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Libya and the “Arab Spring”

John Allen Gay reminds us of one of the now-forgotten justifications for the Libyan war:

In testimony last Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight, terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross suggested that the Obama administration’s 2011 decision to intervene in Libya was influenced by a desire to keep the revolutions going.

Based on what the administration and it supporters were saying at the time, this seems to have been a very important factor. It is easy to forget them now, but there were two related arguments along these lines, and the administration appeared to agree with both of them. The first was that U.S.-led intervention would serve as a warning and a deterrent to other authoritarian rulers against using massive violence against their opponents. The second was that the U.S. would be acting in support of its “values” to demonstrate that Washington’s relationship with Arab nations had significantly changed from supporting cooperative dictators to supporting their domestic opponents. The U.S. would still interfere in the internal affairs of these countries, but would do so on the “right” side in order to kill the right people.

The U.S. was going to aid rebels in Libya to show that it was now “aligned” with the people protesting against their governments. Because Libya was seen at the time to be “central” to the “Arab Spring,” aiding the uprising there was viewed as critically important to prevent other similar uprisings elsewhere from being crushed. This was Obama’s own view, as Josh Rogin then reported:

“This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values,” a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself.

Interventionists weren’t concerned about the danger that this could encourage doomed uprisings or create false expectations of similar military support in other countries. Insofar as intervention in Libya encouraged more protests and rebellions elsewhere, supporters believed this to be a benefit. In this, as in so many other things, the interventionists had it wrong.

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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