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March 17, 2011

Libya, the US, and the Moral Imperative to Intervene
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Finally, after much "dithering" - which seems to be the consensus word choice for Obama's sputtering Mideast policy - the US has finally suggested that it can, sometimes, do the right thing, even if it does it three weeks later (I looked back to see when I had written my Slate article calling for international intervention - February 23). 

The arguments against military intervention struck me as surprisingly weak and almost entirely dependent on raising the spectre of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was somewhat unclear how and why Iraq 2003 should be compared to Libya 2011. Michael Cohen, whose preference for foreign policy restraint is admirable, worried recently that John McCain and Joe Lieberman's support for a no-fly zone portended bad things to come. Just because McCain and Lieberman support something doesn't automatically mean it's bad. 

Cohen writes that Iraq and Afghanistan "are daily reminders that the use of U.S. military force can have unforeseen and often unpredictable consequences." Yes, but that's sort of the point with bold action. It's supposed to be risky (in fact, if it's not, you may not be going far enough). Success isn't guaranteed. And no one is pretending that a positive outcome in Libya is a foregone conclusion now that the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution authorizing military force. But it does make a successful outcome more likely. Leon Wieseltier, in a moving must-read, writes:  

It may be, as Clinton said, that the consequences of a no-fly zone would be unforeseeable, but the consequences of the absence of a no-fly zone are entirely foreseeable. They are even seeable.

For realists, I would love to hear how doing nothing in Libya was going to help U.S. security interests. Having an oil-rich pariah state that could very well return to supporting terrorism and wreaking havoc in the region would be disastrous, creating Iraq part 3 and making it more likely we'd have to intervene sometime further into the future, at much greater cost and consequence. Did we not learn from the quelched Shia uprisings of 1991? Or from standing by idly (or supporting) the military coup that ended Algerian democracy in 1991? The Arab world suffered for the international community's failure to do the right thing. Literally, hundreds of thousands died as a result. Having Libyans and Arabs feel that we betrayed them yet again would do wonders for our already plummeting credibility, particularly after the Obama administration has moved to back autocratic regimes in Bahrain and Yemen, rather than the peaceful protesters struggling for their freedom and getting shot in the process. 

Another argument we heard endlessly the past three weeks was that Arabs wouldn't want another foreign intervention or that intervention would taint the protesters. Maybe we should have asked the Libyans themselves whether they agreed with this assessment, which, again, was based on an incorrect reading of the Iraq war. Libyan rebels have been pleading for Western military intervention for quite a while now. A child had held up a poster in Benghazi saying "Mama Clinton, please stop the bleeding." When you're bleeding you don't really care you saves you. You just want to be saved. 

It is remarkable, and more than a touch ironic, that the Arab League, the GCC - made up entirely of autocrats - and the Organization of the Islamic Conference all supported a no-fly zone before the U.S. did (see my discussion of the Arab role here). This is the new American leadership. We will lead only after others lead first. Our credibility has a taken a major hit as a result, and offers more evidence that the U.S. seems congenitally unable to get on the right side of history even after history has already happened. 

Doing nothing in Libya would also have set a dangerous precedent: that Arab (or any other) leaders could slaughter their own people with impunity. Now the precedent may be reversed, offering much-needed momentum not just to Libyan pro-democracy forces but to those fighting for freedom all over the region. 

Sometimes showing "reticence" and "deliberating" are necessary. But sometimes decisive action is necessary, especially when civilians are being slaughtered (and this is where the "responsbility to protect" comes in). Cohen warns "that once the US gets involved in these type of interventions it can be awfully difficult and expensive to get out of them." He is right. This UN resolution is not the end. It is the beginning of a long, difficult road. To see this through, the US and its allies will need to more than just provide a buffer around Benghazi. The buffer zone will have to move along with the rebels - all the way toward Tripoli. 

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Comments

Other nations - at least those who aspire to protecting freedom -- have an obligation to invest sufficiently in their own defense so that they can protect their interests when ours do not coincide. Libya isn't our fight. If anyone should intervene, it is the Arab nations and the Europeans who should take up the gauntlet. But they can't.

