Who gets upset by the imposition of arms embargoes on countries in the throes of civil war? As one might expect, it is the people who want us to take a side in the conflict. Paul Wolfowitz is bothered that the arms embargo the U.N. has just imposed on Libya applies to the entire country:
If that sounds absurd, it is exactly what the United States and the “international community” did at the outset of the war in Bosnia 19 years ago. The embargo on the Bosnians remained in effect for years, depriving them of the means to defend themselves, with the argument advanced that supplying arms to either side would simply prolong the war. In fact, what prolonged the war was the weakness of the Bosnians.
Er, no. What prolonged the war was the continued support for armed factions from outside Bosnia. The arms embargo was disadvantageous to the Bosnian Muslims in that the other factions in Bosnia had ready access to weapons from Serbia and Croatia, but the issue was never that the arms embargo as such prolonged the war. One thing that prolonged the war was that all of the parties to the conflict had goals that were far more ambitious than they had the strength to realize. Obviously, it was the lack of an effective arms embargo that helped the war to continue for years.
The Bosnian arms embargo formally penalized all sides, but the embargo didn’t prevent arms supplies from reaching some of the factions. In retrospect, imposing an arms embargo on Bosnia seemed like the obvious, appropriate thing for outsiders to do, but it tipped the balance of the conflict in ways that some outsiders didn’t like. It’s no coincidence that the Westerners most frustrated with the arms embargo on Bosnia were/are the people who believed that the U.S. and NATO should actively take sides with Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the war. What they were interested in was not hastening the end of the war, which would have worked to the benefit of the Serbs, but instead they were interested in turning the tide of the war against the Serbs. The arms embargo got in the way of doing that, which is why American interventionists wanted it lifted.
Wolfowitz’s real objection to the current arms embargo is that there is one side in Libya’s civil war he believes that outsiders should be actively helping, and the arms embargo technically prevents that. However, if the goal is to limit the extent and duration of conflict, rather than to achieve a particular political result, imposing an arms embargo is reasonable. At the rate that the rebels seem to be taking over most of Libya with the weapons that they already have available from military bases and defectors, the arms embargo may not matter very much to the final outcome of the conflict. Nonetheless, it’s important not to fall for these phony objections.
P.S. It’s also worth adding that the arms embargo authorized by UNSCR 1970 specifically prohibits states from allowing the transit of mercenaries to Libya. It is possible that this prohibition will simply be ignored by other states, but it is directly aimed at halting one of the few supports for Gaddafi’s hold on power. Needless to say, Wolfowitz pays no attention to the significance of this provision.
Niall Ferguson dreams of the McCain administration that might have been:
The correct strategy—which, incidentally, John McCain would have actively pursued had he been elected in 2008 [bold mine-DL]—was twofold. First, we should have tried to repeat the successes of the pre-1989 period, when we practiced what we preached in Central and Eastern Europe by actively supporting those individuals and movements who aspired to replace the communist puppet regimes with democracies.
Western support for the likes of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia and Solidarity in Poland was real. And it was one of the reasons that, when the crisis of the Soviet empire came in 1989, there were genuine democrats ready and waiting to step into the vacuums created by Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Sinatra Doctrine” (whereby each Warsaw Pact country was allowed to do things “its way”).
No such effort has been made in the Arab world. On the contrary, efforts in that direction have been scaled down. The result is that we have absolutely no idea who is going to fill today’s vacuums of power. Only the hopelessly naive imagine that thirtysomething Google executives will emerge as the new leaders of the Arab world, aided by their social network of Facebook friends. The far more likely outcome—as in past revolutions—is that power will pass to the best organized, most radical, and most ruthless elements in the revolution, which in this case means Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood.
The worrying thing is that Ferguson might actually believe this. Had McCain been elected, and had he managed to get to this point without starting WWIII over South Ossetia, he would most likely be facing very similar scenes. Democratists populating the McCain administration would have been agitating for pushing more political reform in these countries, and Washington would have started selecting the favorites that it wanted to promote, and it still wouldn’t have changed the reality that we wouldn’t know who will fill the power vacuums that are opening up in one country after the next. Western support for Arab liberals wouldn’t make them more successful than they would otherwise be. If Western backing were an important reason for the political success of the factions most Westerners prefer, the governments of Lebanon, Iraq, and Gaza would have a very different composition than they do. How are the “genuine democrats” doing there? We do know that actively supporting Russian liberals in the fashion Ferguson recommends didn’t lead to the greater success of Russian liberalism, but instead resulted in seeing it discredited and defeated for a generation.
