Libya – the case for intervention

by Conor Foley on March 22, 2011

There are lots of good arguments against the current military intervention in Libya and Michael Walzer sets some of them out in Dissent.

Arguments against ‘humanitarian intervention’ can usually be grouped under three headings: the pragmatic – what is our endgame; the pacific – people will be killed; and the ideological objections – which come from the right and left. Both of the latter have merits, although they self-evidently cannot both be true. They can be roughly summarized as ‘Why should western troops be asked to die for a cause that does not affect our ‘national interests’ and can we believe western governments when they say that they are in fact acting for altruistic motives?’

I find the latter of the three arguments the least interesting because they inevitably descend into a search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions. While there is a place for such discussion, I think that the first two are more immediately compelling and would suggest that the case for or against a ‘humanitarian intervention’ rests on answering two broad questions: has the level of violence reached such a threshold that the use of counter-force is morally justifiable and is it a practical, strategic option that will actually make things better for the people concerned?

In the early 1990s I visited the Kurdish ‘safe haven’ in northern Iraq, shortly after it had been established at the end of the first Gulf War. This was the prototype for the subsequent ‘humanitarian interventions’ that have taken place over the last few decades and there is no doubt in my mind that it saved tens of thousands of lives. The arguments against its establishment were every bit as compelling as those that I have heard against the current actions in Libya, but the alternative was a probable genocide. A journalist that I was travelling with at the time said that he had seen bodies swinging from the lampposts of every town that the Republican Guard recaptured from the Kurds.

During the Kosovo conflict of 1999 I was asked to run some training sessions on international human rights and humanitarian law, first in refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia, and then in Kosovo itself as the war came to an end. The stories that I heard were harrowing, but, perhaps because I spent longer working there (I was subsequently seconded to UNHCR for a year), I came away with a more nuanced view of the conflict and think that, on balance, NATO’s bombing campaign did more harm than good. This may also turn out to be the case in Libya.

Two years ago I was working in Sri Lanka when the army finally stormed the last stronghold of the LTTE. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were blockaded into an area the size of New York Central Park, where at least 20,000 were killed over a three month period. The area was shelled incessantly and hospitals and food-distribution points appear to have been deliberately targeted. Many more died from starvation and disease because the government blocked humanitarian access. Others were summarily executed during the final assault. When a staff member for the agency that I was working for was killed, the Ministry of Defence released a false statement saying that he was a terrorist.

There was never even the remotest prospect of a ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Sri Lanka and I only include it in the discussion to show that the option of doing nothing also has moral consequences. On balance I am in favour of the current intervention in Libya. As I said in my previous post, I think that the UN resolution authorizing it puts the protection of civilians at the centre of its mandate and sends a clear signal to governments of the world that they cannot massacre their own people with impunity.

I do not know what the end game is. I accept that the campaign will result in people being killed by allied airstrikes and I presume that the intervening governments have selfish as well as altruistic motives for their actions. However, I think that the situation in Libya immediately prior to the intervention passed the threshold test that I set out above. I think that the UN is fulfilling its responsibility to protect the lives of civilians in this case.

{ 239 comments }

1

Chris Bertram 03.22.11 at 12:14 pm

My concerns at the moment are primarily pragmatic. This seems to be a case of “Something must be done, this is something, so let’s do this” with little thought given to “what next?”. I think there’s a very plausible scenario now in which many Libyans rally to Gaddafi, enabling him to continue in control of most of the country, with the rump a protected zone. Libyan oppositionists caught in the wrong place will be hunted down and killed, but there’ll be no way to topple him short of invasion. Alternatively, he could go but the successor regime might lack legitimacy be and plagued for years by the death squads and militias of former regime loyalists (shades of Iraq) or Al Qaeda afflilates etc. I’d love to be reassured on these points by someone who knows about the country and society (I don’t). But I have very little confidence that Sarkozy and Cameron know where this is going.

2

dsquared 03.22.11 at 12:14 pm

Conor, two questions if you have a minute please:

I find the latter of the three arguments the least interesting because they inevitably descend into a search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions.

But aren’t these linked to the first? Ie, what kind of things (pragmatically) happen in the course of a war are going to be determined to a large extent by the reasons for starting it. A classic example of this would be Operation Turquoise, where the motivations of the French government were entirely relevant to assessing whether the outcome would be good or disastrous.

And second, what was the crucial piece of evidence that convinced you that Libya passed the threshold test? I have been travelling a lot for the last four weeks, and I’m just trying to piece together the rationale for war – I keep finding lots and lots of official statements about how bad Qadaffi is, and some evidence that he’d fired on demonstrators, but for all the statements about bombing cities and massacres, I am coming up very short on actual mass casualty reports. Was there a specific event that I’m missing, or did you make a judgement call based on a precautionary estimate of what he might do?

3

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb 03.22.11 at 12:17 pm

I’m convinced, reading this minimalist support for intervention and Walzer’s before the fact reflections. But I wonder what happens beyond the humanitarian mission. Is there any chance for the counter power of civil society to emerge in Libya? http://www.deliberatelyconsidered.com/2011/03/the-counter-power-of-civil-society-in-the-middle-east-2/
Might the war make this even less likely?

4

Jack S 03.22.11 at 12:33 pm

I dont think you can dismiss the issue of motivation so easily. Whilst its fruitless to get into debating the “real reasons”, the issues driving the invasion do affect how the action will be conducted and what end game the participants will push for. In the case of Iraq it was not the idea of “humanitarian intervention” that created the problems, but the postwar plans that the Allies had for Iraq. If, for example, they had entered Iraq planning, as far as possible, to minimize economic disruption and support Iraqi enterprises and non-security state institions, to use oil wealth to promote development, high employment, social services and health services, its unlikely that Iraq wouldve descended into sectarian violence and civil war. Rather, it was the ideological insistance on crash neoliberalization and privatization which threw millions out of work, turned them against the coalition and each other, gave many people nothing to live for or lose, and eventually caused that tragedy.

If the Allies are intervening in Libya with a similar game plan it poses a similar threat to the sovereignty of the Libyan people, to their national resources and to the integrity of their country.

5

realdelia 03.22.11 at 12:37 pm

… ideological objections – which come from the right and left. … They can be roughly summarized as ‘Why should western troops be asked to die for a cause that does not affect our ‘national interests’ and can we believe western governments when they say that they are in fact acting for altruistic motives?’

In what sense of the word ‘ideological’ is the question ‘can we believe western governments when they say that they are in fact acting for altruistic motives?’ an ideological objection? If the Western governments said that they were seeking to destroy weapons of mass destruction would it be ideological to adopt a sceptical attitude? Is it only people from the left who can remember government lies?

6

Andrew 03.22.11 at 12:40 pm

I find the latter of the three arguments the least interesting because they inevitably descend into a search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions.

This isn’t true. The concern that we should not risk the lives of our military in a cause that has tenuous connection to national interests has nothing to do with the “real reasons” for a military intervention. It is rather a direct confrontation with the argument that, so long as some humanitarian threshold is reached, military intervention is ethical.

The problem is that “we” are intervening only by virtue of ordering others to intervene.

Really there is a two-fold question here:

(1) Is military intervention justified?
(2) Are we justified in ordering a particular military to intervene?

Humanitarian arguments love to ignore the second question, but the second question is just as crucial as the first.

7

ejh 03.22.11 at 12:52 pm

A few points:

1. This seems to be a case of “Something must be done, this is something, so let’s do this” with little thought given to “what next?” (and pretty much the entire posting #1).

2. Do you have any confidence at all, Conor, in the motives of the Allies who wrer Gaddafi’s friends until just yesterday because of his oil, who were touring the Middle East selling weapons just yesterday selling weapons, and who just yesterday had next to nothing to say when the armies of dictators went in to crush the revolt in Bahrain?

3. Isn’t there a very longstanding pattern – to which Iraq was an exception – by which people who are theoretically against wars and bombings nearly always panic and support them in practice? Wouldn’t it be a good idea if this pattern were broken?

8

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 12:57 pm

dsquared – I think the idea you could have missed something along those lines is pretty unthinkable. If there were anything it would be all over the news, with videos longer than a couple of seconds, showing actual atrocities, being played constantly on 24 hr news. Instead we get stuff like this Sky news ‘reporting’, which is really worth a watch as an example of dog-wagging of typical insultingly poor quality.

Incidentally, I found that on Juan Cole’s blog (ht CB), apparently offered without irony as evidence in support of his considered view that this time it’s all different (again), etc.

But a very-slightly-less obvious question – why is this only in the last few days being addressed by the likes of Kuperman, and why have the media utterly failed to address this simple and fundamental question from the start, instead parroting, sometimes in quotes but never in scare quotes, these obviously vague and unsubstantiated claims about massacre, genocide, etc.

Kuperman does seem to have his head screwed on though – he also makes the point (here) that Libya’s rebels started the war knowing that they could not win on their own, and that their attacks would provoke harm against civilians, aiming to draw in outside support — and it worked.

Now, how many months do we need before questions about the genesis of the armed uprising (and their arms) can be addressed in a sensible manner? I suppose it will have to wait until after the first wave of violence, at least, then a few disturbing questions will be aired here and there until the dominant media voice treats them as settled or irrelevant or old hat etc and they end up consigned to the conspiraloon blogs.

9

ejh 03.22.11 at 1:01 pm

I find the latter of the three arguments the least interesting because they inevitably descend into a search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions.

I think this is absolutely hopeless. Motivations are crucial to what happens next, to what happens if and when thinsg get difficult. When you are asking a body to get involved, on anything other than the shortest-term basis, it is going to matter a great deal what that body is, what its interests are and why it agrees to get involved.

So what if they “they inevitably descend into a search for the hidden ‘real reasons’”? What reason is there for not asking those questions, other than that they are not always convenient to answer?

10

a.y. mous 03.22.11 at 1:06 pm

Three questions.

1) Isn’t all this the typical generational change the world has seen since forever? One man, 30 years max. Then you are out. Crucially, until then you are the apple of our eyes.

2) Why is it that Francophone or at least Francophiles are a natural target, this time even by the French? Why is there nothing done about Anglophiles. Mugabe and whoever it is in the various Emirates.

3) What is it that you want?

11

ejh 03.22.11 at 1:06 pm

(Or put another way – might it be the very refusal to ponder questions of motivation – just at the very time when people really ought to be most sceptical – which brings about this pattern, by which time and again people rush to support wars that they later come to refgret?)

12

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 1:11 pm

ejh seconded: also, the need for people to be a bit quicker off the mark. There is a small window of opportunity to raise dissent (this latest affair shows that lessons have been learned from Iraq, though obviously they are the lessons fitted to the interests of those doing the learning.)

Those casualty figures haven’t started up yet, so I have a little more gloat-space:

“Something must be done, this is something, so let’s do this” with little thought given to “what next?”

Or, from exactly a month ago:

Something must be done
Bombing is something
____
Bombing must be done

13

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 1:13 pm

“I find the latter of the three arguments the least interesting because they inevitably descend into a search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions. While there is a place for such discussion, I think that the first two are more immediately compelling and would suggest that the case for or against a ‘humanitarian intervention’ rests on answering two broad questions: has the level of violence reached such a threshold that the use of counter-force is morally justifiable and is it a practical, strategic option that will actually make things better for the people concerned?”

Cue Henry insisting that you can’t be writing what you’re actually writing. But basically what you’re writing is that the troops for the intervention come out of a black box, as far as you’re concerned. It’s not really important where they come from, or why, or whether there is a democratic polity that they emerge from in which people have any idea why they are being sent. What matters is whether the use of force is moral and if it will make things better for the people being intervened with.

Let’s call this the Clone Troopers theory of humanitarian intervention.

14

Maria 03.22.11 at 1:13 pm

I rather selfishly find the latter of the three arguments very compelling, but mostly because my new husband spent the first week of our already much delayed married life sitting near Brize Norton on standby to be the first in. I have a whole human’s worth of skin in this game and am glad it’s an air assault so far.

I’m also curious about why the UK government is so keen to keep up the rhetoric about taking Gadafi out, when the Chief of the Defence Staff has publicly ruled it out as dangerously outside the US resolution and mission objectives. Cameron’s position seems to have all the disadvantages of potential failure, mission creep and alienating other countries. Have I missed some key advantage, other than looking manly?

15

PHB 03.22.11 at 1:20 pm

The justification for the attacks to topple Gaddafi is to be found in his actions in the 1970s and 1980s. Long before Iran or Bin Laden were in the game, Gaddafi was the original state sponsor of terrorism.

The list of Gaddafi’s crimes is long and includes at least two acts of mass murder in the destruction of two civilian airliners. Gaddafi supplied the explosive for the Brighton bomb and the Harrods bomb and the bombs used in many of the IRA ‘spectaculars’. Gaddafi supplied explosives to Action Directe and the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof gang).

France and the UK have a clear casus belli, they have the right to choose their moment to exercise it, they have earned the right to request and require US support for their action.

The justification for the attack on Libya is very similar to the purported justification for the invasion of Iraq. The difference being that the facts on which the argument is based are true rather than fraudulent. Gaddafi was indisputably a state sponsor of terror. Gaddafi’s renunciation of terrorism can hardly be trusted now that he is facing a domestic revolt that threatens to topple his government. He will be back at his old game again.

As for Waltzer, I have little time for him. His career seems to be based on finding ingenious defenses for the indefensible. Of course his work is going to be popular amongst those people looking for an intellectual defense of Israel. But work that begins from a predetermined conclusion and seeks to find justifications is theology rather than philosophy in my view.

The short answer to why Libya and not Rwanda is that the Rwandan government never attacked the UK or France.

The longer answer is that democratic governments have the right and the duty to pick and choose their wars. One of the key criteria being their ability to affect the outcome. Apologists for Israel are fond of arguing that the West can only address human rights abuses in an order of priority that they determine, a priority in which Israel will of course always come last.

It does not work that way. It makes most sense for the West to apply pressure where it is most likely to have effect. In the case of Libya, the threat to Israel is clear from a map. If we assume that the move to democracy in Tunisia and Egypt succeeds, it is highly likely to result in pressure for fair elections in Algeria. In ten years time the entire coastline of the Mediterranean might be reasonably democratic, with of course the exception of the state of Israel and its peculiar institution.

16

LFC 03.22.11 at 1:33 pm

Kuperman does seem to have his head screwed on though – he also makes the point (here) that “Libya’s rebels started the war knowing that they could not win on their own, and that their attacks would provoke harm against civilians, aiming to draw in outside support — and it worked.”

Kuperman is basing this assertion mostly on his previous work on Bosnia and esp. Kosovo, but how does he know this is what happened in the Libyan case? He presents no direct supporting evidence in the USAToday column, unless I missed it. And didn’t this start out as peaceful protests against Gaddafi rather than an armed uprising, or am I misremembering?

17

ejh 03.22.11 at 1:37 pm

France and the UK have a clear casus belli

What, this is about Gaddafi in the Seventies and Eighties?

18

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 1:38 pm

Maria: Yes, IMHO this was all about getting Gadaffi from the start. The Army guy spoke out of turn. Otherwise there would have been no propaganda to drum up the war, no question of intervention, and the fighting would probably be over now, instead of just getting warmed up.

On the OP: has the level of violence reached such a threshold that the use of counter-force is morally justifiable?

Is this referring to the damage caused by the fighting between the rebels and the government forces, or are we going with the Mad Dog motif? If the former, cessation of hostilities would be the thing, but ‘counterforce’ suggests that the idea is to join in the fighting on the rebel side.

Re: ‘real reasons for war':

1. As others point out, the question of motives is important since we are not talking about a trolley case with perfect knowledge. We are talking about a resolution which, having done its job of conferring open-ended authorisation for all-out war, is now out of the picture – just about the only relevant reasons for war are now the ‘real’ ones, and they will determine which of a very wide range of future possibilities will come about.

2. Going to war for the wrong reason and accidentally bringing about the right outcome (if we pretend that is what is happening) is not a good model. If the model is that dubitable motives of the invaders are reliably kept in check by the apparatus of international law and diplomacy, that might be OK but it would need some argument. And one might well argue that it wouldn’t be all that OK anyway, since it gives those with the firepower a veto over military action, which ability to introduce bias is a corrupt kind of power.

19

John Garrett 03.22.11 at 1:46 pm

Thanks, PHB, for bringing this back to all too much that we know about Gaddafi. Let’s also remember that before the intervention, his forces, funded by the billions he had stolen from the state, controlled all the aircraft, all the tanks, and nearly all the long-range guns. He also declared that the resistance would be hunted down and killed like rats, house by house in Benghazi. Can anyone tell me why I should imagine this would not have happened without the intervention? Sure, self-interest is everywhere, who knows where it ends, etc., etc. But is this really about our habit on the left of doubting anything government does (well founded) instead of recognizing that, flawed as it all is, we are saving lives.

20

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 1:49 pm

LFC: didn’t this start out as peaceful protests against Gaddafi rather than an armed uprising

We don’t really know do we – either way. But we do know that there is no way for a peaceful protest to seamlessly morph into a military campaign. Juan Cole’s apologetic gives this account:

Libya began as a protest. Some of the protesters (apparently only a few thousand) were turned into armed rebels as they sought to defend themselves. Qaddafi responded to the protest movement by firing tank and artillery shells at the protesters and at infrastructure in the rebel cities. Many are without water and electricity, creating a humanitarian crisis.

This kind of impressionistic account is a cross-examining counsel’s dream. The timeline is kept conveniently ambiguous as regards the order of events described in sentences 2 and 3. The ‘were turned into’ and ‘defend themselves’ appear to be empty phrases, which resist any attempt at visualisation or concrete understanding of what might be involved.

For anyone else who is paying attention with anything like a fitting degree of cynicism, this additional comment from Cole is intriguing: There were large numbers of self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the rebel ranks.

21

Chris Bertram 03.22.11 at 1:50 pm

_Incidentally, I found that on Juan Cole’s blog (ht CB), apparently offered without irony as evidence in support of his considered view that this time it’s all different (again), etc._

Contra TW, I find the fact that Juan Cole finds a report credible is a reason for me to do so too. Cole has the expertise which I lack, and he has a good track record at detecting bullshit. And nobody can say that he’s got some imperialistic axe to grind.

22

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 1:51 pm

Yes, thanks, PHB, for bringing this back to all too much that we know [sic] about Gaddafi, instead of sticking to the topic under discussion.

23

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 1:52 pm

Have you watched the clip CB?

24

Marc Mulholland 03.22.11 at 1:54 pm

“The justification for the attacks to topple Gaddafi is to be found in his actions in the 1970s and 1980s. … Gaddafi supplied the explosive for the Brighton bomb and the Harrods bomb and the bombs used in many of the IRA ‘spectaculars’.”

It seems a bit unfair to let all IRA personnel out of prison, but then decades later launch a war to extra-judicially execute Gaddafi.

25

dsquared 03.22.11 at 1:58 pm

#21: In my experience, Cole has massive expertise and specialist knowledge, which I also lack, but his bullshit-detection facilities are not very good at all; he often passes things on uncritically which aren’t good quality sources (I particularly remember that in the aftermath of the Iranian elections there was plenty of good evidence that Ahmadinejad had rigged the thing, but also a lot of bad, speculative and in one case mathematically absurd stuff, and JC passed it all on with the same imprimateur).

