The Telegraph has already jumped the gun waaaaay too fast with a headline like "We have proved in Libya that intervention can still work." A bit too soon to claim that, especially since so far, the course of NATO intervention seems to parallel the invasion of Afghanistan:
1. We've sent in special forces so that air support can be called in for...
2. A pre-existing mutli-ethnic rebel force (the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan)...
3. For which we pounded every government asset bigger than a Toyota pickup so they could move in and occupy territory...
4. While the leaders of both armies (Ahmad Shah Massoud & Abdel Fatah Younis), who were potentially unifying forces in the post-war scene, have been mysteriously assassinated.
But there's one more step along the road to "Afghanizing" Libya:
To fill the political void, in December 2001 the United Nations hosted the Bonn Conference in Germany. The meetings of various Afghan leaders here were organized by the United Nations Security Council. The Taliban were not included. Participants included representatives of four Afghan opposition groups. Observers included representatives of neighbouring and other involved major countries, including the United States.
The result was the Bonn Agreement which created the Afghan Interim Authority that would serve as the “repository of Afghan sovereignty” and outlined the so-called Petersberg Process, a political process towards a new constitution and choosing a new Afghan government.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1378 of November 14, 2001, included "Condemning the Taliban for allowing Afghanistan to be used as a base for the export of terrorism by the Al-Qaeda network and other terrorist groups and for providing safe haven to Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and others associated with them, and in this context supporting the efforts of the Afghan people to replace the Taliban regime".
To help provide security to support this Afghan Interim Authority, the United Nations authorized an international force—the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)—with a mandate to help the Afghans maintain security in Kabul and surrounding areas.
Before the U.S.-led invasion, there were fears that the invasion and resultant disruption of services would cause widespread starvation and refugees. The United Nations World Food Programme temporarily suspended activities within Afghanistan at the beginning of the bombing attacks but resumed them after the fall of the Taliban.
Now that it looks like the Libyan state is about to change hands, people are seriously debating whether or not we should put boots on the ground in Libya (this shouldn't even be considered, it's so damn ridiculous). Including the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, a man who should clearly know better. Things aren't shaping up very well so far, if one wanted to avoid comparisons with Afghanistan.
Requesting support from NATO was unavoidable for the Rebels. This is not a critique of their struggle, but a critique of our involvement in it. Because the image it presents will have a much wider impact in the Arab world.
Contrary to what the State Department says in their press releases, the Arab Spring is a major headache for the United States. We've spent the last ten years supporting autocrats and despots like Gaddafi, in order to make them allies in our "War on Terror." Which is primarily targeted against al-Qaeda. Yet now we're supporting al-Qaeda-in-Libya, as part of an effort to take down said ally in the War on Terror.
So why Gaddafi and not the others? Well we've had a long history of propagandizing against Gaddafi as a Mad Dog, beyond reason or engagement (even though we engaged with him for a decade). So of course this angle would be played up once his soldiers were making their way towards Benghazi. Gaddafi was a leader whose military primarily functioned as a police force, with no significant air defense. This makes an aerial campaign much more effective in Libya than stronger security states like Syria.
So what does this have to do with the Arab Spring?
Now, every autocrat and "ally" can point to the Libyan rebellion and say, "Look! Do you see!? The Western imperialists are behind this wave of 'democracy,' don't be fooled!" It's an effective propaganda tool, and not one that will be thought of critically with state media dominance (something that's not so absolute with al-Jazeera on the scene). Whether it works or not doesn't really matter, since we're not interested in deposing any more dictators, or seeing any more Arab revolts succeed. Even in the case of Iran, it's better strategically for them to nip the protests in the bud and remain antagonistic towards the West. Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs make easy foils when talking about the Middle East, and an Iran as an existential threat perpetually justifies US presence in the region.
None of this is to say that Libya will definitely turn out like Iraq or Afghanistan, just that it looks really really bad. Especially since we're presumably doing this intervention to keep Gaddafi from doing to his own people what we routinely do to others in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. France's involvement really stinks, too, since they haven't been shy about neocolonialism in their own African back yard. Or have we all forgotten how they just backed a strong man in the Ivory Coast who was ok with Christian machete massacres?
But enough of the poo poohing and doubt, it's time for some feelgood.