No country for old dictators

As far as I’m concerned there are no good arguments for intervention in Libya. Reports that we’ve saved 100,000 lives there strike me as no better than propaganda. After all, 100,000 was the number of those killed in the firebombing of Tokyo during World War II – the deadliest day of that war. I have a hard time believing that Qaddafi would even be capable of that sort of devastation. Reports of only a thousand rebel troops also strike me as little more than bragging on the part of rebels. We should be skeptical of these things.

That the Libyans are hugging downed American airmen and showering them with thanks is eerily reminiscent of all those Iraqis greeted us as liberators not quite a decade ago, throwing their shoes first at the toppling statues of Saddam Hussein and then later at their liberator, George W. Bush.

Liberal and neoconservative hawks, and diehard supporters of Obama, can tick off a whole host of reasons to support this intervention. The first among these is that it is merely humanitarian, a mission to save the lives of Libyan civilians. Similar arguments were made about Iraq. Often Rwanda is invoked, or Bosnia. Over one hundred thousand civilians have been killed in Iraq since operations began in 2003. (That number again! Perhaps we have atoned for the hundred thousand killed in Iraq by the hundred thousand saved in Libya…) Nobody can say for sure what would have happened in Rwanda, though it is almost certain that any intervention would have been too little, too late.

I am deeply troubled by the enthusiasm for this latest American invasion of Arab lands – whether from Juan Cole or Bill Kristol – no matter its humanitarian trappings, no matter the D next to the current president’s name, no matter the lives saved with our oh-so-smart smart bombs, no matter the much more impressive coalition of the willing we have gathered around us this time. None of this matters. We are bombing another country, one that has not invaded its neighbors, one that has not in any material way threatened American security or interests.

P.S. – I should add that our involvement in Libya may very well threaten our interests, as Paul Pillar explains (via Larison).


The US prepares for war with Libya

This is bad news:

As loyalist Libyan forces bomb the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, the United States is pushing the United Nations to authorize not only a no-fly zone but airstrikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery.

Reuters quotes U.S. officials as saying Washington has concluded that a no-fly zone is not enough to turn the tide against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces.

Gadhafi is expressing increased confidence he will prevail. Libya’s armed forces offered to stop military operations Sunday to give rebels a chance to surrender, Al Arabiya TV reports.

At the United Nations, where a vote on the proposal could come as early as today, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the Security Council is weighing “a range of action” for protecting civilians in the fighting.

I guess Iraq and Afghanistan are not enough. We need to go to war now with Libya as well. We never learn, do we?

US Intervention in Libya

After decades of botched meddling in other nations’ domestic affairs, American foreign policy reached fever pitch during the Bush administration. More often than not, our meddling has resulted in backlash or terrible unintended consequences, from the installation of right-wing dictators in South America, to the Iranian Islamic Revolution. This doesn’t even take into account the various foolhardy wars we’ve stumbled into, from Vietnam to Iraq. So I come at foreign policy from a very cautious position. I’m not quite full-on pacifist, but I’m close.

All that said, reports out of Libya are disturbing to put it mildly – the violence against Libyan protestors is truly horrendous. For all the defections of air force officers and diplomats, there is report after report of slaughter. Qaddafi’s special forces are attacking protestors with snipers, artillery, tanks, and from the sea and air. They are dropping bombs from helicopters. Hundreds are dead, though we have no way of knowing the actual death-toll.

Aziz Poonawalla writes:

It’s rare for me to advocate something as direct as a military action – but a no-fly zone is something we must as a nation do, and do immediately, if we are to do anything to help bring about a new golden age of democracy in the Middle East. After Egypt, all Arab leaders feared their people; after Libya, the people will again fear their tyrants. All the progress will be lost, all the potential will be wasted.

This is the moment that must be seized. And only we can do it.

I don’t know. I’m conflicted. This is one of those many moments I’m glad to not have Obama’s job.

I suppose I still come down on the non-interventionist side, no matter how horrible the actions of the Qaddafi government may be. There are rumors that the military might still turn on Qaddafi – let’s hope there is truth to these. And it’s important that the Libyan people own this revolution. I don’t wish death on anyone, but this is not our fight, no matter how much we wish we could step in and do something. If there are other actions the US and international community can take to aid the protestors – including aiding defecting Libyan troops, setting up border hospitals, and keeping communications as open as possible, I think we should exploit these as much as possible.

All that being said, I don’t often write about foreign policy because there’s an element of armchair general inherent in it that I like to avoid. I don’t have the facts to say with certainty what sort of response is appropriate at this point. But I hope the killing stops soon, and that Qaddafi is brought to justice.