On the other hand, I don’t agree that Kuperman has his head screwed on all that well either; the “strategic victimhood thesis” is an important contribution, but Kuperman and his thesis is a bit like Jools Holland with his boogie-woogie piano – he apparently believes that it’s relevant in absolutely any context. He always writes these pieces and they are always (I’ve spotted a pattern beginning with the Darfur debate, to which I thought he was a very positive contributor) basically rehearsals of his thesis, with very little specific information tying it to the case at hand.

26

Chris Bertram 03.22.11 at 1:59 pm

Yes, I’ve watched the clip, and I think it is highly unlikely that it is all a pack of lies. Presumably Juan Cole is also evaluating it in the light of all the other information that he has plus his general knowledge of the society and regime.

27

Chris Bertram 03.22.11 at 2:12 pm

OK. Time for a bit of moderation. You can argue for or against, you can even be fairly insulting to one another whilst you are doing so, but drive-by “its all about oils” or random bits of emoting or sarcastic accusations of bad faith are at risk of being zapped. In fact I’m going to zap the 2 comments just above this one from “digamma” and “ed” right now.

28

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 2:13 pm

So there is no concrete evidence of large-scale attacks on civilians. (Certainly much less than in many other countries, in the region and elsewhere.) And there is no reason to believe that the intervention will make things better than worse. Is there any war that does not pass the test for legitimate humanitarian intervention by this standard? After all, it is the case in 100% of civil wars tha both sides fear violence from the other, and of course it is always the case that “inaction has consequences too.”

29

Peter 03.22.11 at 2:16 pm

Conor says that:

“the case for or against a ‘humanitarian intervention’ rests on answering two broad questions: has the level of violence reached such a threshold that the use of counter-force is morally justifiable and is it a practical, strategic option that will actually make things better for the people concerned?”

So the justification for the war is said to rest entirely on what we think is currently happening in Libya, and what the immediate likely consequences of the intervention are within Libya. For the record, I’m not convinced even on these terms. But the more serious defect of this style of reasoning is its insistence that we evaluate each military action in isolation, even though these wars have consequences both for other places and for future actions.

In the case of Libya, one likely result of the war is to help some of the Persian Gulf autocracies maintain power by deflecting attention from their own atrocities, and from U.S. complicity in those atrocities, as reported in the NYT today and discussed by Matt Yglesias.

The other result, of course, is to embolden future calls for ill-advised invasions, as Stephen Walt observes. So even if this war miraculously turns out to be brief and successful, it increases the likelihood of another Iraq-style debacle down the road.

By insisting that we evaluate each new military adventure without looking at any of these contexts, war supporters heavily tilt the argument in their favor before the argument has even begun. For that reason I’m unwilling to engage the argument on this basis.

30

Guano 03.22.11 at 2:23 pm

I have been a humanitarian worker. I have been involved, since the 1990s, in the debate about humanitarian military interventions. The genesis of this idea was that humanitarian workers were involved more and more in crises that had a military origin (and not earthquakes and floods etc); so why was not more being done to prevent these military conflicts that were causing “complex emergencies”? Why were there no international military interventions to stop the downward spiral into violence? I remain unconvinced that this principle would in practice lead to military interventions of a type that would stop this kind of downward spiral and afterwards build a just peace. Why?

Firstly the debate about the invasion of Iraq showed that politicians and journalists and commentators will be very quick to misuse the concept. If well-known commentators claim that they supported the invasion of Iraq for humanitarian reasons, when it was the UK/US that was starting the war, and when there is a huge confusion between humanitarian interventionism and liberal interventionism in the minds of those who should know better, we have a huge problem. The risks of a humanitarian concept being used to start, or escalate, wars is too great.

Secondly, there is high likelihood that a proper humanitarian intervention will involve putting boots on the ground: missile strikes are a blunt instrument for protecting the civilian population. Western militaries are however very reluctant to put boots on the ground in between two warring factions (or between two lots of fuzzy-wuzzies, as I have heard military people say) and they know that it could be a very long-term commitment with the risk of being perceived as invaders. So I doubt if we will see troops being put on the ground in the front-line to try to slow down the development of conflict.

Thirdly the military is a powerful institution, much more powerful than any humanitarian organisation. Whenever I have seen military and humanitarian organisations together it is the military one that is in the driving seat. The question of the motivation of the military force (and the states it represents and the economic interests lobbying the states) is therefore a pertinent one. The nature of the French intervention in Rwanda in 1994, and of the lack of US/UK intervention, is linked to the politics of the situation. Ivory Coast has been slipping into civil war for several months and there are large number of French troops there under a UN mandate but I have seen no signs of action to prevent a conflict developing: the price of chocolate probably doesn’t warrant a military intervention for those who make the decision.

So the risk is that a dangerous genie is being let out of the bottle. Humanitarians have great difficulty in setting the ground-rules in these situations and there are other forces in play.

31

Hektor Bim 03.22.11 at 2:26 pm

The short answer to why Libya and not Rwanda is that the Rwandan government never attacked the UK or France.

But France did intervene in Rwanda. They intervened to support the Hutu government because they had a “moral duty” to act without delay and that “without swift action, the survival of an entire country was at stake and the stability of a region seriously compromised.” (from the wikipedia page on Operation Turquoise) They sheltered the genocidal radio in their zone and didn’t stop mass killings of Tutsis and disfavored Hutus in their zone.

They did everything they could short of full combat to prevent the RPF from taking over the country in 1994, just like they prevented the RPF from taking over Rwanda in 1990.

France has a long history of intervening in African countries to prop up their clients, democratic or not. They have kept the Chadian government in business a number of times, for example.

I suspect the French are so eager to hit Libya for domestic reasons due to the upcoming elections and because of their deep embarassment over their behavior during the Tunisian crisis.

32

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 2:26 pm

Yglesias: “It’s nuts for intervention enthusiasts to dismiss out of hand the obvious concerns that have been raised about US-subsidized regimes in Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia attacking un-armed protestors even as we intervene militarily in Libya to halt repression. There’s an obvious question as to what, in reality, American policy in the Arab world is. Is this part of a policy of boosting democratic change in the region, or is it part of a policy of bolstering the position of the Persian Gulf dictators?”

33

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 2:30 pm

Kuperman and his thesis is a bit like Jools Holland with his boogie-woogie piano

I haven’t come across his stuff before so he may well be stopped-clock-accurate in this case.

34

ajay 03.22.11 at 2:31 pm

Tim Wilkinson: we do know that there is no way for a peaceful protest to seamlessly morph into a military campaign.

Do we? How do we know that? I would have thought that it’s conceptually fairly plausible: peaceful protest marches – violently suppressed by police – attacks on police – army brought in – army fires on violent protesters – protesters hit back – street fighting – bits of security forces switch sides – military campaign. And there are quite a few recent historical examples.

So there is no concrete evidence of large-scale attacks on civilians.

What kind of evidence are we after here? There are plenty of eyewitness reports of attacks on civilians; there are people in hospital; there are lots of large smoking holes in the ground in the middle of rebel-held cities.

35

Chris Bertram 03.22.11 at 2:32 pm

I think (some) commenters here raise legitimate questions about the credibility of atrocity reports. However, I think we’re all familiar with the phenomenon whereby partisans of one side (or course of action) require standards of proof in the case of accusations that don’t support their narrative which they wouldn’t apply in other cases. (Think partisans of Israel in relation to claims about what the IDF has done in Lebanon and Gaza.)

Still, my worries in #1 remain.

36

dsquared 03.22.11 at 2:51 pm

In context of Chris’s #35, I’d note that I wasn’t trying to be cute in #2 – in principle, precautionary assessments of an imminent slaughter could be a convincing rationale for war if they were very credible, and Qadaffi does have a very nasty track record in this regard which means you can’t dismiss his statements as just showbiz and rhetoric. I’m just trying to get the facts squared away.

37

dsquared 03.22.11 at 2:55 pm

What kind of evidence are we after here? There are plenty of eyewitness reports of attacks on civilians; there are people in hospital; there are lots of large smoking holes in the ground in the middle of rebel-held cities.

There is evidence that civilians have been fired on; there is evidence that dozens (although not hundreds) were killed in Zamiya. What there isn’t, is evidence of the massive imminent genocide that one would normally have expected to see given the speed and scale of the international mission. Having said that, there wasn’t any reliable evidence in the West of what was going on in Rwanda until it was much too late (this is at least part of the reason why France got things so tragically wrong), so absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. I’ve just found that, as in the Iraq War, it’s generally a good idea to keep track of what you really think you know, and what is just something you’ve been told.

38

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 2:59 pm

I think we’re all familiar with the phenomenon whereby partisans of one side (or course of action) require standards of proof in the case of accusations that don’t support their narrative which they wouldn’t apply in other cases.

No doubt. But is it should we really apply the same standards in all cases? Or is it appropriate to apply a higher standard of proof for launching a war, than for not launching one?

39

ejh 03.22.11 at 3:10 pm

I’d have thought it highly likely that Gaddafi would have killed large numbers of people in Benghazi, on the general principle that counter-revolutions are really bloody affairs. (Of course rather fewer if the Allies’ attitude to to refugees were rather different, i.e. not treating the prospect of any actual Libyans coming to Europe as a fate worth bombing cities to prevent.) What I can’t see is how bombing is part of any plan to reduce the overall amount of bloodshed, rather than increase the overall amount of war. I mean we really have been here so many times before, haven’t we? It’s not just that I can’t see what’s supposed to happen next, it’s that nobody at all seems to have any clue what happens next.

40

ejh 03.22.11 at 3:10 pm

is it appropriate to apply a higher standard of proof for launching a war, than for not launching one?

Yes, obviously.

41

aaron 03.22.11 at 3:17 pm

A hypothetical for dsquared and others in the antiwar crowd.
Assuming that the alternative to intervention was the large-scale slaughter of civilians in rebel stongholds, would intervention be justified?

42

ajay 03.22.11 at 3:20 pm

35: I think it’s still OK to ask what kind of evidence we’re looking for, because I’d like to know whether it’s even reasonably possible to expect to have it at this point.
Your point is well made, and the obvious question is: if this were happening in Fallujah rather than in Benghazi, would it be accepted as evidence of large-scale attacks on civilians?

43

dsquared 03.22.11 at 3:21 pm

I’m not part of the antiwar crowd. In principle, yes it would be justified if there was a reasonable basis for believing that the kind of intervention proposed would prevent it, and if international law wasn’t undermined. In practice, you would want to set the bar quite high, given the track record of the actors involved. In this case, they have got their UNSC resolution and I will go along with that.

44

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 3:23 pm

ajay: your seams are showing

CB: I don’t think you make out your case that an unfair or unrealistic standard of proof is being demanded. My remarks about this are based on the fact that it all looks so fishy. I was willing to accept the reports for about half a day, until I realised that there was no detail or evidence being offered, and the unmistakable sheen of a concerted propaganda campaign became evident.

I would say that the CNN clip linked to above while crude is a classic of the genre – long on emoting and borderine tearfulness, plenty of vague claims, discussion of the meaning of ‘massacre’ but not a single number – not even a ballpark figure – of casualties. It also talks about people being fired upon and then discusses one of those people being armed with an rpg launcher. ‘The pictures’ are held up by the on-the-phone-on-the-telly (unnamed?) Sky News reporter as proving something – but they just don’t show what she repeatedly, reality-defyingly suggests they do, for all the talk of protestors begging that the footage must ‘get out’ and be shown to the world etc. I have to say that it has the appearance of a deliberate piece of dishonest propaganda.

But maybe there is better evidence available for the existence of a massacre programme?

I’m certainly not a ‘partisan’ of Gadaffi, eager to cover up his evildoings. I think the danger is the other way – the Mad Dog is a baddy, so we can believe anything without evidence. It’s pretty important to note that we are talking about ongoing or imminent large-scale killing of civilans if we want to justify war to protect civilians. So where is the evidence of that, of any standard?

Or perhaps the partisanship is supposed to be ‘anti-American’. Well, it’s not my fault that I can’t off the top of my head come up with an example in which I have believed and approved of US spokespersons’ reasons for going to war – it’s theirs.

45

sg 03.22.11 at 3:24 pm

dsquared, surely repeated statements by people in charge of the armed forces that they’re going to kill everyone, that the rebels are “bandits and terrorists,” that they will fight to the last bullet, in conjunction with confirmed reports of snipers firing on demonstrators (before the proper fighting even began) in a state run by a crazy guy who is known for killing people he doesn’t like, counts as good enough?

Realistically, we could have waited 2 more days for confirmation of Gaddafi’s plans re: benghazi. But if David Cameron was announcing on national tv his plans to kill everyone who demonstrated against cuts, and soldiers were shooting demonstrators in Trafalgar square, and Cameron had enlisted the EDL to beat the shit out of you and yours – would you be too happy if Obama said “let’s wait to see what Cameron does before we move”?

I think not. I think that the situation as it was presented perfectly valid evidence that some really bad shit was gonna happen, and the onus was entirely on Gaddafi and his mad (LSE-trained) son to not appear on tv saying “fuck youze all, we’re gonna shoot you like dogs” if they didn’t want to get bombed.

46

William Timberman 03.22.11 at 3:25 pm

What Conor is advocating doesn’t take place in a moral vacuum. He’s asking governments — the governments of the West principally — to set themselves up the sole as arbiters of elegance in matters of butchery. His political assumptions, to the extent that I can discern them, seem to be that we save people by bombing others whenever, and only whenever, the politics permit it.

Thus, we bombed Belgrade in defense of the Muslims of the Yugoslavian rump states because we could. Likewise, we now bomb Tripoli in defense of LIbyan revolutionaries because we can. On the other hand, we very pointedly didn’t bomb Moscow in defense of the Hungarians or the Czechs or the Chechens because any fool knows that we couldn’t. We didn’t bomb Tel Aviv or certain parts of Jerusalem in defense of the Gazans not because we couldn’t, but because Washington wouldn’t let us. We didn’t bomb Khartoum because no one cared much about the non-Arab residents of the Sudan, and we didn’t bomb anywhere in Rwanda because we couldn’t figure out where to bomb.

Conor seems to think that this is okay because…well just because. We must understand that although the R2P is honored as often in the breach as in the observance, the moral discrimination that would allow it to be universally adopted, and instituted without prejudice in all situations of atrocity, is still in development. If we don’t ignore the self-serving of all sorts which seems to be part and parcel of every actual intervention, or the dead manufactured by our bombs as well as by the tyrants-who-must-be stopped, our moral evolution will be stunted. We must keep our eyes on the prize.

This may very well be true Conor, but as you’d be the first to admit, it’s an agonizing truth — not only because of the implacability of politics, but also because, inevitably, it becomes a numbers game. X + how many, exactly, constitutes a genocide-about-which-something-admittedly-very-nasty-must-be-done? I think we can be excused if we aren’t as sanguine about such calculations as you would have us be. We’re not any of us Gods, even if the engines of modernity have dropped the responsibilities of the Gods in our unwilling laps.

47

dsquared 03.22.11 at 3:31 pm

#42: in Fallujah in 2004, there was professional footage available of the use of white phosphorous, and daily briefings on the number of airstrikes carried out, also there were massive visible tent cities housing hundreds of thousands of refugees. But more relevantly perhaps, the improvement in technology matters. In 2004 in Iraq, mobile phone cameras were luxury items (worldwide sales in 2004 were 75 million apparently); now they’re ubiquitous. There has been loads and loads of amateur footage coming out of Libya – I think it’s a legitimate question today in a way in which it wasn’t in 2004, and for that reason I think that if there were reports of another Fallujah today with no cellphone footage, I’d be sceptical of that.

48

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 3:33 pm

Assuming that the alternative to intervention was the large-scale slaughter of civilians in rebel stongholds, would intervention be justified?

Obviously for some value of large-scale, the answer is, Yes, war would be justified. (An aside: Let’s call things by their names — this is a war, or attack. The term “intervention” is inherently dishonest.) But the whole point is that we do not know what the alternative is.

Those of us in the “anti-war crowd” think there is a strong presumption in favor of not starting wars – we apply the same standard to them that we would apply to using violence against another person ourselves, i.e. there must be an immediate, direct threat to us that can’t be averted any other way. We don’t regard violence as a general way of making things better, except when it is carried by legitimate authority under a strict set of rules, *and* where there is a high degree of confidence that the outcome will be better. Whereas for people like Conor, war is a tool of policy like setting tax rates. It doesn’t require any special procedural safeguards and there’s no presumption that one option is the default.

Actually, what’s striking about Conor’s post here is that he doesn’t make any attempt to argue that the intervention will produce a good outcome, let alone with the extraordinary degree of confidence that most of us would require for such a claim. For him, it’s sufficient that (1) the situation in Libya pre-intervention was bad (though of course, not nearly as bad as in many other countries which however are on good terms with the US) and (2) the intervention sends the right message. (How he knows that that message is “don’t violate human rights” rather than “don’t piss off the US/Europe” is not explained.) Oh yeah and (3), that there is at least one bad argument against the war. By this standard, of course, you should support any US-led military action. Which presumably is the point.

49

sg 03.22.11 at 3:34 pm

but Lemuel, Gaddafi was clearly starting a war. So where does that leave you?

50

Aulus Gellius 03.22.11 at 3:38 pm

“There’s an obvious question as to what, in reality, American policy in the Arab world is. Is this part of a policy of boosting democratic change in the region, or is it part of a policy of bolstering the position of the Persian Gulf dictators?”

I was puzzled by this when Matt posted it, and I remained puzzled. Isn’t it pretty obvious that US policy towards middle Eastern dictators is neither “always bolster” nor “always oppose”? And isn’t it pretty clear that it shouldn’t be either of those extremes, and that the distinction should depend, in part, on how firm a grasp a given dictator has on power?

I remain dubious about intervention in Libya, but there’s clearly a difference between (1) a dictator who’s in the middle of a civil war, (2) a dictator who’s likely about to be toppled by nonviolent protests, and (3) a dictator who is likely, absent invasion, going to maintain control of his country for a long time. And it doesn’t seem particularly crazy to largely be friendly with (3), firmly oppose (2), and be very uncertain on what to do with (1) (even if they are the same person at different times).

51

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 3:42 pm

Um, it doesn’t affect my argument at all?

52

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 3:46 pm

Aulus-

The question, tho, isn’t what US policy should be, it’s what it is. The history of US support for anti-democratic governments in the Middle East gives us important information about the kind of regime that is likely to emerge from US involvement in Libya. Conor wants us to ignore this information, for reasons that aren’t clear.

53

chris 03.22.11 at 3:50 pm

Those of us in the “anti-war crowd” think there is a strong presumption in favor of not starting wars

OK, but the Western forces weren’t starting this war, they were joining it already in progress.

I do think it’s dishonest to pretend they aren’t becoming belligerents, but it’s equally dishonest to pretend that there would be no war here if the West hadn’t started it. That might be true for Iraq. It’s not true for Libya.

54

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 3:52 pm

Eugene Robinson: “In explaining why the U.S. would join in establishing the Libyan no-fly zone, which immediately became much more, Obama tied himself in rhetorical knots. If Gaddafi were to commit atrocities against his people, Obama said, “The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners.” Well, duh. As he no doubt has noticed, the region is already destabilized. Friendly regimes are already being threatened, but not by Gaddafi. They are endangered by the democratic aspirations of their own people.”

