Interventions – humanitarian or liberal?

by Conor Foley on March 23, 2011

´The trouble with this intervention, and with liberal interventionism itself, is not with the abstract principle but the concrete practice´ writes Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian. Well maybe so, and there has been a very interesting discussion in response to my last post about the current situation in Libya, which pretty much spans the spectrum of the debate about its rights and wrongs.

But I was writing about a ´humanitarian intervention´ (ie a UN authorized external military intervention in an ongoing humanitarian crisis with the specific and limited aim of protecting civilians whose lives are threatened). People can agree or disagree about the principle and the practice, but at least we all know that we are taking about the same thing. If you google the term ´humanitarian intervention´it takes you straight to what is widely accepted as its dictionary definition. The parameters of what constitutes a legtimate ´humanitarian intervention´can certainly be debated and issues such as ´threshold level´, ´right authority´ and ´proportionality´ continue to be discussed in great detail.

If you google the term ´liberal intervention´, by contrast, it takes you to a list of polemical articles discussing the rights and wrongs of a hawkish foreign policy that is most closely identified with George Bush´s and Tony Blair´s invasion of Iraq. The reason for this is simply because the term has no fixed meaning and so can be used to justify whatever the person using it chooses to mean.

My understanding of the term is that it is a military intervention, without the authority of the UN Security Council, to overthrow a sovereign government and occupy all or part of its terrritory until after a new government has been elected under the auspices of a provincial authority appointed by the invading powers. The rationale for this intervention/invasion is that the previous government lacked democratic legitimacy and had committed human rights violations of a sufficient degree of seriousness as to justify an action that prime facie constitutes a crime of aggression in international law. Supporters of ´liberal intervention´often call for the ´reform of international law´ to legitimize such acts.

I think that this is quite different from a UN-authorized ´humanitarian intervention´, but I can see why opponents of such interventions (and supporters of the invasion of Iraq) would wish to muddle the two terms.

Maybe I am missing something though. Can someone give me an alternative reasonably authoritative and widely accepted definition of the term ´liberal intervention´ to the one that I outline above?

{ 192 comments }

1

Lemuel Pitkin 03.23.11 at 7:16 pm

Shorter Conor Foley: We should support the attack on Libya because some people opposing it haven’t clearly defined their terms.

This is not Crooked Timber’s finest hour.

2

dsquared 03.23.11 at 7:23 pm

I confess to not quite understanding how that summary might be considered remotely accurate, and having invented the “Shorter” concept eight years ago and been delighted to see it take off, for the first time I am beginning to get a little bored of it.

3

Lemuel Pitkin 03.23.11 at 7:30 pm

Dude, you officially released it to the public domain a long time ago. Can’t take it back now.

You’re right, tho, that a fairer summary might be, “I am more interested in using my platrorm at CT to score debating points against a few random opponents of the war in Libya than in making any substantive arguments.” Better?

4

Conor Foley 03.23.11 at 7:56 pm

Lemuel: your first comment on the last thread stated that ‘there is no concrete evidence of large-scale attacks on civilians’. Several commenters then did provide such evidence through links, articles, media clips, etc. Is it still your position that the situation prior to the intervention did not constitute an ongoing humanitarian crisis, in which there was a very high risk of massacres taking place?

5

danielwaweru 03.23.11 at 8:00 pm

My understanding of the term is that it is a military intervention, without the authority of the UN Security Council, to overthrow a sovereign government and occupy all or part of its terrritory until after a new government has been elected under the auspices of a provincial authority appointed by the invading powers. The rationale for this intervention/invasion is that the previous government lacked democratic legitimacy and had committed human rights violations of a sufficient degree of seriousness as to justify an action that prime facie constitutes a crime of aggression in international law. Supporters of ´liberal intervention´often call for the ´reform of international law´ to legitimize such acts.

That looks like a slightly odd definition, since it would immediately follow from it that liberal interventions are unjust wars: in the absence of a UN Security council resolution, they’d lack right authority. It’s not the first definition you’d want if you were a proponent.

