George F Will, in a Washington Post column examining the declining military might of Europe, particularly of Great Britain, asks a very simple question of the Libyan operation:
After Gaddafi is deposed, as he probably will be, and after undetermined other nations have been deputed to police Libya’s postwar chaos, which surely there will be, moralists can answer this question: Did NATO’s operations — actually, those of a minority of NATO nations — really serve the humanitarian objective of economizing violence in Libya?
How could the answer possibly be anything except “No”? Surely it’s clear to anyone paying attention, if only out of the corner of their eye, that Nato’s stated mission in Libya to protect civilians and minimize loss of life in fact has operated to put all Libyans in greater danger and maximize destruction and death.
Those Nato nations that got involved in Libya wanted to pretend that they still were capable of projecting force in a meaningful way. But, as Will points out, without American “munitions, intelligence, refueling and other assets” the Libyan mission would already have failed.
Will goes on to point out that the idea of a “special relationship” between America and Britain is mostly a conceit of the British; Britain brings very little to the relationship, particularly so in the way of military capabilities, except perhaps its imperial history. It’s nice to have a queen and all, but really, does it matter one way or another in projecting force over the skies of Libya whom her grandson marries?
The ancient Greeks considered that they also had something of a special relationship with their Roman successors. Which might have had a kernel of truth in the early days of the Roman Republic. The language and culture of the nascent Roman empire was Greek due to Alexander’s Hellenizing campaigns across the Mediterranean. But contributing language and culture to an empire, as England also did with America, is not the same as being a comrade in arms. Rome defeated the Macedonians around the same time as Carthage fell. The only “special relationship” they had going forward was historical and sentimental, having nothing to do with current Greek or Macedonian independence and military might.
Yet the Brits really do believe themselves somehow superior to America such that America should kowtow to Britain, disregarding all evidence of American superiority in every respect. Remember Lady Thatcher telling George Bush before the first Gulf War, “Don’t go wobbly on me George”? Thatcher’s sentiment captures perfectly the British idea of where America fits in the world–as basically the military and logistical arm of the old British empire that Britain needs to stand tall and firm so it can continue to assert its world hegemony.
I suspect that Obama feels differently about the British than did Bush I and II. I imagine he’d nigh well bristle at the idea that a British leader could tell an American President not to go wobbly. Obama’s failure is not his instinct. He is perfectly correct to look at Britain for what it is; a once-powerful, yet tiny, island country with an outsized influence in the world solely because of the successes of the various colonies it spawned. It would be nice if Obama would externalize those views to get the British monkey off America’s back.