So much for all the confident avowals that this time it’s not geopolitical stability at stake and it’s only conspiracy nuts who say so. When Obama needed to present a reason for doing this, he didn’t start in on legal case-making. He didn’t even go with lofty rhetoric of the sort that unnamed senior administration sources are willing to attribute to him in a secret policy meeting. It’s stability again.

Guano, thanks for posting above. Since Conor is being presented as having moral authority due to his humanitarian work, I was starting to think that he might be representative of humanitarian workers in his political vacuousness as well. It’s good to hear from someone else in the same field who is willing to acknowledge political facts, such as that once the intervention is started, the military is in charge of it, and the motivation of the people who they take orders from becomes of great importance.

55

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 3:52 pm

it’s equally dishonest to pretend that there would be no war here if the West hadn’t started it.

I think there is a strong presumption against the US taking sides in civil wars in other countries. Do you agree?

56

Bruce Baugh 03.22.11 at 4:05 pm

I very explicitly have no real opinion about what the rest of the UN should do – I don’t feel I can get enough evidence to form a good judgment.

But I do have an opinion about what the US should do. Here in Washington state, Medicaid payments for non-emergency dental care stopped altogether at the end of 2010. Every time I go to the University of Washington’s dental clinic, I hear patients and doctors talking seriously about which dental problems they can best let slide toward emergency status, since the patients are already paying 20% or 50% of their total SSI stipend for medical care and simply can’t afford any more.

Since both major political parties are committed to treating us as a poor broke notion when it comes to caring for the needy, I commit to treating us as one when it comes to intervening abroad. Can’t afford it. Let others bear the load, if anyone must, until and unless we get a government that isn’t waging war on its own needy citizens.

This commits me to opposing all foreign interventions by the US, indefinitely, and I’m just fine with that. I’m doing what I can to support people and groups pushing for relief of our ever-growing banana republic condition here, and part of that is opposing all bright shiny lethal distractions abroad.

57

praisegod barebones 03.22.11 at 4:06 pm

sg @ 49

Lemuel’s stated criterion for the justifiability of violence is:

there must be an immediate, direct threat to us

So unless Gaddafi was threatening to attack (wherever Lemuel comes from), the fact that Gaddafi was starting a war is going to be irrelevant to him.

FWIW, I’m not sure I agree with the criterion for violence in the personal case. It seems to rule out pretty much any use of violence involved in law enforcement (except when people are actually attacking the police – which I think they’d have little motive to do if the police stuck to sg’s criterion).

(I ‘m not sure I accept the analogy between the individual and domestic cases either, btu that’s by the by.)

58

ajay 03.22.11 at 4:09 pm

47: so “video of people dying or it didn’t happen”? Well, at least that’s a clear standard.

59

bourbaki 03.22.11 at 4:09 pm

As I preface, I freely admit that this is a ghoulish question I admit (though regarding war what isn’t).
With that out of the way:
Given that it a prolonged civil war is now quite possible, how long does such a conflict war have to last for the outcome to be worse (in a humanitarian sense) then the (presumably) quick and bloody end to the conflict that we were facing just a few days ago? Or does that eventuality mean that the US/NATO will have duty to intervene more directly?

60

CharlieMcMenamin 03.22.11 at 4:12 pm

In most concrete circumstances where R2P might be invoked there is a very limited choice as to whom might realistically do the ‘protecting’ (which is always increasing the lack of protection for some other group). You can’t magick up a international force of unsullied reputation, devoid of ties of specific national interests. This much I accept.

I think the problem for advocates of the current intervention is that it isn’t clear to me that its the West who actually are those people who can do the ‘protecting’ in Libya. ‘Protecting civilians’ means coming between two conflicting armed parties and stopping them shooting at each other: you can’t do that by air power alone. You need BOTG.

Politics, geography and the long shadow of Iraq and previous Western behaviour in Arab lands combine to make that a job which can only possibly be carried out by one halfway plausible candidate: the Egyptian Army. Who have point blank refused to do it.

If there is a diplomatic or military logic to the current Western bombing it is surely based on one of two scenarios:
(a) The bombing will create a breathing space in which the manifestly disorganised ‘rebels’ will get their act together, win a small scale civil war and then not shoot the Gadaffi lot in numbers which might prove over embarrassing; or
(b) The bombing provokes a split in the Gadaffi-led state and military apparatus such that he is given the boot (in either the Mubarak or the Ceaușescu style) and the new leadership reach a (relatively) peaceful accommodation with the shadowy leaders in Benghazi – some of whom they sat round the cabinet table with six weeks ago.

Either strategy seems a pretty long way from R2P to me.

61

Pete 03.22.11 at 4:17 pm

Gaddafi was clearly not starting a war against the coalition powers (unless you stretch his statement that briefly appeared about being willing to attack civilian air traffic in the Mediterranean). This is a war of choice for non-Libyans.

62

ejh 03.22.11 at 4:24 pm

There’s a couple of points worth the making about law, and international law. When we invoke the law in normal circumstances, we are talking about something which should be, and often is, administered and applied impartially, to which we all have effective access and from which nobody is immune. That’s an idealisation, of course, but fundamentally, if something roughly like it does not exist, then “the rule of law” doesn’t apply. If the law is something that is only applied occasionally, partially, in bad faith and never against powerful parties, that’s not the rule of law.

It’s not nothing, but it’s not the rule of law.

The other thing is that of course, when we’re talking about authorisations from international bodies, we’re not talking as we would about the judgements of magistrates. We’re talking about legally constituted authorities: they have the authority to act and to issue mandates permitting people to act (as they have done in this instance, and did not do over Iraq) but that doesn’t oblige us in any way to agree with them or to consider them proper. A government has the authority to act, but that doesn’t oblige us to agree with the actions of a government (let alone accept its rationales).

I only mention this because people talk about international law as if once the UNSC had spoken, that was some kind of judicial act. I don’t see that it is. It’s an executive act, an action in the political field, and we should see it for what it is.

63

ed 03.22.11 at 4:25 pm

Apologies for my previous outburst. In lieu of any inappropriate knee-jerk snark from me, I’ll turn it over to Glenn Greenwald:

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/03/22/libya/index.html

Glenn’s closer:
“For the reasons I identified the other day, there are major differences between the military actions in Iraq and Libya. But what is true of both — as is true for most wars — is that each will spawn suffering for some people even if they alleviate it for others. Dropping lots of American bombs on a country tends to kill a lot of innocent people. For that reason, indifference to suffering is often what war proponents — not war opponents — are guilty of. But whatever else is true, the notion that opposing a war is evidence of indifference to tyranny and suffering is equally simple-minded, propagandistic, manipulative and intellectually bankrupt in both the Iraq and Libya contexts. And, in particular, those who opposed or still oppose intervention in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, the Sudan, against Israel, in the Ivory Coast — and/or any other similar places where there is widespread human-caused suffering — have no business advancing that argument.”

Or perhaps the next six months of Operation Odyssey Dawn are crucial to its success, and we should all withhold judgment until such time has passed?

64

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 4:27 pm

CharlieMcMenamin @59: “You can’t magick up a international force of unsullied reputation, devoid of ties of specific national interests. This much I accept.”

No Clone Troopers? I’m disappointed.

Everyone more or less tacitly accepts this, but that acceptance doesn’t mean that the political problems around motivation can be wished away.

“[...] You need BOTG. Politics, geography and the long shadow of Iraq and previous Western behaviour in Arab lands combine to make that a job which can only possibly be carried out by one halfway plausible candidate: the Egyptian Army. Who have point blank refused to do it.”

Wait a minute. The Egyptian demonstrators overthrew a dictator, well and good. Who’s is charge there now, after this democratic feat? The army, isn’t it? Does it really seem like a good idea to encourage them to rally the country into a new war?

Three rhetorical questions in a row is too much. I think that the chances of the Egyptians emerging with anything like a democratic country as opposed to Mubarak 2.0 would be vastly decreased if Egypt went to war right now.

65

Lee A. Arnold 03.22.11 at 4:28 pm

Marc Lynch is very good, he started as Abu Aardvark and is now at Foreign Policy:
http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/
Both he and Steve Clemons are reporting that the Arab opinion leaders and activists they spoke to at the Al-Jazeera Forum in Doha were in support of a no-fly zone, but would turn against the U.S. quickly if there is bombing.

66

dsquared 03.22.11 at 4:33 pm

“video of people dying or it didn’t happen”?

I wouldn’t necessarily put it exactly that way but basically yes – I think cameraphone technology has now reached that level of penetration. And it’s not as if there isn’t a long history, from the Sudetenland to Jenin, of people tricking up urgent humanitarian rationales for their desired political outcomes.

67

dsquared 03.22.11 at 4:34 pm

Arab opinion leaders and activists they spoke to at the Al-Jazeera Forum in Doha were in support of a no-fly zone, but would turn against the U.S. quickly if there is bombing

Presumably these people were overjoyed to hear that a new McDonalds had opened at the end of their street, but horrified and outraged to hear that it planned to sell delicious hamburgers.

68

ejh 03.22.11 at 4:37 pm

McDonalds sells delicious hamburgers?

69

Norwegian Guy 03.22.11 at 4:38 pm

“…were in support of a no-fly zone, but would turn against the U.S. quickly if there is bombing.”

But how could you have a no-fly zone without bombing? I think a lot of people wanted exactly that, but they were delusional or mislead.

Then the war started with a French aerial attack on Libyan tanks. Unless Libya has flying tanks, it didn’t have much to do with the no-fly zone people had been talking about.

70

aaron 03.22.11 at 4:41 pm

@dsquared
My apologies, certainly I should have checked your blog before posting, and shouldn’t have used the phrase “antiwar crowd”

But @Lemuel Pitkin decided to raise me one on semantics. Perhaps he should have checked his own comments first, in which he repeatedly refers to the attacks as an “intervention,” as I do. And why is the term “war” that much more honest? Certainly, the phrase “war” can be used in a number of contexts, such as when one is “battling” drugs or terrorism. But can the occasional North-South Korea skirmishing be called a war? The Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia? Certainly one can call the current attacks a war by some definitions, but I think that if you had to pick a phrase, “military intervention” might actually be the best characterization.

71

Bruce Baugh 03.22.11 at 4:42 pm

I’m guessing that dsquared would probably be fine with a good explanation of why video footage of asserted things is pretty much nonexistent. At least, I would be, and I share his “pics or it didn’t happen” outlook. The key thing is that there be an explanation – and not just random guesses, but an informed account of the factors that make otherwise ubiquitous phone features not present in this particular situation.

72

Conor Foley 03.22.11 at 4:44 pm

With a couple of fairly notable exceptions, I think most people got the context of this debate (ad hominem seems to come with this medium).

On Guano’s point, I fully agree, humanitarian organisations should not lobby for armed intervention for the reasons outlined. However, since I was asked to contribute some posts on this particular topic it seemed only fair to give my personal opinion.

I think most of the other direct questions to me have been answered by others on the thread.

73

politicalfootball 03.22.11 at 4:45 pm

I find the latter of the three arguments the least interesting because they inevitably descend into a search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions.

I think there have been a lot of interesting responses to this, and I’d be interested in seeing if Conor has any rebuttal.

In any event, so far we’ve had very little “descent” into a search for the hidden reasons – merely a discussion of why the actual reasons for a course of action are crucial to understanding whether that action will carried out appropriately.

74

politicalfootball 03.22.11 at 4:45 pm

I wrote 71 before I saw 70, but it stands.

75

Lee A. Arnold 03.22.11 at 4:46 pm

@dsquared#66– Lynch reports that a main phrase in the Arab world has been, “Why isn’t there a no-fly zone over Gaza?”

76

CharlieMcMenamin 03.22.11 at 4:50 pm

#62 Rich Puchalsky: I can’t have been clear enough in my previous post. I’m not arguing for Egyptian intervention, nor speculating on the effect any such intervention might have on Egyptian politics. I’m just saying they’re the ones who could actually ‘protect civilians’ . Or the ones who could do it in the R2P spirit that Conor advocates.

I’m further saying that whatever the coalition powers are doing with all those war-planes and Cruise missiles it doesn’t look like R2P to me.

77

geo 03.22.11 at 4:52 pm

Like Rich and others, I’m impatient with Conor’s impatience with ideological arguments. Since virtually every military intervention in modern history has been framed as an act of justice and/or mercy, in virtually every case falsely, there should be a heavy burden of proof. The US, in particular, has been a chronic abuser of humanitarian pretexts for military intervention, from Woodrow Wilson onward.

It’s also frustrating that Conor doesn’t acknowledge that long-term goals are as important as short-term ones: above all, trying to impress on everyone again — what was on everyone’s mind when the UN Charter was written but has diminished in vividness and urgency since — that routine resort to military means will, sooner or later, end in global catastrophe. To put it over-simply: reluctance to use force, and the presumption of its illegitimacy, especially on the part of the global superpower, needs to be increased by many degrees, and this goal should be in the background of all discussions of individual crises. Even Walzer isn’t sufficiently sensitive to it.

78

dsquared 03.22.11 at 4:58 pm

Since virtually every military intervention in modern history has been framed as an act of justice and/or mercy, in virtually every case falsely

It ought to be remembered that the plight of the Sudetendeutsch was the original rationale for Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, making the Second World War arguably the least successful humanitarian intervention in history.

79

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 4:59 pm

chris @53: it’s dishonest to pretend they aren’t becoming belligerents, but it’s equally dishonest to pretend that there would be no war here if the West hadn’t started it

1. the fighting (and thus killing of civilians) might be over by now had the rebels not received support culminating in (but telegraphed long before) full military backing.

2. As an aside, I think it’s unwarranted at this stage entirely to dismiss the possibility that the West did indeed have a role in fomenting or facilitating the transition from some form of protest to civil war.

ajay @58: so “video of people dying or it didn’t happen”? You’ll be invoking the burden of proof next.Why don’t you just end all the pussy-footing around and show us that whatever it is did indeed happen? What is the evidence for a campaign against civilians that was sufficient to justify war?

80

Chris Bertram 03.22.11 at 5:03 pm

@ed above links to Glenn Greenwald’s latest on this. I think that Greenwald piece (and I’m usually a fan) is a symptom of something. In the whole polemic, he fails to mention France or the UK or NATO at all, it is all about the “U.S.’s military action in Libya” as if those other countries were simply irrelevant and Obama is pulling the strings single-handed.

81

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 5:11 pm

Charlie M. @ 76: “I can’t have been clear enough in my previous post. I’m not arguing for Egyptian intervention, nor speculating on the effect any such intervention might have on Egyptian politics. “

Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you were. But I think it’s important, whenever these ideal cases are mentioned, to go ahead and ask what the effect on the intervening country would be, as well as to the place intervened in. War encourages control of a country by warmakers. As the U.S. has found out to its cost.

82

flyingrodent 03.22.11 at 5:14 pm

Well, I wasn’t part of the anti-war crowd either, but you can count me in now.

I find it astonishing that to this day, one of the most common criticisms of the anti-war crowd is that they’re reflexively opposed to any British military wheezes, and that this in some way reflects badly on them and not on their critics.

I mean, can anyone think of another area of government policy that has fucked up this badly, this many times, and hasn’t been axed? If road traffic regs were causing fifty-car pile-ups every other day, or if the NHS were horribly botching 80% of surgical procedures, they’d be scrapped in seconds and anyone opposing their destruction would be instantly denounced as a psychopath.

And yet, how many hundreds of thousands of needless deaths down the line are we in the last decade, and the UK reaches for the tomohawk missiles with a song in its heart. Only 13 MPs voted against the use of force in Libya after a decade in which our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has led to a bodycount so vast that we’re afraid to start tallying it… And seriously, people think these jokers should be given another shot? The coalition can’t decide who’s in charge, FFS, and it’s blatantly obvious that they can’t even agree what they’re trying to achieve or how they’re going to go about achieving it.

I disagree with Daniel and Conor here – I think that the bar on humanitarian intervention and all the other euphemisms we use when we mean bombing the Hell out of people in pursuit of some vaguely-defined purpose in the hope of an outcome that we can’t and won’t define should be raised so ludicrously high that it can almost never be reached, except in the most absolutely dire of circumstances.

Honestly. Just about the only good thing that came out of the last decade was a general awareness that war is a big deal, an option that we don’t use lightly. Now it turns out that we don’t even have that.

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dsquared 03.22.11 at 5:19 pm

I disagree with Daniel and Conor here – I think that the bar on humanitarian intervention and all the other euphemisms we use when we mean bombing the Hell out of people in pursuit of some vaguely-defined purpose in the hope of an outcome that we can’t and won’t define should be raised so ludicrously high that it can almost never be reached, except in the most absolutely dire of circumstances.

I would note that while I do disagree with FR in my role as a UN fundamentalist, I regard his view as a serious one worthy of consideration, while I must confess that the “maximalist” view which involves anything much less restrictive than a UNSC resolution to be something that practically needs to be passed on to the medical specialists.

I am getting increasingly nervous about the “fallacy of the missing objective function” in Libya, fwiw.

84

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 5:30 pm

Not surprisingly, George Scialabba (77) gets it exactly right. I can’t improve on his post in any way, so I’ll just note that it — its second half in particular — really could use a response from Conor, Chris B., etc.

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JimmyJazz 03.22.11 at 5:34 pm

What a sore disappointment this article was, to be honest. I thought Mr. Foley was capable of better. As a matter of fact I sought out his views on Libya after having read his book, but like I said, I found this pro-intervention stance quite disappointing.

Foley notes that in Sri Lanka, tens of thousands were killed without a peep out of the West, much less the idea of intervention being floated. As a matter of fact, the Sri Lankan military got a wink and a nod from the West, since they had long ago dubbed the LTTE a “terrorist organization”. This is proof enough that the West never intervenes for “humanitarian” motives, but for its own interests—and indeed they will encourage, sponsor, or even PERPETRATE crimes against humanity when it suits their interests. See: Iraq, Vietnam, the countless Latin American state terrorist regimes sponsored by the U.S. since 1973 (if you’re not familiar with it, you might start by googling Operation Condor), American support for Israel, American support for the Indonesian killings of 1965-1966 in which over half a million were brutally killed, American support for the Indonesian genocide in East Timor. Hell, there is even evidence that American diplomats encouraged China to support Pol Pot, since Pol Pot’s regime was virulently opposed to Vietnam, and the Vietnam government was a close Soviet ally. It was the U.S.’s policy at the time to encourage the Sino-Soviet split as much as possible. Zbigniew Brzezinski said, “I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could.” The U.S. fought to help the Khmer Rouge keep its place in Cambodia’s seat at the U.N., so that the new Vietnamese-installed regime (you know, the same regime that built the Tuol Sleng genocide museum that still stands today) wouldn’t be represented in the U.N. And we can’t forget Guatemala, where a CIA-led coup was the start of a decades-long genocide against indigenous people. Many more examples could be offered.