Those opposed wouldn’t accept the apparent assumption that liberal interventions fail to be (at least presumptively) just only because they lack proper authority. You might think, and it appears that a lot of those opposed do, that the threshold for the use of force by a state is far higher than that envisaged. You might think that even quite severe human rights violations by a state against its own people don’t justify invasion, or you might think that unless those very severe violations are actually happening, then there’s no just cause. In Iraq, severe human rights violations had occurred in the past; the human rights violations actually in progress just before the invasion don’t appear to meet the standard required for war.

6

Zack 03.23.11 at 8:12 pm

I think this just might be one of those terms that has no set meaning, because it’s always been used in an ad-hoc fashion to refer to interventions conducted/defended by “liberals,” usually in the American rather than philosophical sense. Given my own background (political philosophy and IR), I’d think to analyze the terms separately: “liberal” referring to the fact that the reasons for intervention were grounded in liberal aims (the protection of individual liberties, including freedom from bodily harm and political freedoms) and “intervention” obviously referring to the use of military force by a third party. On that understanding, “humanitarian” intervention in its usual sense is a subset of all possible liberal interventions.

The tricky bit with attempting to distinguish between “humanitarian” and “liberal” interventions, though, is that post-war reconstruction, which usually entails external military forces remaining in the target country, is usually directed in part towards creating liberal political institutions. So it’s far from clear that there even is a tenable distinction between the two.

7

Salient 03.23.11 at 8:20 pm

I’m still struggling with how to feel about the no-fly zone and airstrikes, but I’m definitely a little disoriented by the insistence that large-scale attacks on noncombatants have occurred.

If say a million people take up arms against their country, some in semi-organized ways and some in rather uncoordinated ways, and the country’s government engages to kill those million people and seems likely (through insufficiently discriminatory attacks) to kill a few tens of thousands more noncombatants among its own citizens, is that a humanitarian crisis?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m overwhelmingly tempted to scream well-yes-of-fucking-course-it-is-a-crisis, but then I think about the American Civil War, and… … I guess the only non-political technical difference is the level of organization among the rebels? Is it really ok for Khadafi to slaughter a million of his citizens so long as they nominate/acknowledge a couple generals and try to wear the same color shirt? … …

So what I’m trying to say is, I haven’t been able to make a whole lot of sense out of the combatant/noncombatant versus citizen/non-citizen distinction from a previous thread. I had thought it was uncontroversial to consider the ‘rebel forces’ who temporarily took control of Libya to be combatants, until I discovered otherwise in the comments here at CT.

Shorter me: from this combatant/noncombatant point of view, how organized do the rebel forces have to become before we are morally compelled to withdraw and allow them to be categorically slaughtered, along with nontrivial numbers of civilians? And given that I am probably being completely stupid about my interpretation of the distinction here, is there an obvious point of departure where I’m going wrong?

8

Conor Foley 03.23.11 at 8:33 pm

Zac: I think a fair criticism of ´humanitarian intervention´ is that is a short-term palliative (which may be effective or ineffective in its short-term goal – comparing, say, Somalia to East Timor). I agree that even after a successful short-term intervention there has to be long-term reconstruction, state-building, economic development, etc. which usually take place within a western-liberal ideological construct. I do think, however, that there is a very clear distinction between a ´liberal´ and a ´humanitarian´trigger for the intervention itself

Further down the last thread Lemuel stated that if the alternative to intervention was the large-scale slaughter of civilians in rebel stongholds then ´Obviously for some value of large-scale, the answer is, Yes, war would be justified´ so he is conceeding the point that there are circumstances in which he would support such actions (he just does not these meet the present ones in Libya).

I am just wondering what are the potenital criteria that might legitimate such action? (not sure why he reads that as a ´dismissal of random anti-war types´)

9

Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 8:51 pm

Several commenters then did provide such evidence through links, articles, media clips, etc

of large-scale attacks on civilians? I was watching closely and didn’t see that bit. (Unless there is some funny business of the kind mentioned by Salient going on here – i.e. being a combatant and being considered a civilian in the relevant sense are compatible).