Only the hopelessly naive (or the desperately opportunistic partisan) would believe that a little more McCain-sponsored Western support for, say, Ayman Nour would have dramatically altered the political landscape in Egypt in just a few years’ time. If “the best organized, most radical, and most ruthless elements” will be able to exploit the situation in Egypt now, they would have been able to do so even if the U.S. had followed all of the democracy promotion advocates’ advice. Nostalgia for Cold War successes is badly misleading. Western support for eastern European dissidents was all very well, but it wasn’t what made the revolutions in 1989 a success, and it wasn’t what led to the mostly peaceful transitions to democratic government in the years that followed. Westerners very much want to take credit for 1989 and afterwards (we “won” the Cold War, after all), but the reality is that this was something that the peoples of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union accomplished almost entirely on their own. The Western contribution to that political transformation was minimal, and we can be certain that if it had not turned out well hardly anyone would want to bring it up now.
The sobering thing about rapid political change in these countries is that there really is very little that the U.S. could have done differently in just the last few years that would have produced a significantly different outcome. Democratists look at what happened in the 1980s, they reason foolishly that 1989 happened because of what the U.S. and Western allies did in supporting political dissidents, and they conclude that “we did it before, we can do it again!” Just as Iraq war supporters stupidly invoked Japan and Germany as meaningful precedents for the political transformation that could happen in Iraq, Ferguson is invoking the successes of eastern European dissidents as precedents for what could have happened in the Near East.
What makes Ferguson’s comparison even harder to take is the presumption that Western support for eastern European dissidents was important to their success, when the success of eastern European revolutions in 1989 rested almost entirely with the peoples of those countries. Ferguson’s analysis and recommendations seem to hinge on believing that Western support for dissidents in communist states was important to the successful political transition in those states, because Ferguson can’t seem to imagine foreign political movements that succeed or fail regardless of what Westerners do or don’t do. Ferguson assumes that the “genuine democrats” don’t have much of a chance in these countries, which is a defensible, skeptical position, but then he destroys any credibility he might still have by arguing that the “genuine democrats” would have a decent chance at prevailing if only the U.S. and the West had promoted democracy a bit more.
If there is anything more pathetic than the usual round of “who lost [fill in the blank]?”, it is the risible attempt to claim that all would be well if there had just been more American emphasis on democracy promotion earlier on. Ferguson practically admits that the rest of his argument is nonsense when he stresses the poverty and relative lack of education of the populations in most of these countries.
Stalin had opted for a Russia that was isolationist, which meant, among other things, the isolation (even more than the segregation) of foreign diplomats from contacts with almost any Russian; this included, too, close and constant secret police accompaniment and supervision. Because of his great interest in Russia, because of his affection for its people, Kennan was even more pained by these conditions than were other diplomatists posted in Moscow….At the same time the violence and the rabid lies of their government directed against American and Americans were such that, at least on one occasion, he came close to suggesting that while an American diplomatic representation should remain, there might be no need for an American ambassador in Moscow. He was unhappy with some of the activities of his government, too. He tried–on occasion, more or less successfully–to curb such American military undertakings that, close to the Soviet Union’s frontiers, would unnecessarily arouse Russian suspicions and countermeasures. In early September he sat down at his desk and–again–wrote a long paper for Washington entitled “The Soviet Union and the Atlantic Pact.” In this he warned against excessive militarization on the part of the West, because of the condition that the Soviet Union did not want another war and did not plan to extend militarily. The dispatch was comparable to the Long Telegram of 1946, but only to some extent; it went largely unnoticed by Washington. But what vexed Kennan above all were his experiences of sequestered life in Moscow. The result was his–unexpected–explosion, and the subsequent end of his ambassadorial career. ~John Lukacs, George Kennan: A Study of Character (p. 117-118)
I wanted to find Lukacs’ account of the end of Kennan’s tenure as ambassador to the USSR after Ryan Lizza referred to it in this item on Jon Huntsman. Lizza’s description seemed incomplete, and it is. Lizza uses Kennan’s “explosion” as a precedent for an ambassador causing an uproar in the country where he is posted, but this misrepresents Kennan’s actions and almost gives Huntsman a pass for what Lizza speculates he might be doing. Lizza wrote:
But the fallout from Huntsman’s adventure in a Beijing market clotted with protesters raises an interesting question: What if, in his last two months before he leaves his Beijing post, Huntsman provoked some sort of diplomatic row that emphasized an ideological split with the President? What if he demanded that Obama give more aid and support to the pro-democracy movement? That could certainly make some waves in Iowa.