Some humanitarians the U.S. have proved themselves to be. As it turns out, they readily commit or endorse crimes against humanity when it serves their strategic interests. But Foley finds discussion about Western interests when they DO intervene to be “less interesting”. Well, I’m sorry you find it stale and boring, Mr. Foley. Unfortunately, as history proves, it is the only thing that matters in determining when the U.S. will support crimes against humanity and when it will oppose them or intervene to stop them.

There are no credible reports at this point of “massacres” of civilians by Gadaffis forces, much less of thousands of civilians by Gadaffis forces. If someone believes they have a SINGLE incident of Gadaffi’s forces deliberately targeting civilians that is confirmed by more than one source, please, do share. Indulging in a mental masturbation exercise about an orgy of blood once Gadaffi’s forces take Benghazi has been the main justification of most people for the intervention so far. Thousands will be cut down in cold blood, we are told. Nevermind that there is no evidence of such systematic reprisals taking place in Brega or the other cities that have been retaken by Gadaffi’s forces.

As a matter of fact, many of the civilians in Libya who could be considered to have been deliberately targeted are the Sub-Saharan blacks targeted by the racist opposition lynch mobs:

http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/race-and-arab-nationalism-libya

But of course no one in the West is interested in taking a remotely critical look at the opposition. They aren’t a group of eastern tribes in rebellion because they haven’t had enough oil money doled out to them by Gadaffi’s regime, they’re a pro-democracy uprising, fighting for individual rights and a Western-style constitution. Of course!

Meanwhile, a predator drone attack just killed slightly over 40 tribal leaders in Pakistan, and the U.S. won’t stop its drone attacks. Meanwhile, people are being slaughtered in Yemen and Bahrain—the latter by Saudi troops, with whom the U.S. has so much influence that it could easily get them to stop, assuming it didn’t encourage them to go to Bahrain in the first place. Certainly the U.S. has no problem with its allies shooting down protestors, though. Its enemies, yes: witness the reaction to Tienanmen Square. But its allies are allowed a little shooting: witness the non-reaction to Mexico’s Tlatelolco massacre, which was comparable to Tienanmen Square in its scale and in its circumstances.

The U.S. and the West are not knights in shining armor, and I thought Mr. Foley was bereft of any illusions that they are. I am very disappointed to find him supporting their intervention, which aside from all the questions above about their motivations, is sure—like all “humanitarian bombings”—to produce “collateral damage” on such a scale that it will soon surpass any civilian deaths Gadaffi’s forces have caused. I really thought you held a more consistently anti-interventionist stance, Mr. Foley.

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ajay 03.22.11 at 5:38 pm

You’ll be invoking the burden of proof next.Why don’t you just end all the pussy-footing around and show us that whatever it is did indeed happen? What is the evidence for a campaign against civilians that was sufficient to justify war?

I don’t think a war is justified, and not because there isn’t clear evidence of attacks on civilians: I just don’t think the Libyan rebels are trying hard enough to be worth helping.
Plus, it’s an expensive business and we could use the money ourselves. I’d rather spend money on something that will at worst give a few Brits an unproductive job, rather than something that will at worst blow up a lot of Libyans and annoy a lot more and not really do anything at all good.

On the “why aren’t the Egyptians intervening” point: there are still quite a lot of Egyptian citizens in Tripoli and it’s worth assuming that, if Egypt invaded Libya, they would be harshly treated.

I am getting increasingly nervous about the “fallacy of the missing objective function” in Libya, fwiw.

If this means “we don’t have a clear objective” then I am absolutely with you. If it means something else, please elucidate.

87

dsquared 03.22.11 at 5:45 pm

If it means something else, please elucidate.

It basically means what you said, except that an “objective” can be a single point (“A stable democratic Iraq/Libya/Afghanistan”), whereas an “objective function” has to provide a complete, transitive and monotonic ordering of states of the world. In other words, if you have an objective, you can tell if you’ve succeeded or not, but if you have an objective function, you can tell whether you like the state of things more or less than before. I think the additional discipline on the decision making process is important.

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Conor Foley 03.22.11 at 5:51 pm

Apologies to all but I am not going to be able to participate actively in this discussion due to time considerations, but I will make a couple of points to Geo’s points which others can pick up on.

It is true that the humanitarian pretext is often used as a justification for war (or just war theory) and that the UN Charter was drafted to set the bar very high against the use of force. However, the last two decades have seen a numerous situations where there has been a large scale-loss of life due to internal conflicts where an external intervention may (or may not) have been able to bring the fighting to an end or at least protect civilians from its worst consequences.

Many commentators have rightly pointed out the double standards of the ‘international community’/UN in sanctioning interventions in some places and not others (and I accept this is likely to have been influenced by a variety of political and strategic questions). Since we all agree with this I don’t see any point in pursuing it further (apologies if that sounds dismissive).

Some interventions have also undoubtedly been more successful than others in humanitarian terms and that is what I have tried to focus on in this discussion. I think that it is an issue which the UN has been struggling with for the last two decades and these discussions have revolved around threshold levels, mission mandates, authorisation, right authority, etc.

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bob mcmanus 03.22.11 at 6:01 pm

Dennis Perrin:

“I’m not sure what the end game is here. Even if I did know, it wouldn’t matter. (Friend Richard Seymour offers what I think is the best explanation.) We have zero power over our owners, who can bomb any country they want with no public input or debate. The real comedy comes when public commentators act as if their two cents have currency.

Some of the pro-bombing arguments I’ve read are true howlers, filled with ass-kickin’ rhetoric and testaments to nobility. In an earlier day I’d link to them, mock them, engage them. But I lack desire to exchange flames with pro-war liberals. You probably know who they are, and if not, you’re better off.

Trading insults won’t stop these expanding wars, nor will heroic postures save Libyan lives. We are mere spectators to violence and power. Pretending that our concerns matter to those pushing launch buttons delays any chance at liberation. The sooner we accept our powerlessness, the closer we’ll be to forging actual politics.

Then again, I’m a romantic.”

90

politicalfootball 03.22.11 at 6:02 pm

Many commentators have rightly pointed out the double standards of the ‘international community’/UN in sanctioning interventions in some places and not others (and I accept this is likely to have been influenced by a variety of political and strategic questions). Since we all agree with this I don’t see any point in pursuing it further (apologies if that sounds dismissive).

Your phrasing elides the actual source of disagreement here. Many commenters, including me, don’t see a double standard – we see a single standard in which human rights concerns are relatively unimportant (or irrelevant).

Some interventions have also undoubtedly been more successful than others in humanitarian terms and that is what I have tried to focus on in this discussion.

And some interventions aren’t primarily about humanitarian concerns. I’d like to see some evidence beyond UN legalisms that the U.S. is currently killing people primarily for humanitarian reasons.

91

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 6:03 pm

ajay @85: Nice side-step. OK, then, what is the evidence for a campaign against civilians on an extensive scale (e.g., as is salient in this context, of a kind and magnitude that might be sufficient as a casus belli)?

92

ajay 03.22.11 at 6:04 pm

I mean, can anyone think of another area of government policy that has fucked up this badly, this many times, and hasn’t been axed?

Prison? The average prisoner released from an English prison commits 1.4 crimes within a year of his release. 39% of prisoners reoffend within a year of release. And this is actually a significant improvement on the situation ten years ago. And that’s not to mention all the crimes that are committed inside prisons.

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ajay 03.22.11 at 6:14 pm

90: read posts above: public statements by regime leaders that they intended to carry out such a campaign, video evidence of civilian casualties, testimony of (for example) doctors in Misrata that they have seen so many civilian casualties that they are running out of medical supplies, use of indiscriminate area-effect weapons (unguided bombs, heavy mortars and artillery) against cities, Amnesty International reports of paramedics being fired on by government forces as they tried to treat casualties, defecting Libyan pilots reporting that they were ordered to bomb civilian targets, eyewitness reports of unarmed protesters being fired on in various cities.

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bob mcmanus 03.22.11 at 6:15 pm

Libya is about…Iran. This is what connects bombing Tripoli and winking in Bahrain. Obama needs to make the liberal interventionist tools all shiny again after they were tarnished by his evil total opposite Bush. There are probably anti-government groups being financed and fed promises this very day in Iran. They will hit the streets, be massacred, and then Obama/BP can save democracy again. This is the plan.

Maybe Conor Foley will be embarrassed by having his nuances used in such a way, to have his words in a bubble over the head of some orphan in the rubble of Teheran. I doubt it, Iraq hasn’t seemed to slow him down.

You want to stop the freaking wars? Try guillotines and firing squads in the Mall and 10 Downing Street. My disgust dates Perrin’s by at least ten years.

95

PHB 03.22.11 at 6:22 pm

I don’t see how a peace agreement with the IRA precludes action against those who supplied them. In any case, Gerry Adams was not prepared to engage in the scale of attack that Gaddafi desired which was why the majority of the Semtex was never used and why Gaddafi had to bomb PA 103 himself.

Its twenty years since, so what? The Argentines waited over a century before attempting to enforce their alleged claim to the Falkland/Malvinas isles. It was a stupid war but not technically illegal according to the standards of the time.

As for this being about protecting the gulf monarchies, I do not see that at all. The protests in the gulf were fizzling out until last week. It is not hard to see why either: Gaddafi was demonstrating a likely outcome.

The gulf protests have been re-ignited by the Saudi invasion of Bahrain which was itself both a result of and a cause of the UN resolution on Libya. The likelihood of action by the UK and France led to the invasion which in turn resulted in China and Russia declining to exercise their veto. The Saudis may well regret having deployed those troops as they are likely to be needing them at home quite soon. People thinking about the exit strategy from Libya should ponder for a moment the likelihood of an exit strategy for the Saudis from Bahrain. Meanwhile the Saudis are facing another crisis on their Southern border with Yemen and a likely insurgence in their Eastern province where most of the oil comes from.

It makes perfect sense for the Europeans to focus on securing a contiguous zone across North Africa first before any involvement in the gulf itself. North Africa is the southern coast of the Mediterranean, the countries involved all have deep cultural and economic ties to the EU and to Turkey, the time is ripe for action there, it is not yet so in the gulf but establishing stable democratic regimes in North Africa will advance that cause as well.

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PHB 03.22.11 at 6:27 pm

@ Bob 93

Libya is not Iran. This is not a US led action.

Iran has more than an order of magnitude larger population. Their army is well equipped with modern weapons. Iran has the ability to embargo the Straits of Hormuz and shut down the West’s oil supply. A western attack would advance the cause of the Iranian regime, not the protestors.

Only an imbecile would suggest an attack on Iran. Though there are plenty of those on the right.

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Guido Nius 03.22.11 at 6:35 pm

All of this is depressing. There are always good and bad reasons to do something – so there will always be reasons to condemn or praise the intentions of what is being done. If all there is to it is being right or wrong in picking the good or the bad reasons, I’m all for a no-argument zone.

98

tomslee 03.22.11 at 6:36 pm

PHB – Libyan actions in the 1970’s and 1980s have not, from what I have seen, been mentioned anywhere by anyone involved in making decisions or voting about this war, so I think they are irrelevant. Maybe you don’t think it should be irrelevant (#15) , but that’s a different issue.

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ed 03.22.11 at 6:37 pm

@ed above links to Glenn Greenwald’s latest on this. I think that Greenwald piece (and I’m usually a fan) is a symptom of something. In the whole polemic, he fails to mention France or the UK or NATO at all, it is all about the “U.S.’s military action in Libya” as if those other countries were simply irrelevant and Obama is pulling the strings single-handed.

At the very least, the U.S. is doing the vast majority of the bombing and what have you (at the moment, though we’re promised that will change). But even if they weren’t, it’s irrelevant. Greenwald is calling out the case for intervention in Libya as bogus, not who does it (though he does bother to catalog the differences between this undertaking and Iraq). Put another way, if the Iraq Invasion had received the blessing of NATO, France, and whoever else is involved this go ’round, would that have somehow made invading Iraq a just cause?

100

Henry 03.22.11 at 6:40 pm

As a side-note, since Rich Puchalsky seems to want to relitigate the debate in the last post, I’ll note that the evidence does not support his veering-between-conspiratorial-and-cockeyed-functionalist ad-hominems, and that the humanitarian work stuff was not introduced as an “appeal to moral authority” but rather directly in response to Rich’s own suggestion that Conor was “doing [his] job” of telling people that the technocrats were in charge, presenting himself as an expert and seeking to buff up the role of legal expertise etc. And I’ll leave it at that.

On the substantial question, I disagree with Conor’s suggestion that we should take motivations off the table. Take this Financial Times article this morning.

bq. “There are major tensions between the US-UK and the French,” said a western official, who added that Nato countries had been working for weeks to have the alliance assume effective command of the mission. “As we got closer and closer to closing the deal at Nato, France suddenly blocked everything, which confused us at first … But then it became clear – … Sarkozy wanted to announce strikes just as he was walking out of his meeting in Paris where he was leading the show.”

This is speculation, but it is surely correct in its implication that Sarkozy is both volatile and interested more in burnishing his reputation than in the actual situation. David Cameron does not seem greatly more impressive. I don’t think that their motivations are humanitarian – and this will have implications for the way that they prosecute the intervention.

One way to think of this is as a principal-agent problem. If we (that is the various people who genuinely and in good faith would like to see the rights of the people of Libya protected, a group which I take to include all the people arguing in this comment section) had the power to appoint agents to carry out our goals, we would ideally want agents whose goals resembled ours as closely as possible. If this were not possible, we would like to see agents with goals that didn’t conflict with ours. I think that there is _some_ compatibility there. I imagine that Sarkozy would at least find a direct and immediate massacre in Benghazi to be an embarrassment, and would probably seek to avoid it. But I wouldn’t go much further than that. I certainly would not trust him to avoid policies that would end up with rights abused and lots of people dead, as long as the political responsibility for this outcome was murky and did not rest with him.

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Louis Proyect 03.22.11 at 6:45 pm

The problem with arguing for French, British and American “humanitarian intervention” is that accepts their *right* to make imperialist war. I know that the word imperialism is not in Crooked Timber’s vocabulary (and perhaps should be banned explicitly in the Comments Policy page) but this is the same old crap we have heard for a hundred years–going back at least to the dirty Huns putting Belgian babies on their bayonets.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.22.11 at 6:47 pm

Along the lines of bob mcmanus’ 93 (“There are probably anti-government groups being financed and fed promises this very day in Iran. They will hit the streets, be massacred, and then Obama/BP can save democracy again. This is the plan.”), but in a less conspiratorial tone: don’t these interventions provide various separatist movements in non-client states with a strong incentive to be more provocative, more aggressive, more violent? Stir some trouble, get a bunch of your people killed, and hope that the US/UK will use it a pretext to regime-change the central government. And if that’s the case, then the R2P and the massacres it’s supposed to stop appear to have some sort of a symbiotic relationship.

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Bill Gardner 03.22.11 at 6:49 pm

d^2 @86: an “objective function” has to provide a complete, transitive and monotonic ordering of states of the world. In other words, if you have an objective, you can tell if you’ve succeeded or not, but if you have an objective function, you can tell whether you like the state of things more or less than before.

Well put. And — anyone — what would would have been the objective function for the (now counterfactual) decision to not intervene?

Maria @14: Hoping that your husband (Royal Irish Regiment?) stays safe.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 6:51 pm

“Honestly. Just about the only good thing that came out of the last decade was a general awareness that war is a big deal, an option that we don’t use lightly. Now it turns out that we don’t even have that.”

flyingrodent is right that it would have been a good thing if that general awareness had resulted — but we never had it. Look at the posts here, for instance. This blog is written by posters who, on average, are far to the left of the general U.S. population. You would think that people here would have this awareness if anyone would. Yet all the old Decent Left tropes made an appearance as soon as war did.

I’ve pretty much gone to an evaluation that what matters isn’t so much whether someone is left or right, but what their job is and what their implicit self-interest is. Most adults never learn anything after their formative stages, and anyone who writes here is perfectly capable of finding rationalizations for essentially any course of action. So of course what they favor is complex moral deliberation and avoidance of any simplistic awareness that war isn’t something that should be undertaken lightly, in favor of technocratic activities for people like them. The people who benefit from warmaking in various ways of course want war. The only people with a vested interest in avoiding it are the foot soldiers, and they have been carefully placed into a system in which they get no voice.

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Aulus Gellius 03.22.11 at 6:55 pm

“You want to stop the freaking wars? Try guillotines and firing squads in the Mall and 10 Downing Street. My disgust dates Perrin’s by at least ten years.”

Because if there’s one thing that reliably leads to pacifist government, it’s the guillotine.

106

More Dogs, Less Crime 03.22.11 at 7:01 pm

I don’t think the left & right ideological claims are incompatible. An intervention can be in the interest of neither the inhabitants of the country being intervened in nor those of the countries doing the intervening.

107

dsquared 03.22.11 at 7:03 pm

don’t these interventions provide various separatist movements in non-client states with a strong incentive to be more provocative, more aggressive, more violent? Stir some trouble, get a bunch of your people killed, and hope that the US/UK will use it a pretext to regime-change the central government.

This is Alan Kuperman’s “Strategic Victimhood Thesis”, which certainly appeared to have at least some explanatory power in Sudan.

108

Hidari 03.22.11 at 7:06 pm

Since we are all mulling over the pros and cons of ‘intervention’, I thought it might be wise to remind everyone that interventions don’t always go as planned. I thought Iraq might have taught us that. Nor do ‘they’ always learn the lessons from intervention that ‘we’ want ‘them’ to.

‘The action in Libya [might] encourage uprisings in other Arab (and non-Arab ) states and [might] also advance reforms. The results of such developments cannot be predicted, with the exception of a distinctive process of increasing levels of social energy in Arab countries. But the intervention in Libya may easily direct such energy against the West, because of an image of neo-colonialism and a desire to force its values on Islamic societies. An uptick in anti-Western terror is a distinct possibility.

Even graver is the expected lesson Arab rulers will take from the Libya episode, that they need weapons to deter Western action. Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi surely regrets having abandoned his nuclear weapons program. If he had weapons of mass destruction, or at least the perception that he had them, the West would have backed off, no matter how despotic his regime, so long as he did not pose a serious threat to them.

Others will not repeat his mistake. The action against Gadhafi will harden the will of Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Other rulers too will learn from North Korea that nuclear weapons protect a tyrannical regime against forceful action from abroad…..Surely there is no room for sympathy for Gadhafi, but is it far from clear that those taking his place will be less hostile.’

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/western-action-against-gadhafi-has-self-serving-interests-1.351027

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Guido Nius 03.22.11 at 7:07 pm

Henry, I’m not a Sarkozy fan – and I am sure your picture of him is about right. But the world is complex and it allows for both a volatile and power hungry Sarkozy who is at the same time the Sarkozy that knows and feels that the context, and the progressive insight, is such that action is now required. After all such decisions should be less about the personality of who happens to be in power and more about whether or not she or he follows due process and then does what is the overlapping consensus of what needs to be done (surely one can’t be so strict as to require any overlapping consensus to overlap with the views of Rich and Bob).

There, now I have defended (even in the indirectest of ways) Sarkozy. So bring on both the tar and the feathers! Probably some will even go so far as to call me decent ;-)

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Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 7:27 pm

There’s Guido Nius again: the one-man definer of who is outside the consensus and can therefore be ignored.

