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Our Press Falls Down on the Job Again

Walter Russell Mead

Libya is no closer to stability or peace than it has been since the invasion. Western plans to bring order to the country are failing yet again. The WSJ:

Forces opposed to Libya’s unity government launched an attack Sunday on three ports, claiming control over oil-exporting facilities held by troops loyal to the government that had recently resumed operations in an effort to revive the nation’s economy.

The attack by Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s forces on terminals in the so-called oil crescent is the first armed conflict between Libya’s eastern government and the internationally-backed Government of National Accord, which is based in the capital, and could draw others from Libya’s array of militias into a fresh round of fighting.

It comes as Libyan fighters in the west, backed by U.S. airstrikes, have made strides in wresting away the strategic city of Sirte from Islamic State militants, giving hope that Libya is beginning to emerge from five years of political and armed struggles that erupted after longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was deposed and killed in 2011.

We must all be grateful that we don’t have a Republican President or it would be Libya, Libya, Libya all the time, a deafening chorus of shrieks and imprecations. “How could the White House be so stupid as not to learn the lessons of Iraq?” “Who knew what, and when?” We would also be hearing much more about the consequences of our failures: the continuing flows of arms, funds, and jihadis to various groups in Africa and beyond, not to mention the damage to U.S. prestige. The responsible officials would be hounded by an enraged press corps and an aroused public. Hillary Clinton has actually been quite lucky that the GOP attack focused almost solely on Benghazi, when that tragic incident was only the tiniest piece of a major policy disaster.

Not that a return to Bush-era press inquisitions would be a good thing. There really ought to be some kind of happy medium between the no-holds-barred relentless attacks on GOP foreign policy failures and the whistle-past-the-graveyard treatment of Democratic ones. And many of America’s biggest recent foreign policy failures had strong bipartisan support at the time. A lot of Democrats backed the Iraq invasion, and a lot of Republicans backed Libya.

Nobody is ever going to get everything right in foreign policy—that’s not the way history works. But these days in the U.S., in large part thanks to the way much of the press (with some honorable exceptions) goes about its business, we have got a system that makes it hard for us to learn from our mistakes—to have the serious conversation about foreign policy and global strategy that the country badly needs.

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