I can’t think of a recent Presidential candidate who used his or her diplomatic confrontations as a campaign platform, but my editor, Nick Thompson, the author of “The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War,” reminds me that Kennan’s very public spat with a Communist regime served him well politically later in life.
For Huntsman’s sake, and for the sake of the relationship with China, I would have to hope that his dedication to serving as ambassador in a professional way would prevent him from doing anything like this. This is the scenario that James Fallows worried about when rumors of a Huntsman run startled swirling. Were Huntsman foolish enough to make some melodramatic break with the administration, everyone would see it as a transparently political ploy. Far from helping him with anyone in the U.S., it would signal to anyone paying attention that Huntsman was unduly self-serving and was willing to put his own ambitions ahead of serving responsibly in his current position. I don’t know that Huntsman would even consider doing such a thing, but it isn’t a compliment to suggest that he might.
This is why it’s important to understand the difference between what Kennan did and why, and what Lizza suggests that Huntsman might do. Kennan’s outburst was the result of frustration with his experience in Moscow, and it obviously wasn’t a deliberate plan with the goal of setting himself up politically back home. Despite disagreements with Washington, his statement wasn’t primarily an expression of his dissatisfaction with policy. What Lizza proposes here is that Huntsman should pick up on (or maybe invent?) some China policy disagreement he may have with the administration and then exaggerate it for the sake of creating the appearance of distance between himself and Obama. Whether or not the disagreement would have merit is irrelevant. As Huntsman would be concocting this diplomatic incident after his resignation had already been accepted, it also wouldn’t do Huntsman any good politically. Lizza acknowledges as much at the end. He wouldn’t be seen as someone speaking out on a point of deep principle, which some people might at least respect even if they thought it unwise. He would be seen as obviously pandering to domestic constituencies that want to find fault with Obama’s foreign policy, and his credibility would be badly damaged.
Second, as Katrina Trinko points out, Mitch Daniels decertified all public unions, entirely rescinding their collective-bargaining rights, on his first day in office in 2005. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, as a reminder, is seeking to limit collective-bargaining rights for most public-sector employees, with notable exceptions for public-safety workers: a reasonable, but much more modest, reform. In other words, Mitch Daniels has already done more on the issue of public-sector unions than Scott Walker is even attempting.
Put more bluntly, the latest round of hysteria over Daniels’ alleged failings is even more baseless than the last. Hardly any of the people excoriating Daniels as unfit today gave a second thought to public-sector unions six years ago when he was first addressing the issue. The right’s new cause celebre is old news to Daniels, and because he made a decision about legislative priorities that showed him to be insufficiently zealous in his desire to weaken private-sector unions he has supposedly failed a critical test of leadership. If anyone wanted a demonstration of why Daniels shouldn’t waste his time seeking the nomination of the Stupid Party, here it is.
One thing that can be said for Obama’s cautious response to the conflict in Libya so far is that it has annoyed all of the right people. The signatories to the letter Rogin cites is a Who’s Who of hawkish interventionists whose advice should be ignored as often as possible.
Of the five specific recommendations they make, three are unremarkable, and virtually everyone can support them because they are obvious and unobjectionable. Freezing assets, announcing that members of the regime will be held accountable for their crimes, and providing humanitarian assistance are all reasonable, fairly easy things to do. The recommendation of a no-fly zone is a mistake for all the reasons outlined before, and it also doesn’t seem as if it is very likely to be imposed. They want the U.S. to call on NATO to develop plans for a no-fly zone, but Rasmussen just said yesterday that the conflict in Libya “does not threaten NATO or any NATO allies.” For once, NATO leaders seem to understand that it is not the alliance’s role to police conflicts on other continents.
That leaves us with the hawks’ other recommendation, which is to consider cutting off importation of Libyan oil. This seems unusually daft even for this crowd. The vast majority of Libya’s oil pipelines and ports are in the eastern part of the country currently controlled by anti-regime forces, so cutting off importation of Libyan oil would deprive the anti-regime forces of the one reliable source of revenue that they have.
According to The Economist, the rebels may beat the interventionists to the punch with their threats to shoot themselves in the foot:
Libyan oil-industry operators are now threatening to destroy pipelines, and cut supplies to Europe, if European states fail to intervene to end Mr Qaddafi’s rule. Workers at Brega, one of Libya’s five ports used by tankers, stopped work on Monday, said Mansour Saleh, a manager at a Tobruk-based oil company who oversees the pumping of 300,000 barrels a day. “If that doesn’t make them act against the tyrant,” he added. “We’ll destroy the wells.”
