Libya, the US, and the moral imperative to intervene

Shadi Hamid writes:

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.

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16 thoughts on “Libya, the US, and the moral imperative to intervene

  1. Fedup23

    “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.”

    This is precisely the reason why I don’t believe the US or many of these western countries can be trusted to do the right thing in Libya in the long run. Historically, US intervention has almost always resulted in less than stellar results for the host population because the US government does not share the same interests as them. I hope that it turns out differently in Libya, but I’m highly doubtful. I also hope this does not set a precedent for military interventions in such situations in the future as it could precipitate a number of destructive wars. Going along that same note let’s hope this intervention does not escalate the conflict to a point where even more civilians lose their lives.

  2. M. Smith


    Said with greater care and delicacy than I apparently have been using on this site lately.

  3. Vince J.

    It is not a matter of doing nothing in Lybia is foreseeable. I is matter of US/UK/French oil corporation salivating over Lybia without applying the same “Moral” arguments for Bahrain, Honduras, Chile 73, etc.
    If the US wants military intervention, it is NOT for any “Moral” reasoning. It is for taking hold of other peoples resources, just like Iraq. The Excuse to illegaly invade Iraq was because WMD. When that became obviously clear it was a lie, the blah blah blah about ‘Democracy” promotion crap came about. Check the laws the War Crimiknal Paul ( Jerry) Bramer III (the turd) imposed on Iraq before “Democratic” elections… If Lybia produced Zuchinnis, I would love to see what the Failed State of North america would say about Gadafi. Or if Iraq produced Carrots if we would have had an illegal invasion.
    Just check the amount of jornalists kidnaped, tortured and killed in what the War Criminal Hillary Clinton is calling a “Democracy” in Honduras! Why not a NFZ in Bahrain using the same “Moral” arguments used to impose one in Lybia.
    Hypocrisy! That is what it is! Hypocrisy!!!
    Bush=War Criminal
    Obama= War Criminal

  4. Vince J.

    …and Yes, I am happy the US is opening yet another front. That means the collapse will come sooner than later. Have you see Wisconsin later?!

  5. Vince J.

    TheRealNews has an excellent video analysis:

    “UN Resolution to Protect Civilians not Regime Change”
    Gaddafi government declares ceasefire and willing to respect UN resolution; resolution attacked as violation of Libyan sovereignty

    Check it out!

  6. Vince J.

    As theRealNews amazingly points out:
    If the Criteria for a NFZ is attacking and killing civilians,
    Did the ‘international community’ imposed a NFZ to israel for the massacre in 2008/9?
    Is the ‘international community’ is imposing a NFZ in Bahrain?

  7. Vince J.

    Ahhh!!! Finaly you can watch John Pilger’s latest documentary “THE WAR YOU DONT SEE” on YouTube!!!!!!
    See how moral the US/UK really really really are…

  8. AMeshiea

    Vince. I agree that itss eems to be a double standard for Bahrain, but last time I checked they were not using airpower to bomb their citizens which implies a NFZ is not really entering the equation.
    Bahrain is still at the Yemen level of security forces using live ammo to terrorize the protestors. It has not yet turned into an effective all out rebellion as in Libya. If the West succceeds along with the rebels in taking back the nation from the tyrant then questions about other regimes are likely to become more prominant. Pressure on Bahrain to reform may become irresistable and will likely not need military action, even were that a possibility.

    I just hope that the fake cease fire calls from Gadfly are seen fo what they are: a cynical attempt to buy time and hold onto gains. That anyone would believe his calls for humanitarian monitoring, ckearly hasn’t pegged the liar for what he is.

  9. Vince J.

    I hope the inavasion and occupation of iraq and Afeghanistan are seen for what they really are: A cynical attempt to steal other country’s resource, oil.
    Does the moral equasion counts the one million civilians dead in Iraq after the illegal invasion?

  10. Vince J.

    M. Smith,
    Excellent link! I really like Greewald’s articles. They are sober and eloquently argued!

  11. M. Smith

    Greenwald is an excellent thinker and source for sanity in this world.

    glad you appreciated them Vince.

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