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The Incomprehensible Libyan War

Others on the Security Council might favor it, but Russia and China would veto a resolution calling on the Syrian government to restrain itself. “This is very much a blow-back from the Libyan episode,” explained Gowan. “Russia and China — and also India — feel that the West pushed them into a corner over Libya. . . . They fear that they accepted a precedent for Western interventionism that they now want to erase, and Syria has been the test case for that.”

The current stalemate in Libya only adds to their resistance, added Gowan, who said any reconciliation at the U.N. is unlikely, barring a significant escalation of the internal violence in Syria. “It would have to be an escalation that potentially created major problems for Turkey, or perhaps for Lebanon,” he said. “You would really have to see large-scale refugee flows out of Syria before you could shock the skeptics on the Security Council into action.” ~Guy Taylor

Something that continues to amaze me about the Libyan intervention is that its advocates gambled the credibility and viability of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine for the sake of taking sides in a civil war that was not all that exceptionally destructive or threatening to international security. By dropping the bar for intervention so low that it would justify attacking Libya, France, Britain, and the U.S. not only created a possible precedent for later interventions, but did so in a way that would make almost any internal conflict around the world qualify. This naturally drove the abstaining members of the Security Council into total opposition to any kind of action on Syria. Exceeding the mandate that the Security Council provided made sure that no such authorization would be granted again anytime soon, which has almost certainly rendered R2P a dead letter. According to what many of the Libyan war’s supporters wanted it to accomplish and said that it would accomplish, it has failed on almost every count. The one thing that the war likely will accomplish sooner or later is regime change, which the intervention’s defenders claimed was not the goal.

Zakheim expresses the bewilderment that many Americans feel about the Libyan war:

The Libyan civil war is nothing more than a tribal blood feud, stoked by hatreds, grievances and desires for revenge that go back decades if not longer. In such circumstances it is a fool’s errand to determine which of the warring parties has right on its side. That the United States and NATO chose to interject themselves into this conflict is simply incomprehensible.

Update: Follow-up post here.

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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