How To Overthrow A Dictator

Ken AshfordIraq, LibyaLeave a Comment

So with the (unconfirmed) news that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been killed, sounding the end of his 35 year brutal regime in Libya, now would be a good time to pull some lessons on how to actually do dictator-toppling.

Unilateral or coalition?

Iraq, under Bush:  The organized international community was against the War in Iraq, so Bush created what he called "the coalition of the willing".  It was hardly a coalition.  Most countries did not supply troops; in fact, most countries only joined the coalition in return for foreign aid (hence, "coalition of the billing").  It was 90% Anglo-American (mostly American), the U.S. ran the entire operation and made all military decisions, and by the end of the Iraq War, the U.S. was virtually the only nation involved.

Libya, under Obama:  A true coalition.  NATO forces, NATO-led.  In fact, the U.S. involvement was so under-the-radar that most Americans these past few months have been unaware that we were warring with Libya.  

Sidenote: When Obama announced our participation, he was in Brazil.  Conservative skewered him for being in another country when we were facing war in Libya, but they didn't understand that Obama's efforts to minimize our involvement were deliberate.  We were part of a team, not actiing unilaterally.

Time it took to depose leader

Iraq, under Bush: About nine months to depose Saddam (in December 2003)

Libya, under Obama:  About seven months to depose Gadhafi (today)

Time it took after leader was desposed for the U.S. military to be out of country

Iraq, under Bush:  Eight years and counting….

Libya, under Obama:  A few days from now at most

Reputation of United States as world leader as a result

Iraq, under Bush:  Tarnished, particularly among our closet allies

Libya, under Obama:  Not tarnished at all

Cost of engagement in terms of US tax money spent:

Iraq, under Bush:  $900 billion so far

Libya, under Obama:  $1 billion (the amount spent on Iraq every three days)

Cost of engagement in terms of US soldiers lives:

Iraq, under Bush: 4,500 dead; over 32,000 wounded (not including PTSD), and counting…

Libya, under Obama:  Zero dead, zero wounded.  None. Nada. Nyet. 


To be fair, no two theaters of war are the same, and each one requires different tactics.  But that point was lost on the Bushies as they clamorred to invade Iraq.  They lied to the American people and told us it was be a quick cheap war (like the one Obama provided).  Some of us knew better.