Thursday, March 17, 2011

Choices that aren't good versus bad

It looks like momentum is building for a Security Council Resolution permitting the use of force in Libya. It appears that the Council will vote tonight at 6:00pm and, although it's unclear if the vote will pass, my bet is that something will before the end of the weekend. While NATO powers will likely be involved, GCC member states like Qatar and the UAE will also probably play a role, as would potentially Jordan. Egypt has stated that they will not be involved in any military intervention and this makes a lot of sense considering that they are Libya's neighbor, would like to avoid a conflict spreading over their borders, and have their own issues to deal with, including holding a national referendum on their constitution on Saturday.

While a UN resolution should be a mandatory consideration for any sort of action, we aren't only talking about a no-fly zone anymore. The language has increasingly moved away from protecting civilians towards the use of air strikes and regime change, and therein lies the problem. As I brought up in my previous post,
Is the goal of intervention to prevent the loss of life or is it regime change? What's to ensure that the rebels don't do to Gaddafi loyalists exactly what Gaddafi would do if he won? Abdul Fatah Younis seems to be the man of the hour, but up until late February he was debatably the No. 2 in command behind the Colonel and was the Interior Minister. It seems hard to imagine that a guy like that had no blood on his hands in the 40 years of Gaddafi power. Why is he, or anyone else, going to be any better than Gaddafi? Maybe not worse, but any guarantee of them being better?
While an argument can be made that to do nothing is effectively taking a side, i.e. Gaddafi has the initiative and will likely prevail without intervention, military strikes will definitely put us squarely behind the anti-Gaddafi forces. We will be responsible for their actions on the ground, now and in the future. Is anyone prepared for that? Is anyone prepared to intervene again if anti-Gaddafi forces no longer seem to be on the "right side" anymore? One can create an endless number of scenarios with "what ifs," but just because we can agree that Gaddafi is "bad" that doesn't necessarily mean that the other side is "good." It's far too easy, and extremely appealing, to turn things into black and white, good guys and bad guys, but the world, and history, just doesn't work like that.

I'm also concerned about the precedent that this may set. While this is obviously not the first time we have intervened in a country under the auspices of the UN or out of humanitarian concerns, there is an armed conflict going on in Ivory Coast that is even more directly related to democratic principles (isn't that part of this debate about Libya?) and has not received nearly the amount of attention that Libya has. Today, shelling in Ivory Coast left at least 10 dead bringing the total number of killed to over 400 in fighting. This conflict has also seen hundreds of thousands flee their homes following elections this past Fall, only a few weeks before events began in MENA. While UN peacekeepers are on the ground in  Ivory Coast, their mission has been extremely limited. They have not been given any mandate to remove Gbagbo from power. Nor should they necessarily have that authority. (A general breakdown of the recent history of events in Ivory Coast can be found here.)

The case of Libya is not the same as Ivory Coast, but it is another example of a situation where a leader has lost his legitimacy, has refused to leave office, and has engaged in an armed conflict to protect his status. Sure, we are yet to see a full resumption of civil war in Ivory Coast and no planes or helicopters have been used during recent events, but I also don't see anyone clamoring for an expanded role for the US or even the UN either, at least not above and beyond the UNOCI's mission. And there have definitely not been calls for airstrikes.

Ultimately, the question that is being once again raised by events in Libya is when do you make the choice to intervene? I'm glad I don't have to make this decision.

Looks like the resolution will pass 10-0, with 5 abstaining votes.

Resolution passes, No-Fly Zone is adopted. 

1 comment:

  1. The US should send in the DEA to Libya, they're operating overseas anyway, and foreign oil is the most dangerous drug to Americans.