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Liberal interventionism + Libya « Previous | |Next »
March 18, 2011

Liberal interventionism in the world of nations is alive and well. The UN has voted for a no-fly zone and air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya.

The resolution, which is the result of painstaking multilateral diplomacy, lays out very clear conditions that must be met by Gaddafi. As interpreted by Washington it holds that:

• All attacks against civilians must stop.

• Gaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on the rebel stronghold Benghazi, and pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata and Zawiya.

• Gaddafi must establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas.

• Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.

If Gaddafi does not comply with the resolution the international community will impose consequences and the resolution will be enforced through military action. No foreign occupation is envisaged at this stage.

RowsonR4horsemen.jpg Martin Rowson

This UN intervention recalls the intervention in the 1999 Kosovo crisis, when NATO planes were dispatched to bomb Belgrade in an effort to stop Serbs from “cleansing” Kosovo, and Europe's failure to act in Bosnia. The policy of intervening in the world's troublespots to uphold democracy was reduced to tatters because of the disaster in Iraq. The era of liberal interventionism in international affairs appeared to be over.

British, French and US military aircraft are preparing to defend the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi. There's no guarantee that a piece of paper will succeeding in protecting the thousands of Libyans in Benghazi from Qaddafi's forces, which are gathering some 100 miles away outside the besieged town of Ajdabiya and have completely surrounded Misrata.

Hillary Clinton said the following in testimony to Congress last week:

I want to remind people that, you know, we had a no-fly zone over Iraq. It did not prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering people on the ground, and it did not get him out of office. We had a no-fly zone, and then we had 78 days of bombing in Serbia. It did not get Milosevic out of office. It did not get him out of Kosovo until we put troops on the ground with our allies.

There is no guarantee that military intervention will result in Gaddafi's demise. Liberal interventionism, as realists are quick to point out, needs to be backed by the iron fist of military power. Does that eventually mean troops on the ground?

Ian Buruma reminds us in Revolution from Above in the New York Review of Books:

The principles of “liberal intervention,” or the “right to intervene” to stop mass murder and persecution, were developed in Paris in the 1980s, by Mario Bettati, a professor of international public law, and popularized by a French politician, Bernard Kouchner, who was one of the founders of Médecins sans Frontières. This is how Kouchner described his enthusiasm for liberal intervention with military force: “The day will come, we are convinced of it, when we are going to be able to say to a dictator: ‘Mr. Dictator we are going to stop you preventively from oppressing, torturing and exterminating your ethnic minorities.’”

Liberal interventionism is about saving minorities from death and persecution, not about spreading revolution. Some realists see national interests as paramount, and would make deals with any dictator to protect them.

European countries and the US backed by Arab League members have launched attacks from air and sea against Gaddafi 's regime in Libya. The bombing raids by fighter jets, cruise missile strikes and electronic warfare are aimed at knocking out military units and capability being used to attack rebel strongholds such as Benghazi and Misrata. Air defence systems are being targeted to give the jets clear skies.

Libya may well end up divided into the rebel-held east and a regime stronghold in the rest of the country which would include the oil fields and the oil terminal town al-Brega. There is a strong risk, too, that it will become the region's fourth failed state, joining Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. So the the West gets drawn into an increasingly complicated civil war.

What is political endgame here? What is the role the U.S. or the Europeans might be expected to play should Qaddafi fall? What steps will follow should the No Fly Zone and indirect intervention not succeed in driving Qaddafi from power? The best answer is regime change — displacing the Gaddafi government of Libya and replacing it with a new regime built around the rebels.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:29 PM | | Comments (12)


They should have moved quickly if the motive was to save lives and increase human well being, and that's the only justification for any sort of intervention in the affairs of another. Who wins or loses with a prospective outcome following the current mess?

I'm afraid that from my no doubt naive perspective, this makes no sense whatsoever. If other Middle Eastern revolutions are a precedent, there will be a bloodbath whichever side wins. Trying to tilt the balance more in favour of the rebels will surely just prolong the conflict and add to the suffering.

