Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Libya Ambivalence

The intervention in Libya has evoked deep ambivalence from many quarters. Bedfellows are hogging the covers, leaving to sleep in the other room, and generally snuggling up with strangers. Anti-war partisans are seeing justification for intervention in Qadaffy's brutal crackdown, while warmongers are finding reason for caution, this time.

I come at this with a knee-jerk anti-interventionist stance that is nevertheless not 100% pacifist in all situations. But I have not supported any of my government's military interventions abroad, major or minor, during my lifetime (which extends back to the Eisenhower Administration – I protested the Lebanese deployment from my crib).

Pacifists, as the parable goes, are like the doctor with a recalcitrant patient, who against medical advice, keeps drinking, smoking, and consuming too much red meat, When his body is riddled with tumors, he asks the doctor "What are you going to do about this?"

Pacifists today will rightly insist that we could have prevented having to fight three wars at once if we had addressed our addictions to oil and militarism and worked to correct dangerous global imbalances in wealth and poverty. But every time, they get asked "What are you going to do about this nasty dictator shooting people?"

I believe it was Abe Lincoln who pointed out that if wars can be justifed by self-defense, then all wars will be sold that way. Likewise, as the Kuwaitis and the Kosovars found out, if all wars are humanitarian interventions, then provoking or concocting a humanitarian crisis can buy you an intervention.

But is that what's happening in Libya? Juan Cole goes over the ways this is unlike the Iraq war, and notes that "No false allegations were made against the Qaddafi regime, of being in league with al-Qaeda or of having a nuclear weapons program. The charge is massacre of peaceful civilian demonstrators and an actual promise to commit more such massacres." That such massacres have occurred is beyond dispute, and not an invention of Hill and Knowlton.

Moreover, unlike both Clinton's intervention in Kosovo and Bush's invasion of Iraq, these actions have been authorized by a UN resolution. Michael Berube reminds us that institutions of international law, however imperfect, can be used in positive ways. He cites the cases of East Timor, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, as well as the extraditions of Pinochet and Milosevic. In this case, of course, the great powers who would have vetoed support for the Kosovo and Iraq wars chose to abstain. More ambivalence.

Here's a sampling of ambivalent, morally certain and counterintuitive views from around the Net:

Yglesias points out muddled motivations for the exercise from Gulf autocrats. As Vijay Prashad points out, "It is a telling sign that only the counter-revolutionary regimes are excited at the prospect of this battle."

Yglesias, again, on violence as a solution.

Cole on some good coming from this.

Michael Walzer says this need to be done by the locals.

Jonathan Schwarz on perverse incentives.

A grumpy Kevin Drum tells opponents to grow up.

Jon Rainwater warns of collateral damage.

Stephen Walt tells neocons and liberals to look in the mirror at each other.

Chomsky points out that we're intervening in a civil war. “We may not like it, but there is support for Gadafy.” (not from him, haters).

Jeff Sparrow says the left has been played, again.

Phyllis Bennis says this harms, not helps other Arab liberation movements.

George Kazolias says we don't have a dog in this fight. John V. Walsh notes the ethnic dimension. Thomas C. Mountain warns that all is not as it seems.

This is a work in progress, but I'm going to post it now that I've added all those links, and add more thoughts later. So let me get back to you on that.

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