10

Aulus Gellius 03.23.11 at 9:12 pm

This post seems a little slippery to me. I mean, yes, there’s a tenable distinction between liberal and humanitarian interventions, but (a) I’m not certain that the people you criticize are using the words according to your definitions, so that doesn’t necessarily deal with their arguments, and (b) both LIs and HIs are subsets of the group “invasions [supposedly] for the purpose of improving the lives of the people in the countries invaded.” Such invasions have, in practice, very often been utter nightmares. Now you can say that the nightmares have generally been the liberal ones, and humanitarian ones have gone better; but with such a small sample, it’s not obvious that we should rely on the division at all, rather than lumping them all together.

11

The Sanity Inspector 03.23.11 at 9:20 pm

Despairing of following any side’s logic, I take refuge in simile. This war is like hot bathwater: we’re slipping into it an inch at a time.

12

Andrew 03.23.11 at 9:22 pm

Does it matter, for the purpose of distinguishing between liberal and humanitarian interventions, whether the UNSC authorized the intervention? If the UNSC did not authorize foreign military efforts in Libya, but those efforts were identical in every respect, including the stated goals, would that effort become less a humanitarian intervention?

Was Kosovo a humanitarian or a liberal intervention?

Does the expressed determination of various nations to continue their operations until Gadhafi is gone alter the nature of this intervention from merely humanitarian to liberal?

13

Rich Puchalsky 03.23.11 at 9:24 pm

“Humanitarian intervention” as you’re using the phrase is a legalistic term, and the only way to distinguish between a humanitarian intervention and a liberal one is whether the intervention has been authorized by the UN. In the sense in which you would like to make a strong distinction between humanitarian interventions and liberal ones, it’s an ideological term.

What are the official UN-authorized humanitarian interventions? Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, East Timor, Yugoslavia, and now Libya, aren’t those the major ones? I remember the ones that involved firing off a lot of military ordnance as being Somalia and Yugoslavia. How’d those turn out? Of course, in Rwanda the problem is widely viewed as not enough military intervention, with peacekeepers standing by and doing nothing during genocide. Perhaps devaluing the whole idea of humanitarian interventions with things like this Libyan adventure makes it less likely that we’ll be able to respond to actual genocide?

14

aaron 03.23.11 at 9:32 pm

Strangely enough, when I read this post I thought it was going to be against the war until I got to the second to last paragraph. The current intervention definitely seems to sit on a blurry line between humanitarian and liberal intervention.

Which poses a dilemma for me and others who are theoretically supportive of humanitarian intervention, and think the action in Libya may be a reasonable attempt to stave off a humanitarian catastrophe. Should we support a “intervention” that has potential to turn into a Bosnia-style war? Is it ok to say, “I support intervention now, but I reserve the right to call it a terrible idea in a week?”

I would say this is a reasonable decision, especially considering that I am not exactly able to assess to threat to civilians, effectiveness of the rebel forces, etc from this side of the pond. Maybe I can subscribe to a twitter feed that makes me feel more informed, and read al Jazeera constantly, but I don’t pretend these actions give me an accurate handle of the situation in Libya. I can maybe draw an analogy to the US stimulus (or, for those Conservative CT readers, the UK cuts). I supported the stimulus, but the jury is still out on what its actual effects were–and really I doubt there was any way for a layperson to know in advance how effectively the stimulus funds would be managed. Similarly, in retrospect many would claim that Clinton’s decision not to interfere in Rwanda was a failure of leadership, and I think even those who were against intervention are entitled to make this claim. Luckily, we will find out in a much smaller time horizon how to judge the Libya situation.

Keep in mind that this shouldn’t be construed as an argument for intervention. I am just thinking about the right to withhold judgment on a decision until more information (including information on its results) comes to light. There is a case to be made that we should know in advance how these interventions will turn out (i.e. badly).

15

Conor Foley 03.23.11 at 9:36 pm

Aulus: was the intervention in East Timor in 1999 an ´utter nightmare´ for the people concerned (you do know what was happening at the time?). Likewise Sierra Leone in the same year? Do you really think that the UN-authorised force deployed in Bosnia-Herzegovina constituted an ´invasion´? Likewise do you consider the forces in Darfur and DRC to be ´armies of occupation´? In all of these cases these forces were deployed with the ´consent´of the government concerned (although in Indonesia´s case they were just strong-armed into accepting the deployment).

