It seemed like such a good, clear idea, to stop Muammar Khadafy from slaughtering countless thousands of Libyans in suppressing a rebellion, and then to knock a ruthless, murderous tyrant out of power.
Who knew it would end up with thousands of Africans drowning in the Mediterranean?
Not to mention years of Libya in bloody chaos.
The next time a foreign policy expert or a public official talks about a “surgical strike,” somebody should ask if he’s ever performed surgery with a cruise missile.
The situation did indeed seem desperate in 2011, when Khadafy was preparing to unleash his full force against the eastern half of the country and threatening “no mercy.” Interfering seemed such a good idea that all of NATO joined in, and the French and British actually took a larger role than the U.S. Air Force.
So the massacre was indeed prevented, and Khadafy was deposed and then killed by his people, and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving recipient.
The problem was what happened next. Armed militias divided up the country, and its functioning shut down.
Libya’s borders became open, and in the absence of Khadafy – who’d been paid billions by Italy to keep refugees from setting to sea – human smugglers started sending thousands onto the Mediterranean, with many of them not making it.
A four-year-old effort by European air forces is now turning into a challenge for European navies.
Preventing the slaughter was a justifiable goal, and nobody foresaw this outcome – just as nobody imagined that topping Saddam would send the Islamic State running amok across two countries.
But a military move is a lesson in unintended consequences.
And unlike surgery, it can be hard to close the wound.