According to this chart, the European countries that depend most heavily on Libyan oil are Ireland, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Of these, the French government is the only to express a strong interest in a significant response to the Libyan conflict, and it is unlikely that Italy is going to be forced to take action that its government clearly doesn’t want to take, since it is treaty-bound not to intervene militarily in Libya. Should Libyan rebels sabotage the parts of the oil industry under their control, they may cause some temporary economic difficulty in a handful of European countries, but they will mainly be sabotaging their own cause.
Ian Birrell argues that Western nations should stop being chastened by the horrible decision to invade Iraq so that we can get on with the important business of invading Libya:
And if Nato can impose a no-fly zone then they should do so immediately – even if this means bombing the airports being used to send up planes to kill and maim innocent people. There is no time for hesitation.
But this may not be enough to stop the bloodshed.
The international community may be forced to make a choice: does it sit back and prevaricate while people are massacred, as it has so often in the past. Or does it refuse to be scarred by the foolishness of the Iraq invasion and show that it can act when there is unacceptable barbarism.
For it is possible the only solution is a rapid intervention led by perhaps Egypt or Tunisia, whose armies have won respect in recent weeks, to winkle Gaddafi out of his air base and end his appalling regime.
It is a standard interventionist tactic to try to rush a policy decision so that intervention seems to be the only appropriate choice. “There is no time to think through what we’re doing! We have to start doing it immediately!” This is all the more strange when it seems as if Gaddafi’s hold on the country seems to be getting weaker every day. To be blunt, the Tunisian and Egyptian armies have more pressing matters to attend to than to participate in an invasion of their neighbor, and it verges on fantasy to assume that the U.S. or any other significant military power in region will be in any position to launch an effective major operation in the next few weeks. Calls for intervention take for granted that NATO governments are all in agreement on what should be done, but neither Britain nor Italy seems eager to pursue military options.
There is also the problem that Britain may not be able to participate in enforcing such a no-fly zone now that its aircraft carrier is out of commission. France and Italy have some ability to do so, but Italy has several reasons for not intervening. Its economic and political ties to Libya are a large part of this. Some of the governments that have much more at stake are reluctant to get involved in the conflict, so how does it become the responsibility of the United States to intervene?
Quite a few Westerners are beside themselves that our governments aren’t doing enough to overthrow Gaddafi, but Libyan rebels have so far been doing an exceptional job of taking over most of the other major cities of the country without outside help. Gaddafi’s reliance on foreign mercenaries suggests that he knows he cannot count on very many people in his country to defend his rule. There is a growing chorus of voices that insist that the Libyan rebels need outside help, but all of this rests on the assumption that it is the rebels that will be facing destruction absent outside support. Westerners are preoccupied with what they think they should have done in Rwanda, and they remain badly misinformed about what they did in Kosovo, and both of these are clouding judgments on what to do now.
At least from what I can see, it is just as likely that Gaddafi and his remaining supporters are on the losing end of this fight, and outside support could easily pave the way for massacres of regime loyalists and those mistakenly believed to be regime loyalists by the rebels. Maybe no one is very concerned about this result, but it’s not something that can be entirely ignored when we’re talking about tying ourselves to the cause of the rebels. It goes without saying that almost all Western analysts and pundits know very little about Libyan rebels or what it is, besides Gaddafi’s overthrow, that they will want when the war is over. It would be typical if anti-regime forces have a lot of old scores to settle, and tipping the balance in their favor (which is what interventionists are arguing that we do) will make it easier for them to do that. That outcome might happen anyway without outside intervention, but I don’t see why Western governments would want to take an active part in it.
But the Treaty has some articles that lawmakers may not have read closely enough. It explicitly forbids Italy from using any military force or trying “directly or indirectly” to interfere with the Libyan government and, importantly, it forbids Italy from, “allowing the use of its territory in any hostile act against Libya.”
So a bilateral treaty prevents Italy from participating in an EU or NATO-backed mission involving Libya.
NATO is mulling possible participation in the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, but Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stressed Friday that a United Nations mandate would be needed [bold mine-DL].
Presuming Italy—which has major economic exposure to Libya—intends to honor a law its Parliament approved with bipartisan support, then it means that it may require a UN-backed decision on humanitarian grounds to allow it to clarify its position and join EU partners in common action to bring Libya’s nascent civil war to an end.