I wait with bated breath to hear more about this “due process”, though. This would be the legalese favored by Conor, presumably. Let’s hear how this decision to go to war involved due process, if you are shameless enough to make that case. Is there anything to distinguish this due process from a correctly countersigned and legal order from Gaddafi to his troops to have people shot? I mean, yes, we can say that Gaddafi is wrong to shoot people and we are right to do so because we have superior military power and a higher budget generally for people to make up moral justifications for us. But that isn’t really a *process* distinction per se.

111

Uncle Kvetch 03.22.11 at 7:29 pm

The action against Gadhafi will harden the will of Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

I’m trying to resist the temptation to see this as a feature rather than a bug.

112

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 7:32 pm

ajay @91, look I’m really not trying to be awkward here, but can you provide any actual sources? I actually do want to find out what is/was going on, and it’s a big problem for the humanitarian emergency thesis that the sources seem always to be vaguely alluded to and never provided, just as the accounts of what is supposed to have happened are always in soft-focus, lacking crucial detail.

(Also, assuming the claims you make can be stood up, do they amount to a claim of substantial armed attacks on noncombatant civilians?)

PHB @95 I like to point out that an order of magnitude is just a fancy way of saying 10 times.

113

chris 03.22.11 at 7:35 pm

To put it over-simply: reluctance to use force, and the presumption of its illegitimacy, especially on the part of the global superpower, needs to be increased by many degrees

Granting this as a general principle for the sake of argument, if 2/3 of the Security Council doesn’t overcome the presumption, exactly what does?

And for the same reason, it’s misleading to describe this as a use of force “on the part of the global superpower”. It’s a use of force on the part of the global *community*, acting as a community through its communal institutions. What would you suggest, if not the existing international institutions?

114

Lemuel Pitkin 03.22.11 at 7:45 pm

what would would have been the objective function for the (now counterfactual) decision to not intervene?

I would have thought that if you don’t know whether sending your military into another country’s civil war will make things better or worse, that’s an argument for not sending it. Do you disagree?

115

praisegod barebones 03.22.11 at 7:49 pm

Hidari @108

I thought it might be wise to remind everyone that interventions don’t always go as planned. I thought Iraq might have taught us that

I guess this is one thing we don’t need to worry about this time round, since it seems pretty clear that no-one involved has got any kind of plan for things not to go in accordance with.

I’m inclined to agree with Daniel that a Security Council Resolution should be a necessary condition for going to war. So should demonstrated hands-on experience of dealing with the logistical and organisational problems involved in the co-ordination of large-scale impromptu on site alcohol consumption in a brewing facility.

116

Hidari 03.22.11 at 8:29 pm

‘I guess this is one thing we don’t need to worry about this time round, since it seems pretty clear that no-one involved has got any kind of plan for things not to go in accordance with’.

This is very true. I think it would save us all a lot of time if we simply all began to refer to ‘our’ Libyan ‘intervention’ as Operation Clusterfuck, and thank the Lord below that English has the perfect word to describe what will happen over the next few months (and years) as we unachieve our non-aims.

117

Bill Gardner 03.22.11 at 8:30 pm

Lemuel @114: I would have thought that if you don’t know whether sending your military into another country’s civil war will make things better or worse, that’s an argument for not sending it.

Can I translate this as,

“Given E[Y(Outcomes) | Intervention] = E[Y(Outcomes) | ~Intervention] = 0? (where Y( ) is d^2’s objective function, and with the probabilities being my subjective beliefs), I wouldn’t intervene”?

If so, then yes, I’d say “do not intervene”. First, do no harm, and all that. The way I have understood what you said, I would need to have subjective beliefs about the distribution of outcomes conditional on non-intervention, and I would need to know how I value those outcomes. And I was just asking about that.

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Guido Nius 03.22.11 at 8:33 pm

All of chat Hidari says is plausible and that is why it is implausible that this is about the oil.

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chris 03.22.11 at 8:39 pm

I would have thought that if you don’t know whether sending your military into another country’s civil war will make things better or worse, that’s an argument for not sending it. Do you disagree?

What do you mean by “know” here? Obviously you can never have absolute certainty. If an honest[1] weighing of the pros and cons based on information available to you (and including in the cons factors like “It will definitely cost a great deal of money”, “Some people in our military will probably be killed”, “Our military will probably kill some innocent people and thereby piss off their friends/relatives/etc.”, “The relatives of people we believe we killed justifiably may not share this opinion and will probably be angry at us”) indicates that the outcome of intervening will probably, in spite of all those downsides, be better than letting events run their course, which pretty much necessarily implies that you have reason to believe the course of events without intervention will be horrible… then what?

If you don’t have *some* standard for what is sufficient then your position de facto amounts to “let foreigners beat each other up as much as they want, I’m keeping my country out of it”. Maybe there’s a way to say it that makes it sound less horrible, I dunno.

[1] Of course for someone not an expert himself it can be difficult to be sure whether the people who do have the expertise and inside information are weighing it honestly or not. So you need a way to sort out credible analysis that reaches a result contrary to your priors from hackwork entitled to no weight. This can’t be done by judging the credibility of a source based on which side it takes.

120

geo 03.22.11 at 8:43 pm

Chris @113: No, I wasn’t suggesting either that someone other than the Security Council ought to make a decision in the Libya case, or that the US was intervening unilaterally against Libya. In fact, I wasn’t specifically addressing the case of Libya. I was addressing Conor on the tenor of his arguments about humanitarian intervention, which I thought didn’t give sufficient weight either to its possible (and in the past, actual) misuses as a pretext for great-power aggression or to the urgency of shifting military intervention, especially by superpowers, down the scale from early and favored resort to ultimate, minimal, and abhorred resort. I’m not sure that’s any help in the present situation, but it’s all I had to contribute.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 8:44 pm

“And for the same reason, it’s misleading to describe this as a use of force “on the part of the global superpower”. It’s a use of force on the part of the global community, acting as a community through its communal institutions. What would you suggest, if not the existing international institutions?”

I’m very suspicious of attempts to describe “the community of nations” as a community, for the same reason that I’m suspicious of the way in which corporations are described as people in U.S. legal doctrine.

So when you talk about communal institutions, let’s hopefully agree on a few things. There are no ordinary people in this “community”. The decision was made by a loose association of political leaders, some elected, some not. Moreover, those political leaders who are from democracies universally did not consult (to my knowledge) their electorates about this decision.

Perhaps the decision was made by the community in the same sense that a community passes laws for its police force to follow, and the chief of police thereafter makes decisions about how to enforce the laws? No. Nothing like that chain of defined responsibility exists in this case.

So we’re thrown back to practical considerations, in which the U.S. is really the only country with the force-projection capability to intervene.

122

praisegod barebones 03.22.11 at 8:49 pm

Bill Gardner:

I suspect you may be confusing risk with uncertainty.

123

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 8:52 pm

I should think that many of those involved have partial ordering of outcomes (propositions, very coarse-grained states of the world), mostly of the form:

1. [Preferred and fairly likely outcome, e.g. killing Gaddafi, establishing permanent US bases, getting electoral advantage, selling more weapons, etc]
2. Whatever
3. Who cares
4. etc

The trouble is that these are almost certainly not unitary across all participants, even within a single state, though all of the various no. 1 outcomes may well be compatible with each other. None of them though have much to do with the UNSC’s verbiage, which has done its work of legalising the ‘intervention’, imposes no significant, enforceable limitations on the actions of the NATO forces, and is now irrelevant.

124

Henry 03.22.11 at 8:57 pm

fwiw I agree with nearly all of Rich’s most recent comment. I would qualify it slightly by noting that voters in electoral democracies will have the opportunity to throw their leaders at some point or another if they really want to. But talk of the “international community” always raises my hackles – what community? who elected its leaders? and so on. I think it’s one of those very politically loaded phrases that does a lot more damage than good to political debate.

125

Bill Gardner 03.22.11 at 8:57 pm

I suspect you may be confusing risk with uncertainty.

That wouldn’t shock me. So tell me what those words mean to you in this context and we shall see.

126

Guido Nius 03.22.11 at 9:03 pm

Henry, so you seriously believe the popular opinion is against this? At least in Belgium there was a vote, afaik nobody voted against.

127

ejh 03.22.11 at 9:07 pm

And the vote in the Spanish parliament was, I believe, 340-3. Anybody believe that only 1% of the Spanish public is against this?

128

Guido Nius 03.22.11 at 9:10 pm

Well, yes, but more importantly: what else is going to count as due process if a parliamentary vote doesn’t?

129

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.22.11 at 9:14 pm

All this would’ve been so much simpler if those who want to help Libyan rebels (or some other group of freedom fighters) would just organize an international brigade, go to Libya and fight. Heck, I might’ve contributed 50 bucks or so.

130

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 9:19 pm

I congratulate the people in Spain and Belgium, then: a parliamentary vote was a lot more than what we got in the U.S. We have it written into our Constitution — the same document that we love to snidely lecture people in other countries about and tell them how they should have one — that only Congress can declare wars. But this is universally ignored.

131

CharlieMcMenamin 03.22.11 at 9:27 pm

Is this like Tanzania going into Uganda to overthrow Amin, or the Vietnamese overthrow of Pol Pot? Both of those interventions were done for direct reasons of state, although they had the very welcome effect of introducing an element of R2P to benighted nations. ( Not that we had the phrase at the time of course)

No, I don’t think what the coalition is currently doing is like those examples. In fact it looks like the precise opposite. It’s more like a very unsubtle hijacking of a R2P resolution at the UN to pursue reasons of state ( i.e. the overthrow of Gadaffi) – but in a way which makes it probably unlikely that the original (and honourable) R2P is harder to achieve in the long run.

132

CharlieMcMenamin 03.22.11 at 9:29 pm

Er, sorry.
that last sentence in #131 should read:
It’s more like a very unsubtle hijacking of a R2P resolution at the UN to pursue reasons of state ( i.e. the overthrow of Gadaffi) – but in a way which makes it probably likely that the original (and honourable) R2P is harder to achieve in the long run.

I blush with shame, and not for the first time.

133

PHB 03.22.11 at 9:31 pm

@Tim Wilkinson 112

Of course, if I thought people might have trouble wrapping their brains round the concept I would not have used it.

The simple point here is that anyone who attempts to extrapolate from the outcome in Libya where the population is about 6 million, half of whom have taken arms against the regime, to Iran is a fool.

As for what people have said concerning the reasons for the attack on Libya there is a distinction between a justification and a reason. There are many situations in which military intervention may be justified, but far fewer when intervention is actually used. In this particular case I don’t think we need to wade into ulterior motives or tedious foreign policy blather. Gaddafi is going to get a slotting because he has one coming and now seems a good time to deliver it.

The tedious foreign policy analysis approach gave us years of propping up dictatorships in a futile attempt to establish spheres of influence and endless meddling by people whose motives were hardly clean or pure.

If we get rid of Gaddafi we have a chance to establish a more or less liberal system of government across North Africa. We might also hope that it spreads to the Gulf over the next decade. That leaves only Zimbabwe, China, North Korea and some unpleasant ex-Soviet states as totally despotic regimes and Russia and some middle African ones as backsliders . Perhaps in another couple of decades we will be winding down our military infrastructures because we simply don’t need them any more.

So why not dump some spare ordinance on Gaddafi now? It could well be the best opportunity we get to make use of it.

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chris 03.22.11 at 9:33 pm

But talk of the “international community” always raises my hackles – what community? who elected its leaders? and so on. I think it’s one of those very politically loaded phrases that does a lot more damage than good to political debate.

Well, it’s a step forward over “God wills it”, anyway. Seriously, if there isn’t some kind of multilateral institution for deciding when a use of force is legitimate, then everyone just starts from their own first principles (some of which *are* “God wills it”, or suitable local variations thereof), which are different from everyone else’s first principles, and no consensus can be reached on anything. And someone will probably go ahead and intervene even in the dubious cases and the ones where the intervenor’s self-interest is obvious, since there’s no consensus and no institution respected to make that decision.

The nonrepresentative governments would be *even more* likely to act unilaterally if there was no norm of multilateral consultation and action. (As proof, all that history when there wasn’t and they did.) Maybe the representative ones too.

The UNSC isn’t an absolute veto point. But a norm against military action in another country without its approval is a restraint on intervention far more often than it is an impetus to intervention (because it won’t approve intervention unless several nations are already in favor, at which point in the absence of the UNSC or something similar *they would probably have intervened already*).

135

Martin Bento 03.22.11 at 9:33 pm

Do violent insurgents have the same status under the law or morally as noncombatant civilians? Especially when the insurgency is still active? Ghadafi said he would kill the insurgents mercilessly, and this statement seems to be taken at face value as intention not hyperbole and used to justify this action. But is killing active insurgents really the same as killing “innocent civilians”. I’m not just being rhetorical; is it the same under international law or just war theory? Of course, Ghadafi’s retaliation may well have gone beyond active insurgents but a) this is going beyond what he said, and it is his statements, among other things, that are being introduced as evidence, and b) to the extent that collateral damage is an inevitable consequence of using air power, it applies to our action too. If chosing to deploy jets means choosing to harm civilians, then we and Ghadafi are both guilty, probably us more so, as we could also use ground troops, as Ghadafi is, and are declining, which I take it no one would argue is for humanitarian reasons.

What do we really know about Ghadafi atrocities? Evidently, the early protests were non-violent or mostly so. Ghadafi fired on them, eventually with live ammo. So that is an attack on unarmed civilians, but I think we’re talking dozens here at most, not hundreds or thousands, right? In response, the uprising became violent and took most of the country. Ghadafi has responded with jets that invariably involve a lot of collateral damage. Is there any evidence that he has been engaging in punitive slaughter beyond this? Perhaps, there is; I am genuinely asking. But if a violent uprising took over 90% of the US, I have no doubt the military would be called in to attack with extreme prejudice and high tolerance for CD. I’m not saying Ghadafi was justified, but it is not clear to me that what he did is outside global norms for dealing with a serious threat of armed revolution. We can be sure this standard will never be applied to the US or China.

136

BenSix 03.22.11 at 9:48 pm

If we get rid of Gaddafi we have a chance to establish a more or less liberal system of government across North Africa. We might also hope that it spreads to the Gulf over the next decade. That leaves only Zimbabwe, China, North Korea and some unpleasant ex-Soviet states as totally despotic regimes and Russia and some middle African ones as backsliders.

I’d think that too speculative for a game of Risk, let one yer real, authentic war.

137

praisegod barebones 03.22.11 at 9:54 pm

PHB@133

If we get rid of Gaddafi we have a chance to establish a more or less liberal system of government across North Africa. We might also hope that it spreads to the Gulf over the next decade.

Who is this ‘we’ of whom you speak, white man?

138

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 9:55 pm

That made me think of Risk, too. No dead and mutilated bodies to bother about.

139

Uncle Kvetch 03.22.11 at 9:57 pm

We might also hope that it spreads to the Gulf over the next decade.

Just like dominoes, as it were.

140

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 10:06 pm

“In this particular case I don’t think we need to wade into ulterior motives or tedious foreign policy blather. Gaddafi is going to get a slotting because he has one coming and now seems a good time to deliver it.”

Come on, people, it’s totally unfair to point out that this bellicose statement of PHB’s starts with essentially the same thing that Conor wrote. Conor’s disregard of motives comes from high principles of judgement — “has the level of violence reached such a threshold that the use of counter-force is morally justifiable and is it a practical, strategic option that will actually make things better for the people concerned” — and it’s only coincidental that it leads to the same place as where PHB gets: with bombs killing people.

141

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 10:07 pm

BTW Still no offers of sourced evidence for this militarily-resoluble humanitarian crisis? Surely everyone who is supporting the intervention on humanitarian grounds, as well as some like ajay who aren’t but claim that those same grounds do (most probably) exist, must have made at least some cursory effort to check this, and can easily obtain relevant links from their browser history?

142

mrearl 03.22.11 at 10:21 pm

Let’s slide down the slippery slope. In this humanitarian intervention, would the intervenors be justified in killing Gadaffi? If not, why not?

143

Henry 03.22.11 at 10:26 pm

bq. Henry, so you seriously believe the popular opinion is against this? At least in Belgium there was a vote, afaik nobody voted against.

I am simply not seeing the relevance of votes in Belgium, Spain or elsewhere to the question of whether there is a properly constituted “international community” which can have common opinions, reach consensus and all of that. It is clear that conservative Christians in the US, and the Taliban agree on at least some topics – but it would be quite odd, I think, to describe them as a community.

144

Guido Nius 03.22.11 at 10:29 pm

If they can capture him alive, then not. It is then up to The Hague.

145

Guido Nius 03.22.11 at 10:32 pm

Henry, then there are no communities, not even national ones. Anarchy is what remains.

146

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.11 at 10:38 pm

Let’s hear from Digsby:

“The reasons being stated for this one are even more unconvincing than usual. Insulting, actually. Millions of people are suffering all over the world, even here in the US. And the money that’s spent to protect oilfields and our “strategic interest” in keeping people drunk on scarce resources so that the already wealthy can get wealthier would go a long way toward alleviating it. Calling these oil field protection operations “humanitarian” is Orwellian and it prevents the American people from facing the real questions before them about their own futures and how to genuinely work toward a more peaceful, equitable and decent world.”

Cue patronizing statements about conspiracy nuts and their belief in western plots and how you just look silly if you think it’s about oil.

147

Barry 03.22.11 at 10:46 pm

tomslee 03.22.11 at 6:36 pm

” PHB – Libyan actions in the 1970’s and 1980s have not, from what I have seen, been mentioned anywhere by anyone involved in making decisions or voting about this war, so I think they are irrelevant. Maybe you don’t think it should be irrelevant (#15) , but that’s a different issue.”

1) Start with post #15.

2) If this was such a big deal, then why was the West cozying up Qadaffi and selling him weapons up until just now?

148

Barry 03.22.11 at 10:51 pm

PHB: “As for this being about protecting the gulf monarchies, I do not see that at all. The protests in the gulf were fizzling out being quit successfully crushed by mass murder until last week. It is not hard to see why either: Gaddafi was demonstrating a likely outcome.”

149

Barry 03.22.11 at 10:51 pm

Fixed.

150

Andrew 03.22.11 at 10:53 pm

To be sure there are many noble and just causes in this world to which a military force might be put to great good. But that is not why we have our military.

We must remember that however much we abhor atrocities, to use military force is to order, under threat of imprisonment or worse, other people into harm’s way.

I understand Conor’s perspective as a humanitarian worker, and as a bit of a global citizen, to whom the moral weight of ordering one’s military into conflict might seem less salient than the moral weight of watching the suffering of so many human beings which might have been prevented.

However I do not believe an elected government can ethically act according to those same weights. Doing so goes beyond the reasons for which an elected government is given power over the military. An elected official may not, as simply a human being, wish to value the life of a citizen of his country more than the life of an innocent foreigner. In his capacity as an elected official, though, he is absolutely required to do so. He cannot act simply as if the military were an extension of his being, and ask himself merely whether the humanitarian cost of non-intervention outweighs the cost of intervention.