But to take the Rwandan example (sorry I know it is used a lot). There was a Chapter VI UN force deployed there in October 1993 to monitor a ceasefire. Its commanding officer, Romeo Dallaire, quickly concluded it needed a stronger mandate and resources to confront a government intent on organising a genocide. He did not get those powers, the genocide started and the UN dithered. The French then sent their own force (basically to back up the government forces as they fled) and obtained UN endorsement of this force through a Chapter VII resolution. (Dallaire was so strongly opposed to its deployment that he threatened to shoot down its planes). Knowing what we know now, do you not think that the UN should have instead deployed forces to protect civilians against attacks by supporters of the regime?

This is an ongoing debate in places like the DRC because many of the attacks on civilians are made by government forces. Should, and to what extent should, UN-mandated forces protect civilians when they are being attacked by their own governments?

16

Conor Foley 03.23.11 at 9:39 pm

aaron ´Is it ok to say, “I support intervention now, but I reserve the right to call it a terrible idea in a week?”

Yes.

17

Rich Puchalsky 03.23.11 at 9:44 pm

“aaron ´Is it ok to say, “I support intervention now, but I reserve the right to call it a terrible idea in a week?”

Yes.”

Yes, why not? The Decent Left perfected this during the Iraq War. Support beforehand, when it mattered. Then once authorization was obtained, and with no practical way of revoking it, the individual Decents are free to discover that gosh, they regret supporting that war way back when. And then go on to support the next war.

18

Jeffrey C. Goldfarb 03.23.11 at 9:49 pm

I think that this post and the preceding one is clear in their precise, minimalistic committment to humanitarian intervention. But minimalism does become the basis of more robust commitments, postively and perniciously. Critical analysis demands making situational distinctions. I can imagine building upon the minimalism through democratic practice not military escalation, see http://www.deliberatelyconsidered.com/2011/03/libya-and-the-mission-creep-i-hope-for/

19

geo 03.23.11 at 9:52 pm

Conor: Isn’t just “Yes” a bit glib? Wasn’t aaron merely saying that unless you’re pretty damn sure you won’t be keenly regretting your support within a week, it’s probably wise to withhold support now? Especially given the importance of establishing extreme reluctance to use military force as the norm, as Glen Tomkins and I were urging in the previous thread?

Again, this observation is nor referring specifically to the Libya case.

20

geo 03.23.11 at 9:55 pm

NB – I’m reposting this quote without a (fairly innocent, I thought) four-letter word, in hopes of springing it from moderation. Sorry if it appears twice.

Conor: Isn’t just “Yes” a bit glib? Wasn’t aaron merely saying that unless you’re pretty sure you won’t be keenly regretting your support within a week, it’s probably wise to withhold support now? Especially given the importance of establishing extreme reluctance to use military force as the norm, as Glen Tomkins and I were urging in the previous thread?

Again, this observation is nor referring specifically to the Libya case.

21

Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 9:56 pm

Yes, also complaining that they were taken in, could have happened to anyone, how were they to know that there was never any imminent slaughter of civilians, only a few conspiracy theorists thought there was anything dodgy about the case at the time, Blair is a good actor, and various other eye-glazingly inadequate pleas. Made, moreover, to the very people who had been trying to point this out at the time, and whose opinions they had dismissed with the full gamut of contempt, patronisation, moral outrage, imputations of psychological deficiency etc.

22

Tim Wilkinson 03.23.11 at 9:56 pm

Sorry, that in response to RP @17

23

leederick 03.23.11 at 10:07 pm

“Aulus: was the intervention in East Timor in 1999 an ´utter nightmare´ for the people concerned (you do know what was happening at the time?). Likewise Sierra Leone in the same year?”

I’ll bite on Sierra Leone. Yes, the humanitarian intervention was an ‘utter nightmare’. UNAMSIL troops were routinely obstucted, captured and held hostage by the RUF to the extent that the major consequence of the intervention was the RUF being rearmed with stolen UN guns and APCs. The ‘liberal intervention’ – i.e. the unauthorised and hawkish attack on RUF by the UK with the aim of destroying them as a military force – was the success.

24

soru 03.23.11 at 10:39 pm

was the intervention in East Timor in 1999 an ´utter nightmare´ for the people concerned (you do know what was happening at the time?). Likewise Sierra Leone in the same year?

