, Gadhafi was still in power when President Obama intervened in a civil war there. This time, Libyan rebels killed Gadhafi and the U.S. celebrated a cleanvictory 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.