U.N. authorization isn’t likely to be forthcoming, and evidently NATO isn’t going to act without that authorization.
What we could be seeing is the rise of a third paradigm – a more liberal paradigm embodied by Egypt that will diminish the influence of not just Saudi Arabia, but of Iran as well. While a democratic outcome in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya and elsewhere is far from certain, the popular revolts were clearly liberal revolts and have provided a new model for the region. Egypt is the largest Arab country and has long been a regional trend setter. With a new popularly elected government in Cairo, Egypt will likely be much more influential than the Mubarak regime in Middle East affairs. This combined with the fact that it is largely a Sunni-Arab country, while Iran is largely Shia-Persian, Iran will likely lose some influence to Egypt. ~Max Bergmann
As far as I can tell, Bergmann is the first one to attempt a serious counter-argument against the claim that popular uprisings in Arab states this year are working to Iran’s benefit. Bergmann’s scenario is possible, but a lot depends on what happens in Egypt. It seems to me that more than a few supporters of the “Iraq the model” theory believed that the fall of Hussein and democratization of Iraq would present an alternative and a rebuke to the Iranian system, and war supporters dismissed predictions of increased Iranian influence in Iraq in much the same way. As I recall, there was a lot of talk about Baghdad as the former seat of the caliphate, the power of Iraqi nationalism, and a belief that democratic government in Iraq wouldn’t just resist Iranian influence but would lead to the subversion of the Iranian government as well. When democratization empowered the Shi’ite majority and Iraq turned into a sectarian nightmare, the idea that the new Iraq would weaken Iranian influence proved to be flat wrong. Each “liberation” has resulted in an increase in Iranian influence, and it is difficult to see why the same isn’t going to happen in the future.
If Egypt ends up having a popularly elected government, it will be preoccupied with constitutional and political reform, attempting to address the deep economic grievances that fueled the uprising, and to repair the economic damage caused by the struggle to oust Mubarak. It may not have an interest in devoting much time and resources to containing Iranian influence in the region. At the very least, it is going to have less interest than the old regime did. The military may retain considerable control over setting foreign policy, but it is not going to be as free to ignore domestic politics as it was. Should the military have less control and Egypt pursues a more independent foreign policy, that will likely make it more inclined not to align itself against Iran on certain major issues. What was once a reliable opponent of Iranian influence and Iran’s proxies will probably become less hostile. Iran may also attempt to cultivate and support political factions inside Egypt as it has done in Iraq, and it could have some success. Iran’s support for Hamas suggests that Tehran has enough flexibility in its alliances that it is not limited to working with Shi’ite populations. If Egypt’s political transition does not go smoothly, but is instead wracked by turmoil and weak civilian governments, that could consume the attention of Egypt’s political leadership and leave little time for regional affairs.
Democracy promotion and the “freedom agenda” contributed to the strengthening and empowerment of Iranian proxies and Iran-backed political parties in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. No less important, obstacles to Iranian influence disappeared during the last decade thanks in part to these policies. It is possible that democratization in other Arab countries will have different results, but there aren’t very strong reasons for thinking so.
After plausibly arguing that democratization in the Near East could lead to “geostrategic disaster” for the United States, Ari Shavit concludes that the answer to all this is to embrace the most foolish courses of action available:
There is only one way out of this catch-22. Moving from defense to offense. Is Barack Obama the new George Bush? Is David Cameron the new Tony Blair? Is Hillary Clinton determined to implement the neoconservatives’ ideological platform? Good luck to them. But don’t do it only in the West’s backyard. Don’t do it only in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. Do it alongside forceful humanitarian intervention in Libya as well. Do it in Iran, too.
Oh, okay. Just “do it”! Who knew that it was this simple? The next line is quite amusing: “Take the spirit of freedom blowing through Cairo’s squares and bring it to Tehran’s squares.” If the spirit of freedom is abroad in the region, it is not something that can be directed or controlled. That’s why it’s the spirit of freedom. Like many other critics of the administration’s cautious responses, Shavit wildly overestimates the control Washington can have. He must assume that Washington will be able to mitigate the effects of weakened or collapsing allied governments by supporting uprisings in Libya and Iran, but that doesn’t follow at all. It certainly doesn’t follow that direct intervention on the side of Libyan rebels will help the U.S. On the contrary, intervening in Libya would bog the U.S. down in yet another conflict that is none of its concern.
Shavit also seems to be confused about what has been happening:
Topple Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tyranny as you toppled Hosni Mubarak’s. Fight the Shia’s religious fascism and Muammar Gadhafi’s madness with the same relentlessness you fought the pro-Western dictatorships.