In your terms, don’t both of those count as liberal, not humanitarian interventions?

Both had expressed and evident aims that were about changing or supporting favoured governments (to independence in one case, to unified democracy in the other). And both those new governments did, by most reports, turn out to be an improvement in standard liberal terms (less limb-chopping, more elections).

This contrasts with, on the one hand, humanitarian interventions like Somalia, Bosnia, Darfur and Rwanda, which were about more direct protection and supply of non-combatants, with varying success.

It also contrasts with Afghanistan and Iraq, which were, in terms of both legal and public arguments made beforehand, almost entirely retaliatory or pre-emptive interventions. Only subsequently did they turn into occupations justified on some mixture of humanitarian (‘there will be a bloodbath’) or liberal (‘only x% want the Taliban back’) grounds.

The takeaway point of recent history is that liberal interventions do sometimes succeed. Armies can change governments, and some governments, under the same economic circumstances, are noticeably worse than others. Success is not guaranteed, or even predictable, but is possible.

Whereas opposed military _humanitarian_ operations are doomed. Define success as ‘less people getting killed’, and any enemy who needs to see you lose is unlikely fail to adopt the opposite goal. And no technology or doctrine exists that can stop them.

Humanitarian operations, in order to avoid that trap, need to be strictly neutralist, to have no enemies. Even to the point of taking tea with a Hitler.

It is not a job I envy.

25

jim 03.23.11 at 11:10 pm

A Liberal Intervention is one where the stated reasons for the intervention are liberal: we’re doing this for your sake. An Illiberal Intervention is one where the stated reasons for the intervention are selfish: we’re doing this to aggrandize ourselves. Palmerston sending a squadron to Greece in the Don Pacifico affair was an Illiberal Intervention. Most recent interventions — Kosovo, Somalia etc. — have been Liberal Interventions in that the stated concern of the intervenors has been for the well-being, in some sense, of the population of the state being intervened on.

A Humanitarian Intervention is a subtype of Liberal Intervention.

In nearly all cases, the stated reason for intervention is, at best, secondary. To distinguish one intervention because the UNSC authorized it on a humanitarian basis is hiding behind legalisms.

I have no idea whether as a result of this intervention more or fewer Libyans will die, be injured, malnourished or sickened. More importantly, neither does the UNSC. It didn’t authorize this intervention because it believed that it would make Libyans in the aggregate better off. It authorized it because the British, French and US governments wanted it and noone else felt sufficiently strongly about the matter to veto it.

26

Conor Foley 03.23.11 at 11:37 pm

leedrick: I think what happened/is happening in Sierra Leone is a bit more complicated than that. You are taking one very narrow time-frame and (innaccurately) extrapolating from a couple of specific incidents.

geo: I started my first post here by saying that my views on the rights and wrongs of this particular intervention (libya) were fairly irrelevant, but since I have been asked to blog on the issue it only seemed fair to say what they are. If you read my book you will see that I strongly believe that humanitarian organizations should maintain a position of strict neutrality on the issue and so I am only giving my personal views at this particular time.

However, the broader point I have tried to address in all of these posts (particularly the first) is the legal basis for such interventions and the planning and strategy involved.

Rich (who I am discovering is a fairly irritating and pompous bloke) says that support or opposition only ‘matters’ before or after an intervention (thereby elevating his particular significance in world events to Kanute like status) but my posts are trying to show how the people who are more directly involved in them actually think.

27

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 12:16 am

I don’t think it’s Rich who is being a bit of a Cnut here.

28

Kevin 03.24.11 at 12:20 am

I do.

29

William Timberman 03.24.11 at 12:24 am

…but I can see why opponents of such interventions (and supporters of the invasion of Iraq) would wish to muddle the two terms.

I can’t speak for supporters of the invasion of Iraq, but as a paid-up member of the class of opponents of such interventions, I certainly have the right to say that the muddling you refer to is as much a function of how the people who are more directly involved in them actually think as it is of our misperceptions, deliberate or otherwise.

I give the people directly involved, particularly at the UN, full credit for their good intentions, and I also understand that they’re not stupid enough to be unaware of the moral minefield that they’re trying to pick their way through in the hope of a better future. All of those concessions notwithstanding, I think that they’re on the wrong path — maddeningly so at times — and I also think that if you lie down with dogs, you’ll still get up with fleas, even though your heart be pure.

