Armed Services Dem views Libya as model for future missions

The U.S.- and NATO-led intervention in Libya’s civil war provides a blueprint for future uses of American military force, the top House Armed Services Committee Democrat said Friday.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) on Friday called the operation, which led to the ouster and death of Moammar Gadhafi, “the biggest” American foreign policy success during his eight terms in Congress.

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Unlike other foreign operations, in which he said Washington has charged forward on its own “like a bull in a china shop,” the Obama administration built a regional and global coalition before launching the Libya operation.

Instead of supporting “autocratic regimes,” the U.S. was “clearly supporting the people” of Libya, Smith said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. And that kind of approach, he said, will help improve public opinion in the North Africa-Middle East region about the U.S.

The mission also had “a clear military objective” of protecting civilians, he noted.

The Libya action showed that because the U.S. has such a capable military, it can be very effective without “dropping in 100,000 troops and spending $100 billion,” Smith said.

Some senior military officials have resisted the notion of Libya as some kind of blueprint for how future operations might look, saying each mission should be planned and carried out on a case-by-case basis.

The Libya unrest was part of the “Arab Spring” uprising, and Smith said Washington should step up its state-to-people diplomacy, stepping away from its traditional state-to-state approach.

He said Washington has a role to play in helping emerging democracies in the North African-Middle East in growing their economies — which he said will create jobs, a key because so many young people are unemployed and frustrated — and building functional governments.

Some Republicans in Congress have raised concerns that extreme Islamists will have a big role, or be elected to run, democratic governments in the volatile region.

But U.S. officials should not think they can drive any nation in the region toward “total secularism,” Smith said.