As the United States becomes deeper involved in its third war in a Muslim state, comparisons with the war in Iraq are inevitably made. Before any discussion of the two conflicts is made, it is important to note that differences between the wars in Libya and Iraq undeniably differentiate the two conflicts. President Barack Obama continued his foreign policy trend of limiting U.S. combat involvement in Libya, while former President George W. Bush overwhelmingly devoted large numbers of troops to overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq â€” though sustainability concerns limited the number of soldiers he committed as well.
There has been some international support for intervention in Libya, although these resolutions have advocated for a much narrower range of military options than explored in Libya.
Even the Arab League vote has been regretted substantially by those who voted for it. Libya has been overwhelmingly portrayed as a humanitarian conflict that will protect the lives of civilians, while Iraq was sold to the international community as a security action against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction primarily and a humanitarian action secondly.
The bombing of Libya is somewhat similar to the NATO assault on Serbia, which saw the international community intervening to stop the destructive trend of regional politics. It is worrying that despite successes in the Slavic states, the United Nations is still skeptical about the capacity of ethnic tensions to ease in the region and these developments may be replicated in Libya.
Obama sought to differentiate himself from his Republican peers by committing troops to Libya while confronting real concerns in the state. However, the basis for this commission is almost identical to that of Iraq. It became increasingly clear that a victory for Col. Muammar Gaddafi would set a powerful precedent in the Arab world that autocratic oppression of rebellious movements would lead to an end of political movements against the dictators in question. American intervention in Libya would therefore prevent this eventuality and ally the United States with freedom and democracy in the Middle East, which is a similar justification to that which motivated direct action in the war in Iraq. Iraq is a continuing military campaign, which has roots in an attitude of self-admiring support for democracy that both predated and survived the revelation that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction.
This support was meant to portray that the United States was allied with pro-democratic movements in the Middle East, though they were certainly less noticeable until a Tunisian man resolved to set himself ablaze. Libya is therefore another attempt to place the United States in a favorable light in the Middle East by offering itself as the vanguard of regional democracy and will have similarly complex problems later when these attempts run against American interests of maintaining stability and the export of oil from the region.
However, the most striking difference between Iraq and Libya is that Bush at least attempted to maintain a semblance of democracy by lubricating the months leading up to the beginning of the conflict with a public relations campaign concerning the necessity of the conflict. Obama, surprisingly enough, has begun the Libyan campaign with little consultation from elected representatives, worrying, as there is a weak withdrawal strategy from Libya similar to that of Iraq where thousands of troops are still stationed. Let us not forget that Iraq was supposed to be a conflict concluded in a matter of months, not years. It seems reasonable to believe that Libya, while we are still stationed in Iraq, may become Obamaâ€™s Iraq. The gap of history is so minuscule between the two conflicts that it would be inexcusable if this were the case.
Bilal Ahmed is a columnist for the Daily Targum at Rutgers University.