Being brushed aside when we say such things, presumably because we lack standing to discuss the intricate histories or legal niceties involved, is, I think, at least as obnoxious as Rich’s rhetorical frustrations, however egregious they may seem to someone who, like yourself, is presumably just trying to get on with what he considers to be the real work of the world. Rich is not the only one who hears the grinding of axes in the assertions of those who disagree with him. You’ve done it yourself, right here in front of God and everybody.

30

Conor Foley 03.24.11 at 12:26 am

Fair enough Tim: I really don’t want to get into the facile personalised abuse that passes for debate in some blogs (and which Rich used by the bucket-load in the previous thread) so happy to withdraw that last remark.

31

Conor Foley 03.24.11 at 12:33 am

Likewise to William. It is difficult to write or comment anywhere without drawing on personal experience and my intention is certainly not to ‘brush aside’ alternative views. I would hope that all of my posts have shown an awareness that I do get the other side of this debate – and fully share the frustration of being accused of ‘not caring’ about the suffering of Kosovan Albanians because I concluded that that particular intervention had done more harm than good.

32

Rich Puchalsky 03.24.11 at 1:08 am

Oh, now this is giving me flashbacks to The Poor Man. Those DFHs and their mean words! (The Medium Lobster came back for this one, too.)

In all seriousness, now, I’m not the one who just helped to start a war. That would be you, wouldn’t it, Conor? You’re the one who is working on legal justifications for war — oops, I mean humanitarian intervention with Tomahawk missiles — and who calmly wrote that “I accept that the campaign will result in people being killed by allied airstrikes”. You’re the one who is telling us how the people who are more directly involved in setting out to kill people think. I mean, how the people who are more directly involved in humanitarian intervention think.

What you refer to as facile personalized abuse seems to refer to the fact that when I said it was your job to come up with ideological justifications for war, it is literally your job. You said that you work for the U.N.; I don’t know in what capacity, but you’ve claimed personal experience in the decision making process around the legal justification for this intervention. For pointing this out, Henry started to go on about my hang-ups, and you’ve said how irritating and pompous I am (while completely misunderstanding my point, but that’s typical too).

Well, that’s familiar as well. Yeah, I’m an Internet blowhard. But I didn’t set out to make war, for whatever supposedly noble reasons just like every war, and I didn’t set out to justify it. People are perfectly free to find my rhetoric the real horror here. I admire them, really.

33

Conor Foley 03.24.11 at 1:43 am

Rich ‘I’m not the one who just helped to start a war. That would be you, wouldn’t it, Conor?’

In all seriousness, I don’t want to get drawn into a meaningless argument with you, but try to get some perspective, please (or at least try to get out a bit more).

34

Henry 03.24.11 at 1:45 am

Rich – this is making discussion quite impossible. I’m banning you from commenting for 72 hours, and warning you that you need to seriously calm down on personalized accusations if you wish to continue commenting here. Please don’t try to evade this ban either if you want to continue commenting here in any capacity.

35

Kevin 03.24.11 at 1:50 am

Puchalsky: “You’re the one who is working on legal justifications for war—oops, I mean humanitarian intervention with Tomahawk missiles—and who calmly wrote that “I accept that the campaign will result in people being killed by allied airstrikes”. “

Look, Rich. You’r e the one who won’t write that you accept that standing by twiddling thumbs will result in people being killed by lunatic dictators.

I hope you’ll see that the snark here is a reductio re: your stance.

After all, this thread (and the other one, which is where you really were a dcik), is not a debate between those who preach intervention while serenely ‘accepting’ collatoral death, on the one hand, and morally pure virtuecrats who simply will not stand for any policy that results in unnecessary death, on the other.

Conor’s admission of qualifications and reasoned doubt about his position speaks well of him in this case. Your (well intentioned, I think) non-interventionist rigidness is…. That.

36

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 1:59 am

You should see the foul state the other thread‘s got into.

