Saturday, April 16, 2011

Libya: A Just War or Just a War?

Our story so far:

The Libya Chapter
The Libya Ambivalence
Toward a Shallower Ambivalence
Libya: He's a Rebel
Libya: Qadaffy's Defenders
Libya: Place Your Bets
Libya: Friends Like These
Libya: Opportunity Costs
Libya: Damage, Collateral and Otherwise

In thinking about whether the kinetic action in Libya is justified, it helps to consider the long tradition of Just War Doctrine. As I recall, supporters of the Iraq War tried to claim, ludicrously, that the conditions enumerated therein were met. As a refresher, those conditions are:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success; 
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power as well as the precision of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

Regarding the first point, just as in Iraq, Libya is no direct threat to us or to their neighbors. Any aggression has been directed towards internal dissenters, or as the Qadaffy regime sells it, in defense against an armed insurrection. Given the scale of the aggression (estimates of which vary widely), Obama has argued not only that "our interests" are at stake – that's the Carter Doctrine that both Bushes implemented in Iraq – but also that our "values" are. That was the basic rationale for Clinton's war in Kosovo, but also part of the sales pitch for both Bushes.

I've argued repeatedly that wars are not fought for altruistic reasons. And even if I concede that altruism can play a part – not only ostensibly, but also, (sometimes) in the minds of (some) policymakers – the existence of other, more self-interested motives tends to negate the altruism.

Paul Craig Roberts has argued that one motivation may be a squeeze play against the Chinese presence in the Mediterranean:
The People’s Daily Online (March 23) reported that China has 50 large-scale projects in Libya. The outbreak of hostilities has halted these projects and resulted in 30,000 Chinese workers being evacuated from Libya. Chinese companies report that they expect to lose hundreds of millions of yuan.

China is relying on Africa, principally Libya, Angola, and Nigeria, for future energy needs. In response to China’s economic engagement with Africa, Washington is engaging the continent militarily with the US African Command (AFRICOM) created by President George W. Bush in 2007. Forty-nine African countries agreed to participate with Washington in AFRICOM, but Gaddafi refused, thus creating a second reason for Washington to target Libya for takeover.

A third reason for targeting Libya is that Libya and Syria are the only two countries with Mediterranean sea coasts that are not under the control or influence of Washington...
Over at Global Research, Rick Rozoff notes that Libya is one of only five African countries "that have not entered into individual and regional partnerships with the Pentagon through AFRICOM." Interestingly, Ivory Coast is one of the others, with Zimbabwe, Eritrea and the rump Northern Sudan as the other holdouts. Dr. Horace Campbell, though, points out that none of those African "partners" has agreed to host military bases on their soil. AFRICOM "has 1,500 people operating out of Stuttgart, Germany. If Libya is indeed partitioned, that new state could provide a base for AFRICOM."

Oil, of course, has to be considered as as one of the potential motivating factors, and the Libyan resources – 80% of which are in the rebel-held East – are a particularly tasty prize. But Felicity Arbuthnot sees other financial motives at work in capturing Libya's economy. It's one of only five countries not participating in the international banking system, the others being Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Sudan. "There were two others," she notes ominously, "Afghanistan and Iraq, but they were gobbled up by the international banking system within a heartbeat of the invasions."

Alexander Cockburn notes that Qadaffy, like Saddam, was ditching dollars as a trading currency and encouraging others to do likewise. You may not, but some people might see this as "lasting, grave and certain" aggression against the community of nations. Cockburn  also dwells on how Libya's state-owned bank has been a thorn in the side of the West, and observes that the rebels have already founded the "Central Bank of Benghazi" to do business with their patrons.

Among those patrons, it seems, are our friends in Langley, the CIA. Khalifa Heftir (or Hefta, Hiftir, Heftar, or variants thereof) is now the military leader of the Benghazi rebellion. Hefta has lived in suburban Virginia, outside of Washington DC for the past two decades, "where he established a life but maintained ties to anti-Gadhafi groups." According to the McClatchy article, their source, Abdel Badr, has known Heftir all his life but "said he was unsure exactly what Hifter did to support himself." Any guesses?

Where this gets interesting is that the rebel leaders whom Sarkozy has recognized as the Benghazi partition's government (Boukhris, Charrani and Mansouri – don't make me do the spelling variants) began meeting in Paris in December – that is, as Vijay Prashad points out, "before the Tunisian uprising" [emphasis in original, and rightly so].

Combine this with Pepe Escobar's reporting in the Asia Times:
Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations independently confirm that Washington, via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy movement in their neighbor in exchange for a "yes" vote by the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya - the main rationale that led to United Nations Security Council resolution 1973.
And now we go from interesting to disturbing. This is the kind of thing that the left would be up in arms about if somebody named Bush had been involved. But reaction, to say the least, has been rather muted.

This brings us to the question of whether "all other means" had been exhausted prior to the intervention, let alone our chances for success or the question of greater harm than good. I had meant for this to be the last post in this series, but I've gone on long enough here today, so meet me back here and we'll talk again.

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