There is a large moral problem with the US intervention in Libya, despite the nearly universal desire to oust Ghadafi.
The argument that the President used, that there would be a massacre without the US, NATO and various and sundry lesser powers coming to the aid of the rebels was not based on anything other than conjecture. Does such an assumption carry any more weight than an alternative claim that the intervention would potentially lead to a long-term civil war that would cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Libyans, destroy the infrastructure of the country, drain the treasuries of the rescuing nations and raise the cost of oil by $30 a barrel?
We can’t be committing our forces on such thin reasoning. This isn’t Egypt. We don’t know who the rebels are, much less do we have any sense of what structures or institutions can be put in place after a Ghadafi removal to care for the Libyan people. we don’t know if they will massacre Ghadafi supporters, so by the same reasoning which precipitated the intervention, will we have to attack the rebels if they do? Since, unlike the Egyptian demonstrators, the Libyan rebels took up arms and started killing, don’t they forfeit the benefit of the doubt on this issue?
If we had to act to protect the innocent in Libya, then why doesn’t this same moral reasoning obtain when discussing Syria, Yemen, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, where repressive regimes are also killing civilians who are protesting the excesses of their ruling regimes and who are crying out for freedom? No one is suggesting this, of course, but why not? Why is it that Ghadafi must he ousted by force but that other dictators are allowed to do their worst with only a mild scolding from the State Department?
The answer, as I see it, is politics. Ghadafi’s position as the embodiment of the evil Arab Muslim ruler was firmly fixed in the American consciousness before I was even out of grade school, and I’m almost fifty now. He is flamboyant, bombastic and has gotten away with murder for years. If Obama had not agreed to intervention he would have been flogged by his political opponents mercilessly for having been “soft” in the promotion of freedom and in the crushing of the wicked Muslim. It was an eminently frameable issue that would have been a staple of the right-wing media for months, just as the 2012 political campaign was getting started. As it is, he is being flogged by the same people for not going in harder, which at some point may require him to up the military ante even further. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham was on TV this weekend bemoaning the administration’s decision to take the AC-130s and A-10s, both planes which fly low and slow and which can thus take out ground forces, out of the action. If the rebels get stymied, look for more of these complaints from the right, and more reactive measures at the White House.
Nothing like this will happen regarding Syrian or Yemeni uprisings. Those people are on their own. Does anybody even know who the leader of Yemen is? Of course they don’t, which is why America doesn’t need to rush to their aid–Sean Hannity hasn’t yet thought of a way to make him a poster boy for radical Islam. Same thing with Assad in Syria–the man looks like an ophthalmologist–he IS an ophthalmologist–and how could anyone in America be afraid of such a figure, even if he is a repressive dictator?
We have to have a more serious moral debate about the way we use force in this country. We can’t keep using it to prop up the political fortunes of our leaders, who are afraid that not using force will make them look weak and thus spell the end of their careers. This has bedeviled us for my entire life, going all the way back to Johnson in the 60s and we don’t seem to have learned anything from our previous mistakes, of which Libya is poised to be the next exemplar. I pray that this will not be the case, but from what I have seen thus far, I am not hopeful.