If there are justifiable grounds for wanting the rebels to win, then say what they are and give them enough support to ensure a quick victory. Blowing things up from the safety of an airplane in the hope Gaddafi will decide to throw in the towel seems like a compromise that will complicate matters without achieving anything useful.

Of course, if Gaddafi capitulates in the near future the move will no doubt be hailed as a master-stroke, but given the information that is publicly available it will be due to rank good luck and not sensible risk analysis.

does the US want regime change in Libya?

This “liberal intervention” is meant to protect the lives of those who turned against Gaddafi. The UNSC has not authorised regime change.

I can't even begin to predict how this will turn out. I'm usually such an opinionated bugger. But this time the situation is just too muddy for even a wild guess.

Is this intervention going to be seen through the prism of Sierra Leone and Kosovo, or Iraq and Afghanistan, where regime change was swift but where civil war then ensued?

An editorial in The Guardian observes:

This intervention could merely be paving the way for partition, the worst of both worlds: the tyrant and his sons would still exist and the revolution, half finished, could halt on tribal lines.

It says that The resolution rules out a foreign occupation and western leaders repeatedly vowed that the objective was to let Libyans choose their own leaders in freely held elections.
But where and when, in the whole sorry history of western intervention in the Middle East, has this happened? Were Jeffersonian shells fired from US tanks invading Iraq, planting the seeds of democracy in the craters they left? Or does the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, now behave increasingly like another regional strongman ruling over a country bearing the permanent sectarian scars of a civil war?

As British Tornados, French Dassaults and Canadian F-18s prepare to patrol the skies over Tripoli, it will be business as usual – an intervention which looks much like all the others.

Rebels that run around shooting guns in the air dont usually provide stable governments and life for the people. Its a good idea to separate whether they are right from whether they will be able to provide stability.
This point could be equally applied to Gadaffi.
If Gadaffi is overthrown there will be need for long term help. I would be inclined to look the other way for a little longer.

The elephant in the room is the $32billion (plus) of Libyan assets seized by the Europeans and US earlier this month.

Will this boodle be made available unconditionally to the rebels? If not, what conditions will be imposed? Or will the Europeans and US just keep it?

How independent is a new regime in Libya while foreign Powers control its purse-strings?

Lots of questions. No answers.

It gets a bit hard to defend "liberal interventionism" when it becomes selective, opportunistic and self-interested on the part of the intervening Powers.

Where are the liberal interventions in Palestine? In Bahrain? In Yemen? in Burma? In Africa?

the purpose of the Saudis and UAE troops that had arrived to guard essential infrastructure and restore order on the streets in Bahrain was to put down, by whatever means necessary, a growing rebellion by the kingdom's majority, but deprived, Shia citizens.They are defending the ruling Sunni minority.

The Saudi's are convinced that Bahrain's uprising is being organised by Tehran and that the protesters are fifth columnists for a regime of ayatollahs. The Saudis will not accept a Shi'ite government in Bahrain.

So democracy is not allowable in Bahrain. Stability is required. The Saudi argument is that Iran might benefit if Bahrain embraced democracy and that, as a result, the entire region might become destabilized in ways inimical to U.S. power-projection policies.

Though Bahrain is a small island in the Persian Gulf, it is also the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which the Pentagon counts as a crucial asset in the region. It is widely considered a stand-in for neighboring Saudi Arabia, America’s gas station in the Gulf, and for Washington, a nation much too important ever to fail.

The US is once again in familiar territory -- supporting an anti-democratic ruler against his people.

Could America's war in Libya remain limited? Can the U.S. could limit its participation in the Libyan civil war to airstrikes, leaving the fighting to Libyan rebels?

it doesn't look likely that the onset of airstrikes will quickly demoralize Gaddafi's loyalist forces, tips the balance of resolve back toward the rebels, and maybe even convinces Qaddafi to leave town.

A more likely scenario is that Qaddafi may be unable to retake the whole country now, but the rebels may not be able to force him out either in the absence of direct outside involvement (possibly including troops on the ground).