A reader here comments:
I have great respect for you and your site but find myself dumbfounded by your enlisting Leon Wieseltier in your campaign to impose (or as you would say “respond to the rebels’ pleas”) a NFZ [no-fly zone] in Libya. The right or wrong of such a move is highly debatable. I for one feel no honest observer of the last twenty years of US/NATO interventions can see much wisdom or efficacy in such action even with the possibility (by no means assured) of it bringing about the desired outcome of rebel (who exactly?) success and the tyrant’s fall. Wieseltier, a deluded apologist for extreme violence (Iraq, Bosnia and where else?) shows his true “humanitarian intervention” colors by solemnly citing the awful Samantha Powers. Her “sad” (for reasons other than those he cites) book “A Problem From Hell” the much lauded whitewash of U.S. slaughter (by simply ignoring it) is the Bible used by the Humanitarian Interventionists to justify violence they -liberals- wish to unleash. One of several major lies Powers propagates is the fiction that the US “stood idly by” in Rwanda when in fact it was very much involved with Kagame and his invasion of Rwanda (to this day supporting his murderous rampages in DRC). If you’re going to insist that US/NATO –responsible for some of the most grievous violations of international law resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent civilians– bomb (see Sec Def Gates) Libya I would respectfully suggest you don’t let neo-con hacks like Wieseltier make your case for you.
I can’t see why you think the US would magically change its spots after decades of murderous policies and merely float above Libya like some guardian angel, do its NFZ thing, make things safe for Libyan democracy and then turn around and fly off into the sunset. Even if the US were to morph into an egalitarian and neutral police force devoid of its mighty imperial baggage the proposed NFZ would be fraught with unnecessary risk of disaster for the Libyan people themselves. No such use of power has ever been so clinically used without serious consequences in the form of entanglements and debts owed not to mention the usual unforeseen tangential horrors of war all highly probable and predictable even if it didn’t involve the players and history in this instance. Powerful state actors are not designed to do work free of charge. The idea that the US can use military force in Libya without further destabilizing the region seems ludicrous to me.
You refer to my “campaign to impose (or as you would say ‘respond to the rebels’ pleas’) a NFZ in Libya”.
Whether a no-fly zone is imposed disregarding the preference of rebels, or is enforced in response to rebel pleas, is an all-important distinction. I don’t support foreign intervention that would amount to the US or any other outside power simply trying to impose its will on Libya. Neither do I see any evidence that such a move is on the cards. The idea that the US is itching to involve itself in another imperial adventure implies that the US has learned nothing from Iraq.
When Obama says we are slowly tightening the noose on Gaddafi, the operative word is not “noose” — it’s “slowly”. However much he and other Western leaders might profess an interest in seeing Gaddafi ousted, their primary interest is in seeing him restrain his brutality just enough that the outside powers don’t get drawn in.
Note that Obama said the US would stand up for “defenseless civilians” in Libya. In other words, they can’t expect any help from the US unless they stop fighting. That’s not much of an offer to those fighters now retreating from Ras Lanuf. In fact, it’s an invitation for Gaddafi to retake Brenghazi. If its residents try to defend their stronghold, they won’t be defenseless civilians. But if they lay down their weapons, Gaddafi can reassert control without a fight.
Those who are now vehemently opposing a no-fly zone might stop to consider whether they are actually aiding and abetting in what might end up as an opened-ended process to isolate Gaddafi that ultimately causes more harm to the Libyan people than anyone else. For governments which like to structure foreign policies around easy-to-demonize enemies, Gaddafi is more useful remaining in power than in being overthrown.
Although there have been numerous reports in which rebel leaders and individual fighters are directly quoted appealing for swift implementation of a no-fly-zone, I have not seen a single statement in which rebels say they do not want a no-fly zone. There are plenty of statements saying they don’t want foreign troops on Libyan soil — I share their assumption that a no-fly zone will not be a precursor to an invasion simply because the US and NATO are indeed overstretched in Afghanistan. The Pentagon doesn’t want to trumpet its lack of capacity — it prefers to council caution.
If I cite Wieseltier or anyone else, that doesn’t mean I’m endorsing everything that individual has ever written. I trust that the readers here have enough critical intelligence to evaluate statements based on their substance and not the hallowed or hollow authority of the source.
Wieseltier says the White House is “so haunted by past Arab anger at American action in the Middle East that it cannot recognize present Arab anger at American inaction in the Middle East.” The validity of that statement doesn’t hinge on who wrote it. The frustration on the ground in Libya which Wieseltier references from a New York Times report is also evident in this statement from Salem Abdel Wahad, a 30-year-old Libyan rebel soldier:
We find one thing strange: the position of the United states. It’s impossible that the U.S. would not have imposed a no-fly zone, impossible, unless they have some agreement with Gaddafi against the Libyan people.
You say “The idea that the US can use military force in Libya without further destabilizing the region seems ludicrous”. Maybe. But as the Arab democratic revolution develops, we either accept and even dare I say celebrate the fact that this is a hugely destabilizing process, or we say that in the interests of regional stability, it would be much better if these angry Arabs temper their desire for political freedom.
The Arab democratic revolution is bad for America — at least in the short term. It’s pushing up gas prices and it’s harming the economy — and most Americans don’t really give a shit about whether Libyans or pretty much anyone else have democratic freedoms or live under oppression. The same kind of myopic self-interest applies to the US government. So, trying to build up public pressure in support of foreign assistance to Libya’s rebels is not about appealing to idealistic instincts where they are unlikely to be found. It’s about trying to enlist support for a just cause even if that support comes tainted with a bundle of dubious interests.
The fact that I support calls for a NFZ does not mean that I believe this would necessarily decisively tip the balance in the rebels’ favor, but if implemented fast enough it could place an urgently needed obstacle on Gaddafi’s path to victory and give the rebels some breathing space. This is and will remain their fight.
If Libyans could secure their freedom through non-violent protests, Gaddafi would already have been toppled. But since he chose to use violence to maintain his rule, those who had already risen up against him were left with a choice: be rounded up and executed or imprisoned, or to fight for their lives. I think they made the right choice and that their fight is worthy of support by anyone who opposes oppression. Those who believe that stability should be our overriding concern can continue watching and hoping that things quieten down soon. But have no doubt, if Gaddafi holds on, autocratic rulers across the region will have taken note that the West remains, as it has long been, a willing partner in rule by force — even as we profess our love of democracy.