If Anthony Shadid’s reporting on Libya for the New York Times is accurate, my prediction has come true. The United States of America will get blamed for everything no matter what we do. And I find it very irritating.

Everyone here seems to have a gun these days, in a lawlessness tempered only by revolutionary ebullience. Young men at the front parade with the swagger that a rocket-propelled grenade launcher grants but hint privately that they will try to emigrate if they fail. Anti-American sentiments build, as rebels complain of Western inaction. And the hint of radicalization — religious or something more nihilist — gathers as the momentum in the three-week conflict clearly shifts to the forces of one of the world’s most bizarre leaders.

We have absolutely no responsibility for the fact that Gaddafi has been running Libya for over forty years. We didn’t tell people to revolt against his leadership. We do not have close relationships with the Libyan elite. We do not coddle them, empower them, or apologize for them. We have only the most tangential interests in what happens in Libya, and our main concern is that chaos there not lead to energy inflation that slows the world economy and cost us jobs.

Moreover, one of the most common Arab complaints about the USA is that we intervene in their internal affairs. So, when we don’t go racing to aid a hodgepodge of ill-trained, ill-led, poorly educated rebels, suddenly we’re the bad guys? I don’t like Gaddafi, but reading the rebels’ complaints almost makes me want to start rooting for him.

Shadid details just how disorganized the rebellion is, and it doesn’t inspire any confidence on my part that we should have anything to do with them, even if we share a common loathing for Gaddafi.

The fighting here feels less like combat in the conventional sense and more like another form of frustrated protest.

Some vehicles bear the inscription Joint Security Committee, but nothing is all that coordinated across a landscape that seems anarchic and lacking in leadership. Fighters don leather jackets from Turkey, Desert Fox-style goggles, ski masks, cowboy hats and World War II-era British waistcoats.

Slogans are scrawled in the street just miles from the fighting. “Muammar is a dog,” one reads. A man who bicycled for three days from Darnah, far to the east, became a local celebrity at the front. Free food is offered, as it was in the canteens in Tahrir, and fighters rummaged through donated clothes. “These are American jeans!” one shouted.

Young men revel in the novelty of having no one to tell them not to play with guns. “God is great!” rings out whenever a volley of bullets is fired into the air.

“Some guys consider this a lot of fun, and they’re hoping the war lasts a lot longer,” said Marwan Buhidma, a 21-year-old computer student who credited video games with helping him figure out how to operate a 14.5-millimeter antiaircraft battery.

An hour or so before Friday’s headlong retreat, a gaggle of young men in aviator sunglasses and knit caps danced on military hardware, thrusting weapons into the air.

War is all fun and games until someone gets killed.

You know what Shadid’s reporting doesn’t include? It doesn’t include any quotes from actual officers. Our own National Intelligence Director, James Clapper, was blunt in his testimony before Congress last week:

…in a blunt assessment to Congress, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Gadhafi’s advantage in military force makes him likely to survive the revolt.

Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the rebels are “in for a tough row” against Gadhafi, who still commands warplanes, an air-defense network and loyal army brigades against the opposition forces. He cautioned that the situation is “very fluid,” but added, “I think, longer term, the regime will prevail.”

“I do believe Gadhafi is in this for the long haul,” Clapper said. “I don’t think he has any intention, despite some of the press speculation to the contrary, of leaving. From all evidence that we have — which I’d be prepared to discuss in closed session — he appears to be hunkering down for the duration.”

He was rewarded for his honest assessment with calls for him to resign led by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Maybe Sen. Graham wants rosy, bullshit assessments from our head of intelligence?

In any case, none of this prevented the president from upping the ante in his news conference on March 11:

I am absolutely clear that it is in the interest of the United States, and more importantly, in the interest of the Libyan people for Mr. Qaddafi to leave…

…Part of what we’re going to be wanting to do is to change the balance not just militarily inside of Libya, but also to change the balance in terms of those who are around Qaddafi and are thinking about what their future prospects are if they continue down the course that they’re on.

But, Chuck [Todd], there’s no doubt that I am concerned about it. Qaddafi has a stash of weapons. He not only has some troops that remain loyal to him, but there have been reports that he’s also been hiring mercenaries. Even with the financial freeze that we’ve imposed, he still has some assets. The rebel groups are just now getting organized. And so we’re going to have to continue to apply pressure, and that’s why I say we have not taken any options off the table at this point…

…So let me be clear, again, about what our policy as determined by me, the President of the United States, is towards the situation there. I believe that Qaddafi is on the wrong side of history. I believe that the Libyan people are anxious for freedom and the removal of somebody who has suppressed them for decades now. And we are going to be in contact with the opposition, as well as in consultation with the international community, to try to achieve the goal of Mr. Qaddafi being removed from power.

Those quotes, taken in combination, pretty much commit the United States to pursuing regime change and to supporting the rag-tag gang of rebels who have failed to overthrow Gaddhafi and are now in retreat on the battlefield.

Let me say this again. We don’t know what kind of leadership would emerge from this opposition if they were to prevail, but they don’t even appear to have operational leadership in the field. We have no compelling reason to commit ourselves to this fight. It’s a mistake. And the president has been pushed very far out on a limb here, probably through a false sense of momentum arising from the successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. It will be painful to walk this back, but unless Hillary Clinton discovers a compelling, organized opposition in Benghazi when she arrives there this week, our commitment to regime change in Libya should be scaled back. It’s not our problem. Obama is in the process of making it our problem. We should stand ready to prevent massacres and offer asylum, but should not commit our military to do what the rebels cannot do themselves. If we want to pursue other angles, like seeking out potential alternatives to Gaddafi from within his circle, that seems to me to be unwise but still preferable to getting into a civil war on the side that our intelligence director says is likely to lose. Once we commit a tiny bit, we’ll wind up doing the fighting because we can’t afford to lose.

But what will we have won? Good will? Don’t be silly.

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