37

William Timberman 03.24.11 at 2:34 am

That last by Rich was definitely uncalled for. Short of an Amish barn-raising — and I’m not even sure about that — it’s virtually impossible to get anything good done in the world, anything that requires the cooperation of others, at any rate, while at the same time retaining your innocence. It amazes me that any adult would even suppose that such a thing could be possible.

That said, there are always a range of moral choices available even to the foreman of a ditch-digging crew, let alone to Presidents of powerful countries, or to the members of the UN Security Council. Choosing wisely is difficult, and second-guessing the decisions which are actually made can provide an opportunity for all sorts of fatuous and ill-founded criticism. Nevertheless, the citizens of the world’s democracies — and not only its democracies — have a responsibility, it seems to me, to make such criticisms as they think appropriate, even when, perhaps most especially when, they’re likely to be ignored.

Those who are going to suffer the adverse consequences of decisions made by those who supposedly represent them have not only the right, but the duty, to speak their minds. Decision-makers who are not only powerful but wise would do well to listen to them.

38

an adult 03.24.11 at 4:44 am

39

john c. halasz 03.24.11 at 5:58 am

40

William Timberman 03.24.11 at 6:46 am

@35, @36

Indeed. I think that these two variations on a theme are as close to the truth as we’re likely to get about the reasoning behind the Libyan intervention. Political, rather then moral, in particular, seems a charge that history will let stick.

Still, I respect Conor’s attempts here to carve out a place where something righteous can be done about the Gaddafys of the world, even though I too find it more than a little disingenuous. The moral can’t ever be separated from the political. And yet there are, don’t forget, events in recent history approved by all which have foundations which seemed just as disingenuous, not only at the time, but in retrospect as well. One wonders, for example, if the 60 million dead in WWII would approve in retrospect of Roosevelt’s presumably principled, but at very least crafty bit of political engineering which guaranteed the US entry into that war. My guess is that they would, but that they might also think it, on balance, a gesture of very limited consequence.

41

William Timberman 03.24.11 at 6:56 am

I meant, of course, of limited consequence for them. Certainly not for us.

42

dsquared 03.24.11 at 7:05 am

Knowing what we know now, do you not think that the UN should have instead deployed forces to protect civilians against attacks by supporters of the regime?

I do think there is a real problem with this form of argument, Conor, and it’s the same problem which irritated people about your answer “Yes”.

About more or less any massive failure, it’s possible to say after the event that “Knowing what we know now, do you not think that this should have been done correctly rather than horribly screwed up?”. But “do things properly, don’t screw them up” is pretty clearly not a decision rule ex ante. At the time, everyone involved thought that they were doing the right thing on the basis of the information they had at the time. And although the French government probably contributed to the problems by bringing their own political agenda into things, this is not exactly missing from the Libyan case, is it?

Or, “shorter me”, to repeat a catchphrase that I keep hoping catches on: Operation Turquoise was a humanitarian intervention that was poorly planned, largely politically motivated and utterly counterproductive. In other words, the normal kind.

(my personal view, stated once and once only for this thread, is that the UNSC has to be given the delegated authority to start wars because without the authority to start them it can’t have the authority to stop them and the alternative is a de facto policy of no international law at all).

43

Patrick S. O'Donnell 03.24.11 at 7:16 am

I gathered together pro & con arguments (prior to the UNSC resolution) on “humanitarian intervention” together with a list of the relevant literature (which is fairly small) at the Ratio Juris blog should anyone be interested: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2011/03/humanitarian-ie-military-andor.html

With regard to the moral and legal principles of such intervention, I think many of the jus ad bellum and jus in bello principles of just war doctrine may be of some help (keeping in mind of course that this is not a declaration of war, etc.) in which case, for instance, if it is true that we have here “widespread and grave violations of the human rights” and the intervention is targeted at ending such violations in a manner consistent with the letter and spirit of jus in bello, then the UNSC resolution is at least consistent with such principles (which is not to say we may want to invoke other principles as well). With regard to jus ad bellum, in particular, the “right intention” requirement, much of the current debate seems to hinge on differing views of the precise motivation for humanitarian intervention, focusing especially on the intentions of the U.S. apart or above the other participating state bodies and supportive organizations.

