Is Intervention in Libya the Morally Correct Thing to Do?
There are multiple conflicting perspectives on this question worth considering.
Uri Avnery, leader of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom, writes that intervention is morally required:
I was extremely worried and extremely furious with the international community and especially with the US, which had wasted days and weeks of precious time with empty phrase-mongering, while the dictator reconquered Libya bit by bit.
Then there was the almost incredible sight of the UN Security Council convening within the hour, dispensing with speeches and unanimously adopting the resolution calling for military intervention.
The scene that ensued in Benghazi’s central square and broadcast live on Al Jazeera reminded me of Mugrabi Square in Tel Aviv on November 29, 1947, just after the United Nations General Assembly had adopted the resolution on the partition of Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab state. The feelings of Joy and relief were palpable.
THE HESITATION of the United States and other countries to intervene militarily in Libya was scandalous. More than that – it was monstrous.
My heart is with the Libyan people. (Indeed, in Hebrew “libi” means “my heart”.)
For me, ”non-intervention” is a dirty word. It reminds me of the Spanish civil war, which took place when I was very young.
In 1936, the Spanish republic and the Spanish people were viciously attacked by a Spanish general, Francisco Franco, with troops imported from Morocco. It was a very bloody war, with untold atrocities.
Franco was decisively aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. German Air Force planes terrorized Spanish cities. The bombardment of the town of Guernica was immortalized in a painting by Pablo Picasso. (The story goes that when the Nazis occupied Paris a few years later, they were outraged by the painting and shouted at Picasso: “Did you do that?” “No,” he answered quietly: “You did!”)
The Western democracies adamantly refused to help the republic and coined the term “non-intervention”. Non-intervention meant in practice that Great Britain and France did not intervene, while Germany and Italy did, and did their worst. The only foreign power to help the beleaguered democrats was the Soviet Union. As we learned much later, Stalin’s agents exploited the situation in order to eliminate their fellow fighters – socialists, syndicalists, liberals and others.
At the time, it looked liked a clear fight between good and absolute evil. Idealists from all over the world joined the International Brigades of the republic. If I had been only a few years older, I would without doubt have volunteered, too. In 1948, we sang with gusto the songs of the International Brigades in our own war.
FOR SOMEONE who was alive at the time of the Holocaust, especially for a Jew, there can be no doubt at all.
When it was over, and the awful extent of the genocide emerged, there was an outcry that has not yet died down.
“Where was the world? Why did the allies not bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz? Why did they not destroy the gas chambers and crematoriums in the death camps from the air?”
Read the full piece on Avnery’s blog.
Firedoglake’s Imka, on the other hand, argues in “Does Left Now Mean Pro-War?” that “If being Left is to mean anything, it must mean being radically antiwar, and CERTAINLY RADICALLY AGAINST IMPERIAL WAR,” and rebuts the idea that the intervention in Libya should be seen as a humanitarian one:
Comparisons to Rwanda encourage people to think that, at the loss of surely no more than a handful of lives, we could save perhaps a million lives in Libya, and who can argue with such numbers? But, of course, the attack on Libya has already cost untold numbers of lives, has already caused trauma and distruction [sic], has already more than likely unleashed the scourge of Depleted Uranium on the country … and we don’t know if any of that has saved any lives, especially considering that the Rebels themselves are seeking to continue the war, NOT to cease fire, and that the rebels have already been reported to have undertaken reprisals. And all this must be measured in the context of consistent western refusal to consider peace initiatives from Ghaddafi, from Chavez and Erdogan, and from the African Union.
And what will happen going forward? Will Libya become a land of peace and plenty, once the US/Nato and the rebels have conquered Gaddafi? Does the track record of countries under the domination of western powers suggest this, or does it suggest the exact opposite? And while we are ‘liberating’ Libya, what other situations that imperil human rights are ignored? Israel is heating up its attacks on the Palestinians. Bahrain is crushing human rights protests. Yemen is on the verge of civil war. God only knows what is going on in Japan, where the triple disaster seems to be bringing one of the most populous and ‘advanced’ nations on earth to the brink of disaster. But what’s important, apparently, is that the world concentrate its efforts on wrecking Libya, in the name of humanitarianism. Is there an element of Wag The Dog here?
And shall we consider the future consequences of the advancing corruption of the UN, whereby the UNSC is twisted into a means by which Imperial powers impose their will, whereby human rights claims become convenient casi belli? How much suffering will result from this? Suffering beyond measure?
But, of course, the absurdity of ‘Lefties’ promoting the latest Imperial War is even more grotesque in the light of the actual historical record of ‘humanitarian’ interventions, and the devastating impact of the onesideness of the entire process by which these campaigns are dreamed up, hyped, decided on and undertaken. Rwanda is waved endlessly in our faces, as if we need not concern ourselves with the US and western interference in the affairs of Rwanda and surrounding countries that helped bring about the massacre in Rwanda about in the first place, and as if it was irrelevant that since the massacre, not only has the ‘good’ regime in Rwanda (the one that ‘humanitarian’ intervention would have championed) created an increasingly authoritarian state, but this same regime has promoted a war in neighboring Congo far more bloody than several Rwanda massacres.
In “Be Consistent—Invade Saudi Arabia,” Robert Scheer offers yet another perspective:
It’s the black gold that drives nations mad and inevitably raises the question of whether America and the former European colonial powers give a damn about human rights as the basis for military intervention. If Libya didn’t have more oil than any other nation in Africa, would the West be unleashing high-tech military mayhem to contain what is essentially a tribal-based civil war? Once again an American president summons the passions of a human rights crusade against a reprehensible ruler whose crimes, while considerable, are not significantly different from those of dictators the U.S. routinely protects.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Moammar Gadhafi must now go not because his human rights record is egregious but rather because his erratic hold on power seems spent. After all, from the London School of Economics to Harvard, influential foreign policy experts were all too happy until quite recently to accept Libyan payoffs in exchange for a more benign view of Gadhafi’s prospects for change under the gentle guidance of what Harvard’s Joseph Nye celebrated as “soft power.”
