The U.S. In Libya

Over a week ago the U.S. -at the behest of the International Community- began enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya to support a ceasefire. Several other nations joined in this endeavor: namely France, Great Britain, Canada, Turkey. Since the inception of the no-fly zone the cease fire has disintegrated and rebel forces from Benghazi surge westward. Up until today this campaign of air support has been headed by the U.S. (who moved naval forces into the region once the revolution began), however, as of today, NATO will be taking control of enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya.

As Mark Steyn points out in his article The Art of Inconclusive War, Obama was quoted as saying, “It is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally.” Yes, yet again the United States is being called upon to defend the world. For those who remember, it was France and Britain who so desperately called for international intervention in Libya, yet it was the United States who made the major investment in enforcing it. What is more concerning was the lack of domestic opposition to this effort. Though Republican figures have said they are against the U.S. enforcing the no-fly zone, there is little doubt that they would be for it with a Republican president.

Partisan politics aside, the involvement of the United States in yet another martial engagement does not make fiscal sense. Republican calls for fiscal responsibility ring of hypocrisy after 8 years of support for Bush’s deficit spending. What is more alarming about their calls for fiscal responsibility is their complete lack of desire to reduce the defense budget. In 2000, the defense department budget was $281 Billion, this does not include defense spending by the State Department, Veteran’s Affairs, etc. Contrast this to the expected fiscal year 2012 defense department budget of over $707 Billion, well over twice as much as the budget before Bush. Of course, people will point out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the reason for this drastic budget increase. Yet Iraq is winding down in 2011 and Afghanistan is to end by 2014. Our personnel obligations there have decreased. But the defense budget continues to expand. The proposed budgets don’t even account for intervention in Libya and will certainly require the expansion of the public debt to fund. But I digress.

With calls for fiscal responsibility and conservatives suppressing any attention for other pertinent issues in this country, it is amazing that more people have not publicly denounced US involvement in Libya or the potentially unconstitutional grounds for such an action. Now of course a precedent was set under Bush for ignoring the Constitution’s call for Congress to authorize acts of war, but that does not mean it is a precedent that should be upheld. Further expansion of U.S. military involvement where it doesn’t belong further taxes the U.S. economy, takes money away from domestic investment to be literally blown up on foreign soil, further entrenches our indebtedness to our economic and political rivals, and reinforces the idea that President Obama was quoted as saying above: that “ our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions.” With the obvious benefit of letting the U.S. foot the bill for enforcing regional stability while taking on further indignation for its involvement where it doesn’t belong, nations in the region can avoid any responsibility. In this case I’m referring to Saudi Arabia. This country had the fifth largest military budget in 2010 at over $59 Billion. All the unrest in the region is certainly viewed as a threat there. Plus, as a critical member of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia has voiced its desire for the removal of Gadaffi. Taking all this into account, why aren’t Saudi Arabia and the Arab League using their own extensive resources to control the skies over Libya?

So the Arab League has voiced a desire and shunned any responsibility to make it a reality. France and Britain, which have courted Gadaffi for several years, vehemently call for his ouster. The United States does the dirty work. However, today the U.S. will pass control of these operations to NATO. This is clearly packaged as a benefit to the U.S. and an effort to pass responsibility onto a greater portion of the international community, particularly the people who wanted this action so badly. What people conveniently ignore however, is that the U.S. is NATO.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization encompasses the US, Canada, Iceland, Western Europe, Many former Soviet States, Turkey, and plenty of other partners. Yet the original purpose of NATO was to provide the US military dominance over Europe. In the years after WWII the US military established itself throughout western Europe and through NATO, it ensured that large national military forces would not be necessary or permitted. Recent efforts between France and Germany to create multi-national military forces are often stymied by NATO. So now, when Europe wants to perform military action, it is the U.S. who must come and do it. This is an oversimplification of a complicated situation but in essence, it is the reality. Through NATO the U.S. acts as Europe’s military. The U.S. largely does the same thing in Japan and South Korea for example. One might make the observation that our forces seem like a mercenary army. Sadly we don’t even have that going for us, as our military pays the host nations to allow us to be there. Thus, the U.S. taxpayers are funding free military support for a number of nations around the world. In a country where people don’t even want to support their own poor or provide secure healthcare access, these seems unbelievable.

So, the U.S. engaged in another international military involvement, passed it off to NATO, and will now fall silent on the issue. But the issue is not going away. The vessel of NATO is one of the largest problems the United States has. Through NATO, we provide defense for rich nations with the wealth to defend themselves. We involve ourselves in regions where our allies should be shouldering their responsibility for global order and stability. U.S. military spending continues to inflate, because we provide so much martial support to so many conflicting interests. Pundits claim that NATO ensures global security, yet the example of Russian anger over the ascension of its previous satellites would call such a claim into question. People used to say the UN ensured global security, but now they disregard it as a largely ineffectual relic. On a financial basis, NATO is a bad investment. We are defending nations that can and must defend themselves. Every dollar spent on providing military services to other countries is another dollar that leaves the U.S. economy.

What would have happened if NATO didn’t exist? More than likely, a European force would be enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya right now. If Germany was still a stick in the mud, then France or Britain would have more than likely acted unilaterally. Nonetheless, the killing of civilians in Libya would have been avoided and the U.S. taxpayer would have avoided billions of dollars in unnecessary defense costs. This is not the world we live in though and the U.S. will acquire more debt to pay for NATO’s involvement in Libya.

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