Home/Daniel Larison/An Arbitrary, Accidental Intervention

An Arbitrary, Accidental Intervention

Via Scoblete, Judah Grunstein makes a surprisingly weak argument for the Libyan intervention. Grunstein takes on the criticism that intervening in Libya is arbitrary, selective, and ignores more significant humanitarian and/or political crises elsewhere in the world:

To begin with, it’s worth noting that the use of force was raised as a possibility in the immediate aftermath of Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to relinquish power in Côte d’Ivoire. It was subsequently shelved due to a lack of resolve and consensus among the African stakeholders, regionally and continent-wide. Even more relevant to the current debate, the election that Gbagbo has refused to abide by was the exit phase of a negotiated, U.N.-enforced ceasefire to that country’s civil war. What’s more, U.N. peacekeepers are already in the country and have already “intervened” to the extent that they protected the internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara from Gbagbo’s forces in the days following the election. But the biggest difference between the two situations is that Gbagbo is firmly in control of an armed force that successfully prosecuted a long and bloody civil war, whereas Gadhafi’s grip on power seemed shaky as recently as three weeks ago. So the likelihood of a decisive outcome, though far from guaranteed in Libya, is almost certainly impossible in Côte d’Ivoire.

It is typical that Grunstein reduces international action in response to a crisis to the use of force. Obviously, the question is not whether outside governments should launch military action in Ivory Coast as opposed to launching it in Libya, but why the Libyan civil war takes precedence over an Ivorian crisis that might still be salvaged before it does far more damage to the surrounding region. Interventionists have discovered that the rhetoric and legal loopholes provided by “responsibility to protect” are useful tools for starting new wars, which is why they conveniently forget that conflict prevention is part of any “responsibility to protect” position. If Ivory Coast descends into civil war and affects the rest of the region, it would be most unwise for outside forces to jump into the middle of the conflict at that point, but unlike Libya’s sudden collapse into conflict the Ivorian crisis has been going on for months and the situation has been gradually deteriorating. There is probably much more good that could be done by working to reduce political tensions there than can be achieved by escalating a civil war into an international conflict.

Skeptics of intervention aren’t the ones who need to explain their reluctance to become involved in either the Libyan or Ivorian situation. Humanitarian interventionists need to explain why a political crisis that has not yet degenerated into full-scale civil war isn’t receiving their attention, and why they are intent on having their government participate in what is already an ongoing civil war. More to the point, they might explain how their support for prolonging and intensifying a civil war is actually consistent with the official concern for minimizing loss of life. It is all the more strange that one strategically irrelevant crisis has taken precedence over another when the Ivorian political crisis has already created a much larger refugee problem with more of a potentially disastrous impact on an unstable region. There are many more people in Ivory Coast and the surrounding region, and many more lives at stake from the resumption of armed conflict there. The reason that no one is paying attention to that situation is that Ivory Coast is just as strategically unimportant to major powers as Libya is, but Ivorians did not have the good fortune for their crisis to be related to and to begin in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Intervening in Libya is as arbitrary as it is accidental and ill-considered.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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