Monday, March 28, 2011

The choice to intervene, continued

As anti-Gaddafi troops continue to advance towards Tripoli, commentators like Juan Cole and Andrew Sullivan have brought up the success of the rebels rebound that has followed on the heels of decimating Western air and missile strikes against Gaddafi's forces as evidence in support of the international intervention. But was this initial resurgence ever in doubt? To me the concern was never about retaking lost ground, it was about whether or not this intervention was warranted in light of decisions not to intervene elsewhere, it was about who we were supporting by intervening, it was about whether or not Libyans on the ground could dislodge Gaddafi from Triopoli and what happens next if that does or does not occur, and finally it was about questioning the decision to implicitly commit the US and our allies to another regime change/nation building situation in addition to the two that we are already engaged in.

I strongly believe that intervention is warranted in certain circumstances, particularly to prevent genocide, but that decision has to be held accountable to the situations when that choice has not been, and continues to not be, made. If the highest standards are not followed when foreign countries can rightfully intervene, it undermines the very basis of the concept of responsibility to protect which clearly specifies the types of situations which should elicit an international response--genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

There is a reason why the scope is as narrow as it is, and it should be. The world neither has the ability or the stomach to intervene in any conflict just because civilians are being threatened or even killed. Intent and target need to be considered. What's more so, and this may be controversial, I believe that evidence in the form of actions and not just words needs to be present to justify the use of outside force. Unfortunately that likely means innocent people will be injured or killed before the world can and should react. Yet the unknowns involved in preemption, not the least of which is mission creep, are substantial enough that they should force a pause.

Additionally, the goal of the intervention is paramount. The move towards regime change that appears to be the case in Libya should not have been the aim of the response, if for no other reason than the difficulty that this will cause for getting further Security Council Resolutions approved. That the US, British and French have been perceived by other Security Council members as having overstepped their mandate does not bode well for future deliberations and decisions.

If I was unclear let me state that I was arguing that Libya was not a case of genocide, nor was it a case which easily fits in to the parameters laid out by RtoP.

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