Advocates of the Libyan intervention have invoked the “responsibility to protect” to justify the campaign. But R2P is narrowly and specifically aimed at stopping genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity on a very large scale. It does not give the international community an excuse to pick sides in a civil war when convenient [bold mine-DL]. Qaddafi has certainly committed crimes against humanity in this brief war, but R2P was designed to stop widespread, systematic, sustained, orchestrated crimes. If Qaddafi’s barbarity meets that threshold, the administration hasn’t made the case yet, and I’m not convinced. If R2P justifies Libya, then it certainly obligates us to overthrow the governments of Sudan and North Korea and to do whatever it takes to prevent the Taliban from seizing power in Kabul. ~Paul Miller

It is encouraging to see someone else making this important point. It’s worth adding that supporters of the Libyan war have conveniently identified their cause with the one part of the “responsibility to protect” that calls for armed intervention, but have very carefully ignored the responsibility to prevent conflict over the last few months in Ivory Coast. If Secretary Gates has anything to say about it, the U.S. will have nothing to do with the responsibility to rebuild, which is the third part of the doctrine.

I can think of few things more damaging and discrediting to the cause of mobilizing international action to respond to genuine cases of genocide and systematic regime crimes than a misguided intervention in a civil war that has nothing to do with the “responsibility to protect.” The Libyan war could very easily do for the “responsibility to protect” what the Iraq war did for the reputation of democracy promotion and U.S. non-proliferation policy. In Iraq, democracy promotion became the excuse for why the U.S. was in Iraq after the WMDs were not found, and democratization became associated with the massive carnage of Iraq’s sectarian violence. One wonders what the new justification for Libya will be after most people realize that the original justification was bogus.

Administration officials are obviously haunted by Rwanda, but as Miller says this civil war has nothing in common with what happened in Rwanda. Meanwhile, humanitarian interventionists aren’t just fighting the last war (i.e., Bosnia), so to speak, but they’re fighting the last war that didn’t even happen the way they remember it.

P.S. There’s also the related problem that intervening governments that want to arm the rebels would be going far beyond what the resolution actually authorizes, which would make it much harder in the future for the Security Council to agree on how to respond to other crises. The continuation of the Libyan war has the potential to damage both R2P and future international cooperation through the U.N. Score two for those far-sighted “progressive internationalists.”