You are wrong Euro2012Football Shirts
French,British,Spaniards ,Arabs and Islamic countries are ready to enforce a no fly zone to save their fellow Arab Libyans from promised ''rivers of blood'' from the mad criminal dictator that opressed them for 41 years

Libya is now most needed the help of the international community!

There is no "moral imperative" that can impel the use of American military force. For better or worse, President Bush sought and obtained Congressional authorization for action against Iraq, with which the U.S. was in a "cease-fire" agreement fromt the Gulf War, not a state of peace. Libya does not, in any sense, constitute an impending threat against the security of the United States, or its allies. On the contrary, the status quo of a Qadaffi who has renounced terrorism is actually safer to us than a rebellion, whose instigators' long-term motives are as yet unknown.

Yes, the U.S. should support democracy in the Middle East. But arguing for military intervention, without justification, without popular support, and without knowing the endgame, is foolish. Intervening so without the approval of our elected representatives in Congress is unconstitutional and un-American.

Daniel,

You said Euro 2012 was wrong, but then gave the perfect reason for why he was correct. Allow those on the other side of the Atlantic to enforce a no fly zone if they must. We spend more on "defense" than every other country combined.

Hamid says that we shouldn't repeat our past mistakes in Middle Eastern policy. I completely agree, but we disagree on what the mistakes were. Our intervention in that region of the world has caused Islamic terrorism to boom.

The West helped put that "made criminal dictator" into power, and has subsidized him since. Can't we finally see that foreign aid is a failure? Let us focus on international trade, and allow the Libyans to sort their own affairs out. This isn't isolationism, nor is it protectionism. It's simply non-interventionism. The sooner we end the welfare-warfare state, the better.

pcow

France, England, U.S and also many organizati­on that are decided they wish go to action against Gaddafi, but I think for that many general people will die and completely destroyed Libya. I've found special video footage on:

http://fms­.nu/erpZUl

May be it will a trap from Western for destroyed a Muslim Country(Li­bya). So it not a good solution for Libyan peace.

So the same people that hammered Bush for going in Iraq and Afghanistan are now ready to have us stick our nose in Libya. Shows that all the Bush bashing was political and so is this. The Marxists want Otraitor to have a win under his belt so they can crow how he saved the Libyans next election. Does not matter that he is destroying the lives of his own people while he plays Golf and takes endless vacation to rest from reading the prompter. How tiring that must be.Libya has Muslims killing Muslims let them determine their own future. What has helping Muslims done for us? Where is the gratitude from Kuwait or Iraq? Where is the cheap oil they can give us now that we need it in our time of need? Screw the Muslims let them kill each other off.

Why is it incumbent upon the International community ( really just NATO and America) to intervene in Libya in order to bring about “democracy”?

If we intervene in Libya, will we then be called to intervene in Bahrain, Yemen, the western areas of Saudi Arabia and various other backward, violent, fractious Arabo-Muslim states?

And as for the credibility of The West among Arab and other Muslim majority states, I, as a westerner, couldn’t really care less.
Who cares what they think of us? Why should their opinion even count? WJust what puts the intellectually, scientific and culturally backward Arabo-Muslim world in a position to judge the reputation of a culture, that of The West, which leads the world in every field of human endeavour?


If Nato and America do anything at all it should be this; making sure that millions of backward-thinking boat people fleeing their self-generated disaster don’t try and gate-crash their way into Europe and The West.

Intervention should no longer be an option. WE’ve already thrown our soldiers lives and billions of dollars at the problem and got nothing except extreme contempt from those on the recieving end of those same billions. This seething, bitter, horribly sectarian culture that is most of the Arab region, fast becoming the entire planet’s migraine, not to mention its ward, would be far better off ( as would humanity!) were it to be placed in quarantine and left to its own devices.

They need to be forced to face up…to themselves, to their idiocies, their numerous shortcomings, defects and faults instead of shunting the blame to outsiders.

Nothing else is ever going to work

To A Ruckus of Dogs,
Outstanding comment...I second your motion and promotion to Secretary of State when Hillary bolts for the door....

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