This sums up the odd view held by many hawks that Obama is choosing not to try to undermine the Iranian government, but that he did choose to undermine the Egyptian government. In fact, what we have seen so far is that the administration pushed the Egyptian military in the direction it was already leaning, which was to remove Mubarak for their own reasons, and only after all other alternatives had been exhausted. That doesn’t seem very much like relentless fighting. The hawks’ view is especially odd because it assumes that whatever has happened in allied Arab authoritarian states can happen in Iran. Shavit insists that this is the only way to go:
Only in this way will you be able to implement the West’s democratic values along with its strategic interests. Only in this way will you be able to empower freedom without sparking zealotry and igniting war.
By Shavit’s own reckoning, democratization is directly at odds with Western strategic interests. Taking sides in Libya’s civil war isn’t going to “empower freedom without sparking zealotry and igniting war”–it will be a case of Western powers openly joining one side in an ongoing war, which could intensify zealotry and cause unexpected blowback as Western governments once again try to dictate the political future of an Arab country through the use of force. Supposing that something like Libya’s rebellion could be encouraged in Iran, which is very doubtful, this would be an instigation of warfare rather than the prevention of it.
Not only does Washington have no way of toppling Ahmadinejad or the people who wield most of the real power in Iran, but everything that Washington does to contribute to regional instability ultimately works to the advantage of Iran.
Suzanne Maloney makes this point in The Financial Times today:
Though it has neither inspired the Arab unrest nor conspired to advance it, Iran will be the main beneficiary of regional instability, just as it was in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq.
The Leveretts concur that the regional balance of power has been shifting in Iran’s favor for the last decade and is likely to continue doing so. If Westerners believe that Iranian influence is something that needs to be contained, they should stop enthusing about “the Arab spring.” If Westerners don’t believe that the U.S. and its allies have any strategic interests in the region and growing Iranian influence makes no difference, “the Arab spring” shouldn’t concern them very much. What makes no sense is to argue that the U.S. has strategic interests that democratization undermines and then conclude that the “solution” is more democratization.
Interventionists routinely assume that the U.S. should insert itself into other nations’ internal conflicts, but something that has an even more distorting effect on the debate is the assumption shared by almost all Americans that the U.S. can effectively insert itself in a foreign conflict very quickly. Stephen Hayes spoke with Secretary Gates about the U.S. ability to establish a no-fly zone in Libya. This is what Gates said:
Although the United States has limited capabilities in the region which would make it difficult to set up a no-fly zone quickly, others might be in a better position to help. “The French – I don’t know what the British have in the area – but the French and the Italians potentially, I suppose, could have some assets they could put in there quicker.”
The debate over what the U.S. should be doing in Libya hasn’t really taken into account that the U.S. may not be in a position to do that much in the near term. French military intervention is common enough in former French colonies, but despite some of Sarkozy’s harsh public statements it isn’t clear that France would or could take a leading role in enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya. For several obvious reasons, Italy is not going to take the lead in acting against Libya, and Italy’s close ties with Libya make it hard to believe that there could be an effective NATO response. In addition to being a bad idea, imposing a no-fly zone in Libya may not even be possible given the current political and military realities.
What does it say about us that the Obama administration has such trouble even finding the words to describe the horrors that Muammar Qaddafi is now inflicting on his people? ~Matt Continetti
Perhaps it says that the U.S. government still regards its responsibility for its own citizens as more important than it does issuing satisfying, but practically irrelevant condemnations of another government’s crimes. Perhaps for once it says that the U.S. government is unwilling to undertake ill-considered military action when there is no American interest at stake and nothing like a national consensus in favor of intervention. Continetti is right that the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” is meaningless because there is no willingness to enforce it. One reason why there is no desire to enforce it is that all of those democratic national governments Continetti mentions have a responsibility to protect their citizens and interests first, and it is not their responsibility to aid Libyan rebels against their despicable government.
The “responsibility to protect” was a doctrine that had some of its origins in Blair’s “doctrine of the international community.” This was one of the earliest efforts to concoct a defense of the Kosovo war, since there was absolutely no legal justification for what NATO had done. The other people Continetti mentions were also prominent supporters of the Kosovo war. Intervening in Kosovo was unwise and illegal, and it has resulted in putting Kosovo in the hands of terrorists and criminals. If we reflect on that, it might not be such a bad thing that the “responsibility to protect” doctrine has started fading into irrelevance.