It would be far more pertinent to treat Libya as a case study for the ways that supposedly limited interventions tend to mushroom into campaigns for regime change.
The intervention in Libya shows that the slippery slope of allegedly limited interventions is most steep when there’s a significant gap between what policymakers say their objectives are and the orders they issue for the battlefield. Unfortunately, duplicity of this sort is a common practice in the U.S. military. Civilian and military officials are often instructed to use specific talking points to suggest the scope of particular operations is minimal relative to large-scale ground wars or that there is no war going on at all.
The gradual accretion of troops, capabilities, arms transfers, and expanded military missions seemingly just “happens,” because officials frame each policy step as normal and necessary. The reality is that, collectively, they represent a fundamentally larger and different intervention.
While presidents attempt to frame their wars as narrow, limited, and essential, admitting to the honest objective in Libya — regime change — would have brought about more scrutiny and diminished public support. The conclusion is clear: While we should listen to what U.S. and Western officials claim are their military objectives, all that matters is what they authorize their militaries to actually do.
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