151

sg 03.22.11 at 10:55 pm

Regarding the burden of proof for civilian atrocities, it seems to me that outside of Palestine and North Korea, when you see leaders of heavily-armed states on tv announcing their intention to launch a military attack, it is usually followed up by a military attack. Very rarely do people engage in this posturing without following it up – even the Palestinians used to, when they still had the ability. Witness e.g. the US in Iraq, Australia in East Timor, Indonesia in East Timor a few months earlier (though veiled references; and look what happened when we didn’t listen…), the US in Kosovo, all the Yugoslavian states against each other, etc. How many times do you see leaders of functioning, heavily-armed states go on TV and say “we’re going to invade city X and kill everyone who opposes us” and then not do it?

Especially when they’ve already shown the inclination, and the soldiers in question are driving to their destination.

I think it’s silly and dangerous to give Gaddafi the benefit of the doubt under those circumstances. He said he was going to do it, if he didn’t want to get bombed he probably should have offered to have a cup of tea and a nice chat, instead.

152

politicalfootball 03.22.11 at 11:00 pm

2) If this was such a big deal, then why was the West cozying up Qadaffi and selling him weapons up until just now?

We have always been at war with Libya.

153

mrearl 03.22.11 at 11:10 pm

Ah. Re killing the Colonel it appears the answer is Yes, under the condition he cannot be captured alive. If that be the case, are the intervenors justified in calling out Kadaffi and demanding his surrender by high noon or whenever, after which he will be targeted for death?
It’s just a matter of degree (as in all slippery slopes). Once you’ve decided it’s OK to kill him, how much humanitarian effort do you have to put into capturing him alive?

154

logern 03.22.11 at 11:24 pm

Bento@135 But if a violent uprising took over 90% of the US, I have no doubt the military would be called in to attack with extreme prejudice and high tolerance for CD. I’m not saying Ghadafi was justified, but it is not clear to me that what he did is outside global norms for dealing with a serious threat of armed revolution.

If unelected dictators have that right, I agree, it’s justified.

155

logern 03.22.11 at 11:27 pm

Oops, well, I don’t know that it would necessarily be justified. I was careless in the point I was making.

156

mrearl 03.22.11 at 11:28 pm

How about monarchies?

157

PHB 03.22.11 at 11:40 pm

@Rich Puchalsky 140

Of course Cameron and Sarkozy are bellicose, that is the nature of the beast.

I am not positing a normative theory of international relations here, I am merely providing a descriptive theory. Normative ethics makes me puke because it is invariably theological. Practitioners are chosen for their ability to establish plausible explanations for the required conclusions rather than objective analysis.

If we are going to judge the morality of an intervention in Libya, we should maybe consider the criteria Gaddafi would apply. He would not shrink from intervention, he did not. We’ve got the men, we’ve got the guns, we’ve got the money, why ever not give him a slotting?

My point here is that rather than suggesting convoluted motivations for the action we need look no further than old fashioned jingoism.

If people don’t like the use made of the horribly beweaponed military machine at the disposal of Cameron, Sarkosy et. al. then they shouldn’t have let the country build it in the first place. More guns means more wars. If people want to have fewer wars they have to start by reducing the number of weapons.

Dropping them on Gaddafi is one way to get rid of them. Maybe not the best way but it does have its attractions.

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mrearl 03.22.11 at 11:48 pm

Alright, I’ll quit being cute. This thing ends with Colonel Kadaffi dead or in exile. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and money, not to mention blood. I don’t find that little practicality factored into the original post, perhaps because irrelevant in the poster’s view. I disagree, but respect that position as a matter of situational logic.

159

Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 11:49 pm

sg @151 – How many times do you see leaders of functioning, heavily-armed states go on TV and say “we’re going to invade city X and kill everyone who opposes us” and then not do it?

But that’s civil war, isn’t it, not some imminent massacre of non-combatants? Sources, not some third-hand rephrasing of Gadaffi’s announcements, please. Come on, people seem quite certain about the humanitarian case – they must be able to back it up with something substantial.

But on a separate point, I didn’t notice anyone assuming such ingenuousness when Gadaffi was offering a ceasefire, thus rather wrongfooting the invasion-monkeys who thought they had their war in the bag.

What I remember was a lot of poo-pooing of the very idea that the ceasefire offer could possibly be genuine, followed by bombing which rendered the offer moot in a pretty unambiguous fashion. You did notice that, right? It happened in plain view – an offer of ceasefire was basically given the brush-off. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it does seem to be one of those easily-rejected facts.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.22.11 at 11:51 pm

This thing ends with Colonel Kadaffi dead or in exile

Dead, to be more specific.

161

mrearl 03.23.11 at 12:00 am

An offer of cease-fire from Mr. Gadaffi is like an offer of cease-fire from the Clanton Brothers. It’s good until Doc Holladay leaves town.

Oh well. To quote a provocative thinker and gifted writer, who knew something of war in cruel and inhumanitarian person, “And so it goes.”

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an adult 03.23.11 at 12:37 am

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/03/20113227357222118.html

Shutting down the arab spring.

I’m tired of self serving arguments based on claims of intention.
I expected more od conor foley.

163

Tony Lynch 03.23.11 at 12:40 am

Gee, what a Good Idea! Get Conor on board! A “civilised” member of the Belligerati…

164

logern 03.23.11 at 12:56 am

The simplest answer for intervention is the playing field is being leveled so the rebels can take out Khadafy on their own. That’s it. Really, that’s all.

Or is it?

165

sg 03.23.11 at 1:05 am

Tim, amongst heavily armed states, statements of intention not to commit an act of aggression are a lot less reliable than statements of intention to do so. Lots of leaders equivocate about not starting wars, then do bad things. It’s the opposite case that seems to be highly predictable: bald-faced statements of intention to kill usually end in … killing.

I don’t see how a civil war matters in terms of proof of intention to do bad things. Sure, it might weigh on our decision about whether to intervene, but it doesn’t speak to Gaddafi’s willingness to slaughter his own. That was already clear.

166

Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 2:10 am

Lots of leaders equivocate about not starting wars, then do bad things.
Which is why arranging a ceasefire is a delicate thing, involving third party observers etc., as suggested by Gaddafi. This is as cartoonish as the rest of the belligerent case – as if taking the ceasefire offer seriously is a matter of trusting Gadaffi and leaving him to get on with whatever he likes.

It’s the opposite case that seems to be highly predictable: bald-faced statements of intention to kill usually end in … killing. Yes, which is why the term ‘sabre-rattling’ is obsolete. But here it’s more a question of to whom the threats were levelled, and that appears to have been members of the opposing army. Threatening the opposing army with death if they continue resistance is pretty normal among belligerents, isn’t it?

But these ex cathedra statements of probabilistic

civil war matters in terms of proof of intention to do bad things because the bad things is not specially bad when all the men is fighty anyway. The threat of violence might well prevent gratuitous slaughter (bad thing, full version) but is not at all likely to prevent a dictator – who is unlikely to be under any illusions about what they would like to do to him if they can get their hands on him, with the example of Saddam in mind – from prosecuting a civil war (bad thing, actual version).

If a war is being fought between two armies (and it is), then the way to protect civilians would be to try to end hostilities, which of course would involve trying to get both sides to stop fighting, seeking a ceasefire rather than refusing to countenance one, etc. Joining in with such a war on the weaker side is likely to escalate things if anything.

it doesn’t speak to Gaddafi’s willingness to slaughter his own yes it does. Attacking a rebel army is not ‘slaughtering his own’.

That was already clear.To misquote President Muffley, I am becoming less and less interested in your estimates of what is clear and unclear.

167

john c. halasz 03.23.11 at 2:12 am

Well, Stewart was pretty good, (not that merely domestic reaction matters):

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-march-21-2011/odyssey-dawn

168

LFC 03.23.11 at 2:41 am

dsquared @107
This is Alan Kuperman’s “Strategic Victimhood Thesis”

a/k/a (in the IR journals) the moral hazard theory of intervention

169

john c. halasz 03.23.11 at 3:10 am

I suspect that the suspectors of imperialist motives are far cleverer and more capable of producing coherent rationales than the inventors and implementers of imperialist motives. Maybe the imperialists need to review their hiring policies.

170

Martin Bento 03.23.11 at 3:31 am

sg. Ghadafi is not invading another country, the usual meaning of “act of aggression”. He has said he will kill those who are trying to overthrow his government by force. There are damn few governments that would refuse to do this, at least when the threat of revolution is credible and immanent. This may or may not be defensible under the circumstances – I’m open to arguments – but it is not the same thing as deciding to kill noncombatant civilians out of the blue. I could see an argument that the revolution was initially non-violent (assuming that is the case; I don’t know that we yet have all the facts) and only turned violent in response to violence – therefore, violent revolution is justified and we should support it. But that’s quite different from pretending that Ghadafi is about to slaughter untold masses with no provocation at all. If the principle at stake here is that a regime that uses violence against non-violent protest sacrifices its legitimacy in using violence against violent protest – which seems to me the case one could make here – then we should make that case and accept the consequence: we are fighting to overthrow Ghadafi because we support the revolution. That is a different situation from some Rwanda-style arbitrary massacre.

171

ckc (not kc) 03.23.11 at 4:27 am

We must remember that however much we abhor atrocities, to use military force is to order, under threat of imprisonment or worse, other people into harm’s way.

I understand Conor’s perspective as a humanitarian worker, and as a bit of a global citizen, to whom the moral weight of ordering one’s military into conflict might seem less salient than the moral weight of watching the suffering of so many human beings which might have been prevented.

…and while we’re weighing things, the quantity of “harm’s way” that the “coalition of whoever” is assuming is pretty light at the moment, and likely to remain so in contrast with the Libyans on either side.

172

Chris Bertram 03.23.11 at 7:43 am

Tim Wilkinson:

_Attacking a rebel army is not ‘slaughtering his own’._

Calling them “a rebel army” is to dignify what appears to be a disorganized armed rabble. I’ve no doubt that if the IDF were slaughtering them, however, they’d be described in the Jerusalem Post as “terrorists”. Important, I think, to look at the reality (and the immediate history) and to avoid shoehorning groups into legal categories solely in order to assign permissions to shoot them or not.

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Myles 03.23.11 at 9:25 am

I am actually quite disturbed that what was originally a civilian protection exercise has turned into an operation propping up badly armed and organized rebel groups. Isn’t this quite Palmerstonian?

@JimmyJazz: The problem is that the space for moderating Ceylonese government action without undermining the capacity for decisively eradicating the LTTE was simply limited. I have always wondered about the motives of people telling the Sri Lankans to slow down, given that the loudest protests seemed to have come after the LTTE has been defeated; which is to say, the loudest protests happened when Ceylon was finally safe, for both ethnic groups.

You seem perplexed that LTTE is a “terrorist” organization. I think any organization that assassinated Rajiv Gandhi could hardly be considered otherwise, and is fair game.

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Alex 03.23.11 at 9:47 am

The problem with “strategic victimhood” is that claiming that people who are being victimised want it really is a killer meme with a seriously bad record.

I can well imagine that the strategy might work, for some values of work, for some of the people involved, but it’s worth remembering that essentially everyone who has ever fired on a demonstration with machine guns/bombarded a besieged city at the moment the UN bread distribution truck shows up/sent a suicide bomber to explode in a crowded train/called in air on some building in a packed favela suburb of Baghdad or Gaza claims that the other side are doing it on purpose.

Oddly, they never seem to follow the logical consequences of their own excuse, which are that they should stop giving the other side what they want, already…it’s almost as if it was a lot of self-serving bullshit, or something.

Further, trying to operationalise it as a political principle leads you into some seriously sick pretzel-logic – because if you hold that the victims are bringing it on themselves to provoke you into intervening, the upshot is that the worse things are…the more guilty the victims are. And really, what’s the distinction between this kind of reasoning and that of, say, Ariel Sharon on a bad day or your neighbourhood wife-beater?

Also, it’s worth avoiding because of its content regarding one’s own actions, as it basically furnishes a ready made excuse for wellying that mobile bath truck next to the primary school with 2x Paveway IIs and hang the consequences. If they hadn’t put it there…

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Alex 03.23.11 at 9:53 am

Has anyone else noticed that so far, the only allied military action that actually helped the rebels or protected the civilian population was the French airstrike on Saturday afternoon that essentially gutted the armoured column attacking Benghazi? The one the off-the-record briefers have been whining about the French not coordinating in advance, Sarkozy wanting to make a spectacular appearance, etc?

If I were a Libyan insurgent I couldn’t care less about the status of Gadhafi’s inventory of old Soviet fixed-based SAMs. Like the old joke about the two Soviet tank commanders looking up at the Eiffel Tower: “So, tovarich, who did win the air war?” Actual enemy tanks grinding up the road, well…

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dsquared 03.23.11 at 10:32 am

The problem with “strategic victimhood” is that claiming that people who are being victimised want it really is a killer meme with a seriously bad record

On the other hand, Kuperman’s thesis does work quite well as a way of inoculating yourself against the belief that Hamas, the KLA, the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement, the LTTE etc must be heroic fighters of a moral status somewhere between the Founding Fathers, POUM and the Rebel Alliance, just because their enemies are so horrible. It’s a good way of distinguishing between genuine popular movements and nationalist chancers. Although the problems with the thesis are genuine and basically the ones you identify, it is very important to remember that the purpose of humanitarian intervention is to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe, not per se to give the anti-government or separatist side everything they ever wanted in terms of a political program.

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Andrew 03.23.11 at 10:54 am

ckc @171: Yes, the risks assumed by the coalition are lighter – for the most part – than those assumed by the Libyans.

But that’s irrelevant. My point is that when an elected official orders the military to risk their lives in hostile action, he had better be convinced that such action is in the interests of the country, and that military force is the best option available.

The obligation of the US Government to the US military, and its families, FAR OUTWEIGHS any humanitarian obligations to non-US persons.

I’d imagine the strategy here, given the weakness of the rebels, is to force an uncomfortable stalemate, increasing the incentive of those around Gadhafi to depose him, and go to the bargaining table with the rebels. There is then a truce, and Libya avoids becoming a failed state.

But that’s a strategy with – it seems to my inexpert and far-removed eyes – huge risk of failure. A likely outcome is the continued existence of a divided Libya, a simmering conflict in North Africa, and a very hostile dictator left in power.

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Chris Bertram 03.23.11 at 11:20 am

_The obligation of the US Government to the US military, and its families, FAR OUTWEIGHS any humanitarian obligations to non-US persons._

As stated, that claim is completely unclear. Moral obligation? Obligation under US law? Obligation under international law, including the laws of war?

Taking the claim to be a moral one ….

Do you mean that (1) the US government has a duty not to impose serious harms (or risks of harm) on its military personnel in order to provide positive humanitarian assistance, or to protect from third parties or whatever?

Or do you mean (2) that they have a duty not to impose serious harms (or risks of harm) on their own personnel and that this duty takes precedence over their duty not to impose harms (or risks of harm) on others?

(1) is arguable, depending on what is at stake (2) strikes me as obviously false and, indeed, iniquitous. (Though belief in it may explain large numbers of dead Iraqis at US military checkpoints).

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ajay 03.23.11 at 11:22 am

BTW Still no offers of sourced evidence for this militarily-resoluble humanitarian crisis? Surely everyone who is supporting the intervention on humanitarian grounds, as well as some like ajay who aren’t but claim that those same grounds do (most probably) exist, must have made at least some cursory effort to check this, and can easily obtain relevant links from their browser history?

Sources: Amnesty International report (paramedics fired on); Al-Jazeera (civilian casualties in Misrata); BBC (artillery used on populated areas); CBS News (defecting pilots ordered to bomb populated areas).

I admit that I have yet to see the live cellphone video images of people actually being blown up by BM-21s which some people are expecting. But the sources above include a) video of large explosions happening in cities and b) video of lots of civilians with big holes in them. Joining the dots doesn’t seem too much of an ask.

Surely, surely, Tim, you were not trying to suggest that I was making those things up. That would be pretty low.

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ajay 03.23.11 at 11:26 am

Or do you mean (2) that they have a duty not to impose serious harms (or risks of harm) on their own personnel and that this duty takes precedence over their duty not to impose harms (or risks of harm) on others? … (2) strikes me as obviously false and, indeed, iniquitous. (Though belief in it may explain large numbers of dead Iraqis at US military checkpoints).

Eh? No, 2 is entirely accurate. Of course the US military has a duty to protect its own personnel from harm, even if it means harming others.
Now, there are limits here – proportionality, etc – but you can’t seriously argue that it’s false and iniquitous to suggest that the US army has a duty to kill Taliban fighters if the alternative is the Taliban fighters killing US soldiers. Self defence, no?

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Chris Bertram 03.23.11 at 12:05 pm

ajay: please do read charitably. *Obviously* my point was not about those who have lost their immunity from attack by being themselves involved in attack. It was about bystanders and the like. The US military does not have a duty to protect its own people from harms that outweighs its duty not to harm bystanders.

(If I have to spell this kind of thing out it will result in ridiculously long and pedantic posts.)

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Bill Gardner 03.23.11 at 12:10 pm

It seems that Germany is withdrawing its forces in the Med from NATO command.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement that the alliance will monitor sea traffic in the region and intercept vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries. “All allies are committed to meet their responsibilities under the United Nations resolution to stop the intolerable violence against Libyan civilians,” he said.

NATO’s decision prompted Germany, reluctant to play a military role in Libya, to immediately announce it was pulling out of alliance operations in the Mediterranean. Four ships will be returned to German command, a Defence Ministry spokesman in Berlin said. “Because there is a component to the arms embargo that envisages the use of force if necessary, Germany decided it would not be part of such action,” the spokesman said.

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ajay 03.23.11 at 12:36 pm

The US military does not have a duty to protect its own people from harm that outweighs its duty not to harm bystanders.

Yes it does, to a certain extent. That was why I mentioned proportionality. If defending its own people from harm – or, more generally, gaining a military advantage – means putting bystanders at risk, and if the risk to the bystanders is proportionate to the military advantage, then the US military does actually have exactly that duty. And the laws of armed conflict allow such action.

I shouldn’t have used the Taliban example, that was misleading.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 12:43 pm

Alex @174: The problem with “strategic victimhood” is that claiming that people who are being victimised want it really is a killer meme with a seriously bad record

What dsquared said, but just to underscore the point: unlike the motives of those seeking open-ended war powers, this question is predictively more or less inert, or rather the strong form of it which largely consists of adding mood music to the tune of ‘nasty rebels being sneaky’ is.

The rebels want outside help, and they want that help in order to further the objectives they have already and openly espouse. They have an interest in maximising the appearance that Gadaffi is being brutal and genocidey. None of this is controversial, and the only difference calling it ‘strategic victimhood’ makes is perhaps to suggest that the rebels might not have even tried had they not expected to get outside help in the first place (I would certainly be interested to find some info about the circumstances in which the belligerents actually decided to tool up and dig in.

It’s a bit like the theory of evolution – it falls out from the combination of a number of other uncontroversial facts, and does not itself make further substantial factual claims, provide a basis for some stupid operational principle, etc. Or at least if it does, it wasn’t something I intended to espouse. Which is why I didn’t call it the ‘strategic victimhood thesis’. Perhaps the ‘obvious propaganda value of presenting the other side as brutal and implacable, yea, even unto being ambivalent about real casualties’ thesis (henceforth ‘OPVPOSBIYUBAARC’ thesis)

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skidmarx 03.23.11 at 12:44 pm

Mightn’t it be harder to find an army that has operated the principle “Bros before… just about anything”?

