Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent surprise visit to Libya, the site of America's latest and most bafflingly ill-defined military intervention, suggests two things: progress has been made, and some sort of oblique resolution may be possible.
But how are these concepts — progress and resolution — to be defined? Damned if we know. And it would be surprising if Clinton could cover the question with one of her admirably clipped and concise pronouncements.
Whatever American policy in Libya is, Clinton was one of its instigators. Together with National Security staffer Samantha Power, Clinton persuaded President Barack Obama to mount a limited intervention to prevent Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi from slaughtering rebels and their relatives in the manner of the genocides in Kosovo and Rwanda.
There is no doubt that Clinton, Power, and others animated by humanitarian concerns were sincere. But the "let's-do-the-right-thing coalition" are also savvy inside operators. It is impossible not to imagine they did not recognize that in-for-a-penny would rapidly escalate to in-for-a-pound.
Absent a cogent and convincing explanation of what the United States hopes to achieve in Libya, Americans can still take some small comfort in the fact that our role is offshore, logistical, and focused on intelligence oversight. Combat is not in the mix, nor does it appear to be — at least as long as the Democrats hold the White House. (In the event of Republican Mitt Romney's 2012 election, however, all bets would be off, given Romney's call for a new Cold War with — maybe — a couple of hot conflicts thrown in for good measure.) Recent reports in the New York Review of Books and the Wall Street Journal — not exactly ideological soul mates — suggest the situation in Libya is even more fluid and diffuse than previously thought. Troubling is the outsize role played by Qatar, a tiny Gulf state awash in natural-gas riches. Qatar appears to be successfully juggling two curious sets of allies — NATO and Islamists — with some of the later being internationally recognized as terrorists.
Playing all sides against the middle is standard operating procedure throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and in Western Asia. But at some point the US must ask, "Whom can we trust — at least more often than not?"
There is no satisfactory answer. Libya is in a state of managed chaos. Egypt appears to be devolving back into its pre-Mubarak lethargy, although the Egyptian Brotherhood is now free to operate. Syria continues to grow closer with Iran as its government continues to slaughter dissidents. Iran's nuclear threat is again in the news. Iraq will most likely explode into civil war once US troops are withdrawn, while the Iraqis show their gratitude for America's stabilizing occupation by wanting to make sure that what troops do remain would be liable for possible sanction as war criminals, should the situation sour. Afghanistan remains a hopeless muddle. And Pakistan continues to be the working definition of a self-conflicted and unreliable ally.
Metaphorically, it would not be too soon to bring American troops home from this region today. Tomorrow would be acceptable. The day after tomorrow is too long to wait.
For only the second time in 12 years, the giant vampire squid known as Goldman Sachs suffered a losing quarter. Despite the lack of profitability, billions in bonuses will be distributed. It appears that shareholders are stupid enough to put up with this. It is, however, a sure signal to the rest of the nation that Wall Street is just as screwed up as the Occupy folks say it is.