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Libya's sharp lesson for America's foreign priorities

A regional youth spike means more trouble, unless we change the game.

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For any country that Washington considers strategic enough to bomb – never mind commit NATO or American men and women to die in – Libya offers the latest in a long line of learning opportunities.

If we can agree on even one conclusion from the past two decades, let it be this: US foreign policy must raise the bar (substantially) for military intervention – and raise the ante (dramatically) to support the kind of real economic development that stabilizes volatile states and enables democratic freedoms.

Conventional wisdom on Libya reads like the traditional blend of fuzzy-headed idealism and ham-fisted naiveté: To protect Libya's freedom-seeking people, let's pound strategic targets with laser-guided ordnance, try to avoid civilian targets that Muammar Qaddafi's troops are hiding in, and see if he leaves voluntarily.

Summing up this magical-thinking foreign policy, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared that "Colonel Qaddafi must go, now, without further violence and bloodshed." This decisive-sounding spin started two months ago – when hope officially became a strategy.

The limits of American power lie not in our ability to wish tyrants away, or to deploy military assets – even now – but in our commitment to back up civil society in struggling nations with the tools for self-sustaining economic growth and wealth of their own creation.

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