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 12:49 pm

ajay @179:

Right so is that everything? I won’t enter into my own analysis in light of the difference between humanitarian crisis and ongoing war, or issues of magnitude and proportionality: people can do that for themselves.

And no I hadn’t intended to speculate about any deficiency in your epistemic or moral faculties, or anything else about you personally. That would as you say be pretty low (unless warranted, in which case it might be bold frank and outspoken).

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Chris Bertram 03.23.11 at 12:51 pm

ajay: I think you are confusing two different things. Sure there’s a proportionality calculation to be made. But _in_ the proportionality calculation (among others) the duty not to harm a bystander carries greater weight than the duty not to harm a member of the military personnel.

_And the laws of armed conflict allow such action._

Well under some interpretations of double effect you could say that, I suppose. But you can’t, for example, gain a military advantage by putting bystanders to use as human shields. If your duty to your own people outweighed your duty not to impose (risks of) harms on bystanders, presumably human shields would be fine.

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ajay 03.23.11 at 12:56 pm

TW @186: that should do; plus I’ll throw in eyewitness accounts of unarmed protesters being fired on by snipers (Daily Telegraph). I don’t think one can really argue against this on the grounds that large numbers of civilians have not been deliberately killed by Gaddafi’s government.
The questions are really “how many civilian deaths – if any – would justify a NATO war against Libya” and “have we reached that number yet”. My own answers are “no number” and “N/A”.

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an adult 03.23.11 at 12:59 pm

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 1:02 pm

BTW, O/T but double effect happens to be a current research topic of mine: I can report back that it is, strictly speaking, bunk. Specialist medical and military ethics might possibly be able to sustain sui generis principles relating to permissibility of foreseen but peripheral harms, but those are surely not based on a general double effect principle of permissibility. More probably they are to do with necessity in the legal defence sense, doing/allowing distinctions, rights e.g. to self-defence, novus actus interveniens-type principles, and unpredictability/avoidance.

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ajay 03.23.11 at 1:04 pm

But in the proportionality calculation (among others) the duty not to harm a bystander carries greater weight than the duty not to harm a member of the military personnel.

It’s never going to be that clear-cut though, is it? You’re never going to get a situation on the battlefield where you can say “Either we take out that machine-gun position with a tank round, and definitely kill exactly two civilians in doing so, or we don’t and definitely lose exactly one of our own troops to machine-gun fire. Therefore, don’t fire the tank round”. The legal definition uses words like “excessive” but how much is excessive is left very much up to judges.

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dsquared 03.23.11 at 1:17 pm

It’s never going to be that clear-cut though, is it?

It surely is sometimes going to be that clear cut, particularly in the context of an army that has access to drone-strikes (and thus regularly has one option that poses nearly no risk at all to its own personnel, at the cost of potential collateral damage). “There’s a sniper in that apartment block – shall we send in a drone missile or shall we take the risk?” is a decision that the US Army is going to have to take again and again in future wars.

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sg 03.23.11 at 1:59 pm

Tim Wilkinson, you’re bending yourself into increasingly extra-dimensional knots to justify not bombing the shit out of a bunch of thugs. The “she was asking for it” routine in 184 is especially good. I bet those rebels knew from the very start, why, even before they were being shot dead by snipers in the centre of Tripoli, that the US was gonna come in and deal with gaddafi. They provoked him, the little bitches. Then they called the police and now look, poor innocent gaddafi is going to prison and all because they deliberately made him hit them.

I mean, when they staged tehir little revolution, just like the Egyptians and the Tunisians, they must have been able to assume that the US would bail them out after their provocations, just like it did in Egypt and Tunisia right? And is doing now in Bahrain. We shouldn’t have given in to their selfish demands for protection, it’s just a few snipers, then a whole horde of irregular militias, then some bombing runs by advanced fighter aircraft, followed by a full-scale military campaign. Why is everyone being so precious?

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 2:04 pm

troll

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ajay 03.23.11 at 2:17 pm

192: no, even in that case it’s still not going to be clear-cut, because you are taking a risk and more than that it’s an unknown risk. Even if you know, for sure, that the drone (or the tank round) will kill the sniper plus exactly one civilian, you still don’t know definitely what the alternative will be. Maybe the sniper won’t hit anyone. Maybe he’ll hit one man. Maybe he’ll hit half your section and the medic who comes running to treat them. You have to have definite knowledge of the outcome in both alternatives for the situation to be clear-cut and that’s not going to happen.

That’s exactly why the law doesn’t lay down quantitative exchange rates between your own casualties and civilian casualties: because it would be ludicrous to argue “you used excessive force because you killed one civilian to get to a sniper who would otherwise merely have killed 0.8 of your own troops, judging by historical sniper success rates”.

Yes, of course it’s a decision that the US and other armies are going to have to take – but you are also wrong in saying that it’s a new decision because of drones being a new technology. Deep strike weapons that do not put their operators at risk, at the cost of potential civilian casualties, are not new, and the choice you pose could equally well apply to, say, using long-range artillery (or not). “There’s a sniper in that apartment block; do we call in artillery or do we take the risk?”

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 2:29 pm

ajay: since we are undoubtedly not dealing with trolley cases, I think it’s right that uncertainty introduces a good deal of latitude (if there is to be latitude at all).

But that doesn’t mean that all bets are off: there will no doubt be cases in which epistemic probabilities (including those based on a visible component of uncertainty/principle of indifference – which is, I would argue, ever-present and underlies more confidently quantifiable cases of epistemic risk) are sufficiently clear-cut to determine the issue.

A possibility proof can be derived by substitutuing suitably large/small numbers into your example of a ludicrous argument – keep ramping them up until assent is extracted from interlocutor.

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sg 03.23.11 at 2:53 pm

You don’t have any answers to this situation, do you Tim? It’s just shikata ga nai, can’t be helped, gaddafi is going to kill lots of people and that’s just too bad but if we intervened to stop his mercenaries rampaging through a town of a million people we’d be imperialists and that’s bad.

What I don’t get is why you can’t just say that, like a proper pacifist, instead of pretending that gaddafi was never going to do what he said he planned to do. Don’t you think that’s just a little… unnecessarily cheap?

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Billy Bob Tweed 03.23.11 at 2:59 pm

Stephen Walt is correct.

Neocons and Do-Gooder Libs are cut from the same cloth, and will use any excuse to hit the panic button and start wars that bleed the treasury, get innocent people killed, create new enemies, marching ignorantly forward with no clearly defined goal in sight, nor the ability to understand the meaning and reality of “unintended consequences.”

Thank you Conor for validating Walt’s bullseye thesis.

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dsquared 03.23.11 at 3:11 pm

SG, as I’ve said elsewhere in the same context, was the lesson you learned from the Iraq War “hey, that’s a really ethical and sensible way to argue against anti-interventionists, I’m going to make sure I do that in future”?

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chris 03.23.11 at 3:21 pm

“There’s a sniper in that apartment block – shall we send in a drone missile or shall we take the risk?” is a decision that the US Army is going to have to take again and again in future wars.

Sure, but you still don’t know (a) how many people would die in the drone strike (it may even be uncertain that the sniper would be one of them, particularly if you don’t know his location any more specifically than “somewhere in that building”) or (b) how many people would be shot by the sniper before you succeeded in stopping him with less collateral-damage-prone weapons.

On the other hand, if your military is not manned by conscription, then all your military personnel are where they are because they *chose* to risk their lives in the service of whatever the political and military leadership say is in their country’s interest — a choice for which they are lionized to an almost indescribable degree, at least in the US. So while there certainly is an obligation not to expose them to *pointless* risks, I really don’t think it’s unfair to assign risks to them a finite (but still large compared to materiel) value.

A possibility proof can be derived by substitutuing suitably large/small numbers into your example of a ludicrous argument – keep ramping them up until assent is extracted from interlocutor.

Hmm, but isn’t this how the ticking time bomb scenario works too? If the numbers are ludicrous enough, I’m not sure the resulting conclusion generalizes to the real world.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.23.11 at 3:23 pm

“You don’t have any answers to this situation, do you Tim? It’s just shikata ga nai, can’t be helped, gaddafi is going to kill lots of people and that’s just too bad but if we intervened to stop his mercenaries rampaging through a town of a million people we’d be imperialists and that’s bad.

What I don’t get is why you can’t just say that, like a proper pacifist, instead of pretending that gaddafi was never going to do what he said he planned to do. Don’t you think that’s just a little… unnecessarily cheap?”

Yeah, sg is Decent. Particularly liked the “we’d be imperialists” touch, as if the concern is primarily our status, rather than the fact that whenever we do this again we end up killing more people than the dictator most likely would have.

Also liked “like a proper pacifist” — that’s a great way to segue right into “well those pacifists are admirable and all, and their protest against our societies is long-standing though of course weird and unrealistic. Let’s sort of admire them in the abstract while of course ignoring them when any actual matter of policy comes up.” Pretty much what Conor did when he described the pacific argument as one of the two more immediately compelling ones, then proceeded to completely ignore it, because of course no one listens to pacifists.

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Nils 03.23.11 at 3:38 pm

There’s a fundamental slight of hand in the phrase “the option of doing nothing also has moral consequences” — of course it does, BUT NOT FOR US. Standing by while others do horrible things on the other side of the earth does NOT make us morally culpable. The unstated assumption on which the entire argument above rests, and on which the entire argument in favor of humanitarian intervention always rests, is that somehow you and I are culpable and responsible for the immoral acts of others with whom we have no connection other than some entirely fictive “humanity.”

Yes, of course, there will be moral consequences for Kadaffi if he is allowed to slaughter thousands of Cyreneans; but there will be scant few moral consequences for me and you, who have nothing to do with the choices Kadaffi makes. On the other hand, once our government intervenes, then we indeed do become morally imbricated.

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Glen Tomkins 03.23.11 at 3:53 pm

Orwell’s Elephant

The blunt truth of the matter is that the US is intervening for domestic political reasons that have nothing whatever to do with what is best for the people of Libya.

The US has this big elephant gun it maintains at huge expense. That creates the need for the folks entrusted with that gun to decide when some world elephant has gone rogue, even if the concept of the rogue elephant is largely urban legend and usually an unnecessary concern. If rogue elephants aren’t a problem, why do we go to the enormous expense of keeping that elephant gun on the shelf? Obama couldn’t hold out any longer against the constraints imposed by this illusory power of having that gun on the shelf, and so we have the current intervention.

It is certainly true that no actions in this sublunary sphere are pure in motivation, and people who want Qaddafi stopped from massacring the likely losers in Libya’s civil war may be willing to accept the right US action done for wrong reasons. Limiting the argument to just the humanitarian concern for what Qaddafi will do if he wins, is not an inherently illegitimate limitation.

The problem with that perfectly respectable pragmatism as applied to this case, is that this one act of intervening that the humanitarian side wants, is extremely unlikely to be the end of the matter. We were only pushed into intervening because the side we sympathize with was about to lose (and there is every evidence that that side would not have accepted our help until and unless it was about to lose without it). It is extemely unlikely that a one-time, or even limited-time, application of “surgical strike”, purely counter-force, air power, will prove decisive, and win this war for the rebels.

Once you bring that elephant gun off the shelf, you’re going to have to shoot the elephant. Now that we have officially declared the rebels to be the “good guys”, and Qaddafi to be a rogue elephant, no president of the US will ever be able to let the good guys lose, no matter what it takes to prevent that. It will almost certainly take ground troops to stop Qaddafi’s army, because he has an army and the rebels don’t, so we will commit ground troops. Once we’ve committed ground troops to defending Cyrenaica, we will be effectively committed to “liberating” the rest of the country, because we will not tolerate a quagmire in which the possibility of a final victory is abjured in principle. And that liberation will be accomplished with absolutely no concern for minimizing Libyan loss of life, because such lives do not register with the US electorate, whose institutionalized paranoia the whole exercise is designed to cater to. Of course, the resulting occupation will never end, short of a revolution in the US, because no president will ever be able to risk the domestic political consequences of bad things happening in Libya after such a withdrawal. Libya will be added to Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the other previously occupied countries from which US troops will never be withdrawn. This is how modern, beneficently intentioned, empires form.

So sure, getting anything practical done in this wicked world generally involves making common cause with some of the fools and the knaves whose prevalence make this a wicked world, so it is not an argument against any action that some of your allies have foolish or evil intent. But any idea that you can make common cause with the US empire, and have the result be anything but yet one more jewel added to the crown of colonial responsibilities, seems hard to defend. The formation of that empire has already reached a point that it is a self-sustaining process, a thing that does great and pointless harm beyond control by either the good and wise or the foolish and knavelike.

The worst that lies within Qaddafi’s power is a joke compared to the least consequence of applying US military power even in a good cause. That power is a blind thing that no longer knows any human control.

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Guido Nius 03.23.11 at 3:57 pm

I was rather, but not vehemently, against the Iraq invasion & I am rather, but not vehemently, in favour of the Libyan no-fly zone. Maybe I’m just mediocre. Then again, I am not be the only one in the world (even if I may well be a huge exception in the internet-discussion world).

It’s frankly beyond me how you cannot see this as a weighing exercise – & I am not talking about the weighing of consequences but the weighing of the virtue of not using violence and the virtue of not allowing the abuse of violence. The clear differences between Iraq and Libya are: absence and presence of mass military violence to civilians and the presence and absence of a conscious choice for unilateral action.

I’m sure that many countries qualify on the first difference with Libya yet don’t get multi-lateral agreement on intervention. I’m also sure most of those countries do not have natural resources. But that doesn’t mean that there has to be a first time for everything, in order for there to be the opportunity for there to be a last time to the kind of shit that was and is going on there and that, frankly, it is bordering on the insane to deny the exceptionality of it (or waste time in asking for strings of underlined blue letters starting with http in order to substantiate the exceptionality of it).

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 4:08 pm

isn’t this how the ticking time bomb scenario works too? If the numbers are ludicrous enough, I’m not sure the resulting conclusion generalizes to the real world

Fair point, but:
1. The TTBS does apply to the real world – if the numbers and the context are the same. But

2. In this case I don’t think the numbers need to be ramped up to anything like the same degree to extract assent from most interlocutors (of those who are not intransigently opposed in principle regardless of numbers). And the scenario doesn’t require positing unrealistic knowledge as the TTBS does. Which means it is more likely to be useful in deciding policy, and more likely to apply directly to real situations.

3. My possibility proof is more about possible outcomes of a procedure than in establishing a general ethical point. By that I mean that I’m arguing against the position that it is impossible to have sufficient certainty/tractability of prospects/whatever for balancing to be possible. The TTBS proponent is arguing against a position which opposes a torture policy, by subtly changing the subject to that of whether one could ever be persuaded that torture is the best course of action.

4. The TTBS proponents to be found in the hack literature are all dishonest since what they actually want to justify is a general policy of torture when nothing even vaguely approaching the TTBS applies.

5. We clearly do regard some actual military actions as disproportionate in fact: the question is only whether numbers can be used to establish disproportionality before the fact or, equivalently, taking the subjective viewpoint of the actor. And here there may be a problem for my position: the numbers may not be doing any conceptual work themsleves, but merely providing evidence that proper rule-based precautions cannot have been followed. The underdetermination of theory by raw intuition.

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ajay 03.23.11 at 4:21 pm

Of course, the resulting occupation will never end, short of a revolution in the US, because no president will ever be able to risk the domestic political consequences of bad things happening in Libya after such a withdrawal. Libya will be added to Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the other previously occupied countries from which US troops will never be withdrawn.

US troops have in fact been completely withdrawn from several countries.
Vietnam. Iceland. France. Libya (the former Wheelus AFB). Laos. Saudi Arabia. Austria. Tunisia.Morocco. And there are several more where they’re down to a hundred or so, which can’t really be called a force of occupation: the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Greenland, the Philippines, Thailand.

And it’s stated US policy to withdraw all US troops from Iraq by the end of this year.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.23.11 at 4:23 pm

“Yes, of course, there will be moral consequences for Kadaffi if he is allowed to slaughter thousands of Cyreneans; but there will be scant few moral consequences for me and you, who have nothing to do with the choices Kadaffi makes. On the other hand, once our government intervenes, then we indeed do become morally imbricated.”

You don’t need to declare humanity to be “complete fictive” in order to make this point. Look, what is the precondition for a government to intervene in any effective fashion? Whether it has a military capable of doing do — the “elephant gun” that Glen Tomkins writes about above. People in South America can surely shrug and say that there is nothing they can do, so they aren’t involved. People in the U.S. are involved merely because they have built the capability to be involved.

People like Conor want to call on the moral consequences of doing nothing for countries that can in fact do something, but are completely uninterested in whether the people of those countries have actually made the moral choice to act. (Yes, cue Henry blustering about how if only I read Conor in depth I’d see that he favors democratic deliberation. But he’s certainly shown no interest in it whatsoever in what he wrote here, and doesn’t even class concerns about consent of the governed among his breakdown of ideological objections). What matters are the decisions of the elite and the legal justifications produced by a band of their servant technocrats. Is the morality of the prince really binding on that of the serfs?

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 4:32 pm

Of course, the resulting occupation will never end, short of a revolution in the US, because no president will ever be able to risk the domestic political consequences of bad things happening in Libya after such a withdrawal. Libya will be added to Iraq, Afghanistan, and all the other previously occupied countries from which US troops will never be withdrawn

And this is not accidental; the middle east is full of permanent US garrisons and bases, each acquired more or less deliberately or opportunistically but undoubtedly with constitutents of the US policy vector pushing for their establishment and retention. Iraq 1 for example got US troops into Saudi* and Kuwait.

Someone who has a bizarre tendency to get conspiratorial about, er, military strategy and covert action might almost think the whole thing was engineered to achieve that end. (I also recall a domestic rebellion in Iraq being encouraged by the US – which led to some pretty bloody retaliation).

*the Saudi garrison was moved to Qatar in 2003, apparently, perhaps on the basis that the mad Islamists might accept that as a second best to destroying the US, its freedoms, frame, outlook, way of life and everything.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.23.11 at 4:39 pm

Oh, and before someone writes “Obama isn’t a prince and the people of the U.S. aren’t serfs, you can vote him out”, really? The electoral rules of the United States make it so that there can effectively be only two political parties. In theory, there can be more, but the others have no chance of winning. The only choice offered by our system in the last election was either Obama or another candidate who would have been even worse. The primary offered a choice, in theory, but Obama lied about what he’d do in matters of war in order to win the primary, and now he is the only credible candidate for the next Presidential election.

Electorates are not obliged to produce a candidate that one would like, of course. But if you want to say that the range of mainstream American politics really runs from warmongering under cover of humanitarian BS to openly vicious warmongering, then you have to allow that people can choose to morally exclude themselves from being part of this evil polity even through they are governed by it.

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Glen Tomkins 03.23.11 at 5:18 pm

ajay,

The Cold War was a hybrid situation, in the sense that there was an at least half-way plausible foreign threat justifying the large US peacetime military establishment, but we already had the beginnings of an institutionalized paranoia in our domestic political.

