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The Fanaticism of Regime Change

Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power. The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government. The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement. It would be an unconscionable betrayal. ~Obama, Cameron, and Sarkozy

Impossible! Unthinkable! Unconscionable! Of course, this is normally the language of the hard-liner and the fanatic. The main governments behind the Libyan war have endorsed maximalist political goals for their war, which makes a negotiated or political settlement in the near term equally impossible and unthinkable. This encourages the self-defeating maximalism of the rebels.

It also guarantees that whatever support the Libyan war had around the region and elsewhere in the world is going to shrink fairly quickly. France has acknowledged that its stated goal of regime change has not been authorized by UNSCR 1973, and it has said that another resolution would be needed. If the abstaining governments allowed UNSCR 1973 to go through for humanitarian reasons, they are not going to let a resolution explicitly authorizing regime change to pass.

What that means in practice is that the fighting that endangers civilians will drag on much longer than it would otherwise, the humanitarian crisis for displaced and besieged civilians will get progressively worse before significant aid will be able to reach them, and a war waged in the name of the “responsibility to protect” will continue until the regime has been defeated. There are no obvious incentives here for the western tribes still allied with Gaddafi to break with him. Despite a vague reference later in the op-ed to “an inclusive constitutional process,” the intervening governments have given every indication that they are going to treat the Benghazi leadership, which is dominated by members of eastern tribes, as the legitimate or preferred leadership in Libya. That effectively closes the door to a negotiated end to the fighting in the near term, and it gives Gaddafi’s allies no incentives to abandon him.

Update: Scoblete has more criticism of the op-ed:

Nowhere in the article, however, do they explain how they intend to bring about his downfall. The leaders state that unseating Gaddafi was not the point of the mission, but then declare that the NATO mission will not end unless and until Gaddafi steps aside. So it’s only natural for people to point out that there is a rather glaring mismatch between means and ends here. Why harp on the fact that the goal is Gaddafi’s departure if you’re not going to take the necessary steps to hasten him to the door?

This isn’t simply incoherent, it’s dangerous. It is obviously foolish to try and unseat Gaddafi – the U.S.and NATO are completely unprepared to police and stabilize a post-Gaddafi Libya. But by publicly affirming that the goal is regime change, Western leaders are ultimately committed to doing so down the road.

Ackerman has more on the mismatch of means and ends.

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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