But that revisionist appraisal of Gadhafi suddenly became an embarrassment when this nutty dictator—whom few in the world could ever understand, let alone warm to—was exposed by defections from his own armed forces to be akin to rotten fruit destined to drop. Libya’s honeymoon with the West, during which leaders led by Tony Blair and George W. Bush thought Col. Gadhafi might finally prove to be a worthy partner more concerned with reliably exporting oil than ineffectively ranting against Western imperialism, has suddenly been abandoned as no longer necessary. As with former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein before him, the Libyan strongman now seemed an awkward relic of a time that had passed him by, and easily replaceable. Not so the royal ruler of Saudi Arabia and the surrogates he finances in Yemen and Bahrain; their suppression of their peoples still falls within acceptable limits because of the vast resources the king manages in a manner that Western leaders have long found agreeable.
But this time, in the glaring light of the democratic currents sweeping through the Mideast, the contradictions in supporting one set of dictators while toppling others may prove impossible for the U.S. and its allies to effectively manage. The recognition, widely demanded throughout the region, that even ordinary Middle Easterners have inalienable rights is a sobering notion not easily co-opted. Why don’t those rights to self-determination extend to Shiites in the richest oil province in Saudi Arabia or for that matter to Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza?
Writing on the LA Progressive, Carl Bloice argues that the attack on Libya is simultaneously “A Bad Idea and Not What it Seems to Be”:
The Libyan opposition, or at least much of it, has made a legitimate demand for international support, for all the right humanitarian reasons. Many people in many parts of the world have supported their right to some kind of assistance. Governments, however, are not people, and do not make strategic decisions for humanitarian reasons. Governments do not use scarce resources and most especially do not deploy military force, to achieve humanitarian goals. So the cold strategic calculations of powerful governments cannot be viewed as a legitimate response to the humanitarian needs of Libya’s people or the humanitarian impulses of international civil society.
On Sunday, the African Union panel on Libya called for an “immediate stop” to all attacks by United States, France and Britain. The group also asked Libyan authorities to ensure “humanitarian aid to those in need,” as well as the “protection of foreigners, including African expatriates living in Libya.” In their statement the African leaders stressed need for “necessary political reforms to eliminate the causes of the present crisis” but at the same time called for “restraint” from the international community to avoid “serious humanitarian consequences.” According to AFP, the gathering also announced that a special meeting will be held in the Addis Ababa March 25, involving representatives from the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the European Union and the United Nations to “put in place a mechanism for consultation and concerted action” to resolve the Libyan crisis.
The demise of the Gadhafi regime would benefit the people of Libya, the Middle East and Africa. No doubt about it. But it cannot be avoided that the present military assault is hypocritical in the extreme, and has imperial motives related to the country’s oil reserves. The last thing the planet needs today is another attempt by major powers to extract “regime change” under the cover of a cartoonish “coalition,” in this cause one that cannot survive a week and the inevitable slaughter of the innocents with the excuse of morally repugnant “collateral damage.”
And writing on Al Jazeera, Phyllis Bennis explains why, despite its official UN-granted legality, the credibility of Western military action in Libya is rapidly dwindling:
Western air and naval strikes against Libya are threatening the Arab Spring.
Ironically, one of the reasons many people supported the call for a no-fly zone was the fear that if Gaddafi managed to crush the Libyan people’s uprising and remain in power, it would send a devastating message to other Arab dictators: Use enough military force and you will keep your job.
Instead, it turns out that just the opposite may be the result: It was after the UN passed its no-fly zone and use-of-force resolution, and just as US, British, French and other warplanes and warships launched their attacks against Libya, that other Arab regimes escalated their crack-down on their own democratic movements.
There is no question Libya’s opposition, like most of the democratic movements shaping this year’s Arab Spring, wants an end to the dictatorial regime in their country.
Unlike the democratic movements in neighbouring countries, the Libyan movement is fighting an armed military battle, something approaching a civil war, against the regime’s forces.
That movement, facing a ruthless military assault, has paid a far higher price in lost and broken lives than the non-violent activists in the other democratic uprisings, and even with components of the military joining them, they were out-gunned and desperate. So it is not surprising that they pleaded for international support from the powerful countries and institutions most able to provide immediate military aid, even if that aid ultimately threatened their own independence.
But, what they got was probably way more than even the Libyan opposition itself anticipated. And despite the exultation over the first downed tanks, questions loom.
What if some kind of stalemate leaves Libya divided and military attacks continuing? What if the opposition realises that negotiations (perhaps under the auspices of newly democratising Egypt and Tunisia) are urgently needed, but cannot be convened because the US and French presidents have announced that the Libyan leader has no legitimacy and cannot be trusted?
And what if, as earlier US-imposed no-fly zones (both unilateral and UN-endorsed) have experienced, the attack leads to rising numbers of civilian casualties, killed by Western coalition bombs and an escalating, rather than diminishing, civil war? What then?
The UN resolution clearly is looking ahead to just such an eventuality. It calls on the secretary-general to inform the UN Security Council of all military actions, instructing him to “report to the Council within seven days and every month thereafter”.
The UN, at least, seems to be preparing for another long war – that could last far longer than this year’s Arab spring.