So the US could sometimes behave pragmatically and withdraw military forces from countries we occupied in WWII but which were not threatened by the SU (from your list: Iceland, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco), and even make the occasional deal with the SU (Austria) over mutual withdrawal of troops. This pragmatism was possible because our foreign policy was still at least partly driven by actual foreign power realities.

But we already had the formation of that institutionalized terrorization of the US electorate that constrained rational reductions in forces and withdrawals form countries where we had no real security interest having forces. McCarthy may have lost, but McCarthyism won. Johnson, working from a much more secure political base than Obama, and having proven that he was willing to take huge political risks over civil rights — even Johnson felt that he simply could not run the political risk of “losing” Vietnam. Our foreign policy had been largely captured by domestic politics that left no room for pragmatism at crucial junctures.

What has happened since the end of the SU, is that, instead of letting that huge military establishment wither away in the absence of any real threat, the US instead has devolved into a purely domestic politics driven foreign policy. We’re afraid of “terror” itself, not any foreign power that actually has any power.

We could, back in the day, make pragmatic withdrawals even from countries like Vietnam, because there was at least one strand of our thinking about the use of military force that based its use on the practical need to form a counter to the SU’s military might. When staying in a country became obviously counter-productive to thwarting the SU, a misapplication of forces needed elsewhere, we could, though at the cost of great domestic political trauma, finally do the pragmatic thing and abandon Vietnam and Laos.

But there will never be any counter-vailing practical consideration strong enough to get us to leave Libya, because we no longer move military forces around with any practical view in mind except the need to feed the domestic political beast its regular ration of fear. Until and unless we change that dynamic, no way will any US president be able to hand his potential political enemies the whip of that fear, by foregoing the use of that whip himself. We will never be able to afford to “lose” Libya now, because of the use the Rs would make of any such “loss”.

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Guido Nius 03.23.11 at 5:21 pm

Obama isn’t a prince and the people of the U.S. aren’t serfs, you can vote him out.

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William Timberman 03.23.11 at 5:22 pm

I’m no more persuaded by the arguments — and non-arguments — of the liberal interventionists here or elsewhere than Rich Puchalsky is, and I have nothing to add to what I perceive to be the clarity and force of his arguments. I will say this, though. Watching him battering at the safe door of Western complacency with his sledge-hammer is really depressing, and I’d like to help.

The bottom line for me is that we don’t own these countries, or the people in them. If the peoples of the world were ready for a world government, and wanted one (and got one, which is another matter altogether), supposedly UN-sponsored interventions might make more sense then they do now, but even after nearly sixty years of trying, not even the Europeans can come up with a convincing prototype for that sort of thing. International communities, and coalitions of the willing as described by the President with the elephant gun, be he Republican or Democrat, have been to date little more than a macabre joke. That’s the reality of the situation, and no amount of lawyering in the Hague or anywhere else has been able, or likely will be able, to put lipstick on that particular pig.

Like Conor, I wish it weren’t so, but it is. The rest is just posturing.

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Henry 03.23.11 at 5:24 pm

bq. cue Henry blustering about how if only I read Conor in depth …

If I were inclined to bluster, it would be on the ironies of someone simultaneously getting very upset at being described as a possible conspiracy theorist, and claiming _passim_ that those who disagree with him do so only because they are wicked elites or those elites’ technocratic ‘servants,’ looking for the most ideologically efficacious ways to justify their masters’ excesses. But as I don’t have time or energy for an extended comments-section dispute at the moment, and as these particular hang-ups are largely irrelevant to the actual matter under discussion, I really don’t think that there is much to be gained from a proper full length blustering, satisfying though it might be.

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geo 03.23.11 at 5:30 pm

Glen Tomkins @203: The worst that lies within Qaddafi’s power is a joke compared to the least consequence of applying US military power even in a good cause. That power is a blind thing that no longer knows any human control.

This is debatable, but it definitely deserves to be debated. In the first part of his comment, Glen makes, much more fully and convincingly, the point I only hinted at in 77: that resort to military force is a reflex that feeds on itself, in good part because frequent military intervention appears to justify the vast military machine whose beneficiaries (the defense industry and its investors, current and retired high military officers, and venal legislators) wield so much domestic political power. It is a deadly reflex, and though in particular cases like Libya the lives saved may outnumber the lives lost, the ultimate cost of entrenching the reflex may very well be cataclysmic. The same goes for the ultimate cost of disregarding the safeguards against unilateral military intervention embodied in the UN Charter, however cynical and opportunistic other great powers (unlike the US) may sometimes be.

What’s so exasperating about liberal interventionists of the Decent/New Republic variety: they ought to know this, but they keep insisting instead that their opponents are simply absolute pacifists or mindless anti-imperialists.

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Norwegian Guy 03.23.11 at 5:36 pm

“The electoral rules of the United States make it so that there can effectively be only two political parties. In theory, there can be more, but the others have no chance of winning.”

There are seven parties in the Norwegian Parliament. Unfortunately, all approve of the war. Denmark was one of the few countries were the Parliament actually debated the war already on Friday, March 18th, i.e. before the attacks started. Counting the Faroese and Greenlandic seats, 13 parties and a couple of independents are represented there, ranging from the far left to the far right, but not a single MP voted against. So proportional representation doesn’t necessarily make much of a difference.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.23.11 at 5:37 pm

Henry, you can either describe it as a bad functionalist argument, or as a conspiracy theory, but not both. But you’ve never been much on consistency when one of your friends unfortunately doesn’t write what you think he must have written rather than what he actually did. I prefer the “bad functionalist argument” bit, actually, because it explains how people are so virtuously clueless when they repeat the same mistakes over and over. But if you want to go for the added thrill of calling it a conspiracy theory, go ahead.

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ajay 03.23.11 at 5:40 pm

Glen @210: “But there will never be any countervailing practical consideration strong enough to get us to leave Libya, because we no longer move military forces around with any practical view in mind except the need to feed the domestic political beast its regular ration of fear.”

The US withdrew from Saudi Arabia in 2003 and from Iceland in 2006 (not during the Cold War) and remains committed to withdrawing from Iraq by the end of this year. Saying “well of course they’re not really going to withdraw from Iraq because that doesn’t count” is begging the question.

Also, you realise that “even Johnson felt that he simply could not run the political risk of “losing” Vietnam. Our foreign policy had been largely captured by domestic politics that left no room for pragmatism at crucial junctures” directly contradicts what you say two paragraphs later?

More generally, any argument that goes “you have to remember that US politicians were a lot more pragmatic and realistic in the 1950s and 1960s than they are today” doesn’t pass the giggle test, especially from a post which mentions McCarthy in the very next paragraph.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 5:50 pm

The US withdrew from Saudi Arabia in 2003

and relocated to Qatar.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 5:57 pm

McCarthy was not a part of the US political establishment – he was tolerated while he was making trouble for the Dems, then censured and his career ended when he went too far, and his party had no use for him any more.

HUAC is a different matter – and that was a pretty straight repression op in service of Cold War propaganda (obviously, as is always the case with these things, there were varying degrees of buy-in from those whose job was to push the message – who better to do it?). Thats’ why the blacklist was aimed at coercing those capable of informing public opinion.

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bianca steele 03.23.11 at 5:57 pm

I’m curious. Does the ticking time bomb scenario only involve torturing people who have some guilt? How does it rule out torturing innocent people or even bystanders, if they might have information? The usual case is the underling who has information about his bosses’ activities, but why not, say, the accountant? (In real life, accountants tend to be easy to get to turn state’s evidence, as I understand it, having a greater interest in seeing themselves as innocent of criminal activity than in their right to have carried out their job whatever it took, but surely that has to be accounted for in order to have a complete theory.) Or something short of torture, say suborning some other crime, or even fraud that causes a monetary loss, whatever?

Sorry, I see the thread has lost interest in this question already. It doesn’t have anything that I can see to do with Conor Clarke’s post here or any others I remember Conor making. The argument of the OP itself makes me much too angry to respond. It’s understandable, and to be expected, that someone employed by NGOs would see everything in terms of humanitarian aid to be accomplished by whatever means, and all arguments in terms of marketing the idea of aid to people who might influence ultimate decision makers, but this doesn’t mean the frame is an appropriate one.

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Henry 03.23.11 at 6:17 pm

bq. Henry, you can either describe it as a bad functionalist argument, or as a conspiracy theory, but not both.

It actually _is_ both. You start with accusations that imply intentionality and a degree of deliberate organization – that it is someone’s ‘job’ to pump out ideological justifications, or that someone is a ‘servant technocrat’ of the elites. ‘Job’ implies intention and well understood duty. ‘Servant’ implies an employment relationship and some degree of deliberate structured hierarchy. And then, when you are pushed on this, you swiftly retreat to saying that all you were claiming is that it is that person’s ‘function’ to do whatever awful ideological thing it is that they are doing. ‘Job’ and ‘servant’ carry very different implications than e.g. ‘function’ – but you hop back and forth between the two lines of accusation as convenience dictates. I don’t believe that this is a deliberately dishonest rhetorical maneuver along the lines of the two-step of terrific triviality – I imagine that it instead reflects a belief on your part that the difference is not an important one. But it does mean that the two get rolled indiscriminately into one package. And with that, I am really out of here.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 6:39 pm

But of course in reality there are both blind-functional and intentional elements, as well as coincidental and cockup elements to the operations of organised power, and there are such things as hypocrisy, self-deception and other pragmatically adopted biases which make a distinction between merely functional and intentional (consciously functional) support pretty fuzzy. Also teleologically-designed institutions, intentional plans the nature of which is more or less determined by circumstances, etc.

Henry isn’t particularly opposed to the idea of ideology or various other aspects of the operation of power that regard what is done by powerful individuals and their employees as in some way teleologically related to its outcomes. He seems instead to object to the specific case.

I really wouldn’t want to get invoved in adjudicating that, but to keep to generalities, I’d note a previous objection to the ‘I know him’ line of argument which might come in at some point.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.23.11 at 6:44 pm

“‘Job’ imply intention and well understood duty. ‘Servant’ implies an employment relationship and some degree of deliberated structured hierarchy.”

Does anyone really, in a contemporary western society, have an employment relationship in which their job is paid-up Minion? Even the Tobacco Institute scientists, if I remember rightly, were described as “the scientists, who came from prestigious institutions such as Georgetown University and the University of Massachusetts, did not consider themselves to be working ‘on behalf’ of cigarette makers even though they were being paid by the industry.”

And before you sneer about people not having jobs and employment relationships … doesn’t Conor actually work as some kind of legal consultant for the U.N., according to his comments here? In his personal comments, he approves of the legal theory which is he is seemingly paid to help create. I’m not suggesting that he’s a conspirator, in some kind of evil-minion, twirling his waxed moustache way. But pride in one’s work is a much stronger motivation than many others. He may not think that it’s his job to pump out ideological justifications. But isn’t it really, literally, his job to pump out ideological jusitfications? That’s exactly what this legal theory is.

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politicalfootball 03.23.11 at 6:44 pm

‘Job’ imply intention and well understood duty.

I didn’t think so when I first read it, and don’t think so now. Some folks are cogs in a machine that they don’t understand. Each such cog has a “job.”

Indeed, Conor is very specific about the limits of what he will attempt to understand, and he states that it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to understand the matters that interest Rich and me(1). Rich has made no effort to argue that Conor knows more than Conor claims to. I, too, am willing to believe that Conor’s intentions are as he describes them.

(1)Colin in the original post: “I find the latter of the three arguments the least interesting because they inevitably descend into a search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions.”

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politicalfootball 03.23.11 at 6:45 pm

Of course that latter “Colin” should be “Conor.”

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bianca steele 03.23.11 at 6:57 pm

Sorry, Conor Foley (not Clarke. too hungry/lazy to scroll to the top of the page and check)

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chris 03.23.11 at 7:15 pm

What’s so exasperating about liberal interventionists

What makes an “interventionist”? Someone who is in favor of all possible interventions? Most? Or just any intervention, even one? Anyone who concedes even theoretically that there *might* be a good situation for intervention? If any position other than a priori rejection of intervention without considering particular facts is “interventionist”, then of course there’s lots of interventionists.

Regardless of how you define “interventionists”, it seems likely to be a highly heterogeneous group, and even more so if you equivocate between the various meanings. Different interventionists (it might be clearer if you call them “conditional interventionists” to distinguish them from the neocons) could disagree both on what standard to apply, and on which factual cases fit any given standard, and so in practice “interventionists” will often be found on both sides (some of them saying “Intervention isn’t always bad, but in this case it would be and we should stay out” — which, in fact, quite a few did say about Iraq, including some of the ones now pro-Libya-intervention).

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chris 03.23.11 at 7:18 pm

Does anyone really, in a contemporary western society, have an employment relationship in which their job is paid-up Minion?

I would argue that any number of conservative think-tanks are exactly that, and possibly Fox News as well. Minion isn’t their official job title, but their salary depends on adhering to the party line and they know it, as evidenced by their continued employment.

Every so often someone decides there must be a left-wing counterpart and sets off to find it, or to pick someone to pin the label on, but it generally doesn’t work out.

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geo 03.23.11 at 7:18 pm

Chris: wasn’t “liberal interventionists of the Decent/New Republic variety” specific enough?

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Andrew 03.23.11 at 7:19 pm

CB @178: As to the second principle… let me make sure I understand the question it poses. Say MP = military personnel, and NC = foreign innocents. You’re asking whether, if our government has a duty to value MP > NC, then does government have a duty to harm NC where doing so protects MP? I agree with you that this is obviously false as an absolute principle.

As to the proportionality discussion that followed your comment… I don’t think proportionality fits well with the question’s focus. Let’s say we have three variables, military advantage (MA), military personnel (MP), and non-combatants (NC). Usually in a proportionality analysis the value of protecting MP is subsumed into the value of MA. So long as MA – (risk of harm)(NC) > (some threshold), the action is proportional. I have to say that I think there is little value in evaluating highly abstracted scenarios like the sniper in the building that fail to describe all the other factors that we need to make a determination of MA and therefore of proportionality.

Your question asks us to look at this differently, and to focus not on MA nor on MP as a component of MA, but on the obligations of a civilian government to protect its people, including its military, and to preference their well-being above that of others.

The short answer is that I would reject the implication contained in the second question: that I am obligated to value A more than B does not imply that I am obligated to commit any amount of harm to B for any amount of benefit to A.

My objection to the use of the military in humanitarian interventions (where national interest is not relevantly implicated) is premised on the notion that the government has an obligation to use its power to force a soldier into harm’s way only insofar as the purposes for which the government has been given such power require it. I think that in our grand weighing of the humanitarian costs of non-intervention, we fail to adequately consider the seriousness of a government telling a soldier to go risk his life, or be imprisoned for failing to do so.

Re strategic interest in Libya: almost nil. Humanitarian intervention is the only plausible account.

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Lemuel Pitkin 03.23.11 at 7:25 pm

Does the ticking time bomb scenario only involve torturing people who have some guilt? How does it rule out torturing innocent people or even bystanders, if they might have information?

A very good question!

Or, for that matter, doesn’t the ticking-bomb logic justify torturing anyone at all (say, your own child) if the bomb-setter says that’s the condition for telling you where it is?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.23.11 at 7:30 pm

Indeed, Conor is very specific about the limits of what he will attempt to understand, and he states that it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to understand the matters that interest Rich and me

This, actually, makes a lot of sense from the point of view of a fonctionnaire international. Not only governments have hidden motives, individual government officials do too. To achieve anything, international civil servants navigate the terrain where suspicious motives are a given; what’s important is how to achieve the goal. The only problem is, in this case the goal is achieved by starting a war. This has got to be a special, very special case.

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bianca steele 03.23.11 at 7:32 pm

Lemuel:
You make a good point–for that matter, what if you’re told the bomb will be disabled if you turn over the nuclear “football,” and if you do it will be destroyed?–what if you think you may have misheard what you were told, but you’re pretty darn sure it was “burn down town hall at midnight or every large city in North America will be destroyed”?–but my point was more that I think most people fail to be as uncomfortable pondering the scenario as they should just because they assume the person who might be subject to torture is a criminal. I doubt many of them have thought it through enough to consider these extra options.

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digamma 03.23.11 at 8:58 pm

In fact I’m going to zap the 2 comments just above this one from “digamma” and “ed” right now.

Yeah, that’s fair. I kind of regretted that post not long after writing it.

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novakant 03.23.11 at 10:01 pm

I think it’s silly and dangerous to give Gaddafi the benefit of the doubt under those circumstances.

I think it’s silly and dangerous to sell him the weapons – which most USNC members did.

We sell the psychopath next door a gun and then we are shocked, S-H-O-C-K-E-D when he shoots his wife and children with it. It’s completely ridiculous and all these discussions are daft if they ignore the underlying reality of the global arms trade.

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sg 03.23.11 at 11:45 pm

Rich, I’m not a Decent, I have a strong preference for not starting wars over humanitarian issues, and I opposed the Iraq war vehemently on those and various other grounds. But I don’t have an ideological commitment to never using military power for humanitarian reasons, and if ever there was a case for an intervention it’s the point where the mercenary army is speeding towards the last remaining city, their intent to kill declared openly by their leaders. On television. That we all watched.

But what do we have as arguments against it so far? We have dsquared’s “atrocities didn’t really happen,” with no follow up to ajay pointing out the evidence that they did. We have Tim Wilkinson telling us that once people rebel against a government they become an enemy army and they’re open season; we have martin bento defining away attacking cities as “not an act of aggression.” These are all arguments none of you would countenance if they were used in defence of one of your own governments shooting its own citizenry, but you seem quite happy to present them here. I particularly like the trotting out of the strategic victimhood thesis, dependent as it is in this case on the demonstrators being able to see the future.

Also we have the weak claims of imperialism, which could have been used against the US if it didn’t intervene and left its client dictator to massacre his own citizens, but can be used equally well to describe US actions if they intervene. What’s the use of that?

The arguments against intervention presented here are necessarily empty of content. They have to deny the reality of ghaddafi’s presentation on TV of his military plans; they have to ignore the actual history of the events of the “revolution;” they (quite explicitly in dsquared’s case) have to deny the reports of atrocities; and they have to tread very carefully around the obvious actual one-sided military confrontation that was happening at the time of the declaration of the NFZ. This makes them quite the opposite of the arguments against intervention in Iraq.

So yeah dsquared, what I learnt from the presentation of the invasion of iraq was that policy built on a lack of facts and a lot of deception is not good policy. Bush was doing that in order to trick us into supporting an unnecessary war. I don’t understand why people here are doing the same thing in defence of Gaddafi, who is hardly a darling of the modern left. What’s the point?

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david 03.24.11 at 2:23 am

What? The lessons from Iraq are be: skeptical about the hype; humble about the potential; really really skeptical about the shock and awe; sure that the cost benefit analysis applied to things like helping poor people eat will not be applied here. That for Iraq seems like that for Libya, especially as the humanitarian arguments and the oh I guess they do have lots of oil reserves caveats are parallel.

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Alex 03.25.11 at 4:11 am

‘Job’ and ‘servant’ carry very different implications than e.g. ‘function’

Surely a civil servant can easily fit the bill for “amoral functionary” rather than “intentional evildoer”?

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Tim Wilkinson 03.27.11 at 1:54 pm

I don’t understand why people here are doing the same thing in defence of Gaddafi

When you believe in things that you don’t understand…

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