44

Patrick S. O'Donnell 03.24.11 at 7:39 am

Incidentally, it might well be argued, with Allen Buchanan, that current international law with regard to humanitarian intervention is indeed in need of reform (especially, for example, in light of the realpolitik nature of the Security Council, including the veto power accorded the five permanent members). As I wrote at Ratio Juris:

I agree with Allen Buchanan’s argument in Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination…(2004) that “under certain conditions a willingness to violate existing international law for the sake of reforming it [analogous to the use ‘civil disobedience’ in municipal law] can be not only consistent with a sincere commitment to the rule of law, but even required by it.” It follows, for example, that we might explore the “possibility of developing a rule-governed, treaty-based regime for humanitarian armed intervention that bypasses the UN Charter-based law.” But Buchanan importantly qualifies his proposal by emphatically reminding his readers that

“[v]iolations of fundamental rules of existing international law, such as the prohibition of preventive war and against any use of force that does not qualify as self-defense and lacks Security Council authorization, are irresponsible, unless they are accompanied by a sincere effort to construct superior international legal structures to replace those they damage or render obsolete.”

This latter condition (i.e., the ‘sincere effort’ part), among other problems, was arguably lacking in several prior interventions which were ostensibly “humanitarian” (they at least gave rise to the literature on ‘humanitarian intervention’) although perhaps better termed “liberal” in the sense intended by Conor. In short, Buchanan rightly envisions the possibility of a “humanitarian intervention” sans Security Council authorization (owing to a veto by one or more of the permanent members) in cases where the principled rationale exists but because of the behavior of a state or states motivated by its/their perception of its/their own interests or the exigencies of power politics, blocks other parties from acting so as to prevent further egregious violations of human rights….

45

Guido Nius 03.24.11 at 9:17 am

@39: cool idea – but what do we do in the meantime? Nag?

I also think, by the way, that there is a problem with that form of argument which disqualifies most arguments as deployed contra.

This case has to be assessed as this case & people should not be in harm’s way because there’s a principle of non-action (the principle of ‘sh*t happens’) or a principle of ‘first let’s get our house in order’ (the principle of ‘let shit happen as long as we can keep our sh*t straight’).

46

Andrew 03.24.11 at 9:31 am

The “dictionary definition” of “humanitarian intervention,” to which you linked, is considerably more broad than the definition you used to distinguish liberal from humanitarian intervention.

The former describes humanitarian intervention as simply:
(1) Humanitarian intervention involves the threat and use of military forces as a central feature;
(2) It is an intervention in the sense that it entails interfering in the internal affairs of a state by sending military forces into the territory or airspace of a sovereign state that has not committed an act of aggression against another state.
(3) The intervention is in response to situations that do not necessarily pose direct threats to states’ strategic interests, but instead is motivated by humanitarian objectives.

This definition includes operations focused on establishing democracy and overthrowing an existing leadership (Haiti) which are UN authorized, as well as operations focused on protecting civilians which lack UN authorization (NATO operations in the Balkans).

Therefore it’s likely most accurate to say that “liberal intervention” is a type of humanitarian intervention, just as an intervention premised upon and with the limited goal of implementing R2P is a type of humanitarian intervention.

I really don’t think UNSC authorization or lack thereof captures any of the distinctions you want to draw – unless the real goal here is simply to yell “this isn’t Iraq!”

I ask this honestly: why care about the UNSC authorization anyway?

47

Conor Foley 03.24.11 at 10:30 am

Dsquared: my point on Rwanda was the fairly narrow one – what happens when the UN is considering how to respond to a threat to civilians that emanates from the government of the host state? I was not trying to make any wider analogy and so apologies if that was misconstrued.

In most of the man-made humanitarian crises over the last twenty or so years, the main threat to civilians has come from non-state forces and the external intervening forces are there at the request (or with the consent) of the government concerned.
Many such missions have, however, been authorised by the UN (Bosnia, Sierra Leone, DRC, etc.) and sometimes the intervention comes in the midst of a civil conflict and the ‘request’ from the government is made fairly reluctantly because it would rather suppress the rebels itself (Sudan/Darfur and Indonesia/East Timor are obvious examples). In both cases the issue of the mission mandate becomes important (eg Resolution authorising the UN to ‘deter attacks’ on Bosnia’s ‘safe havens’ but not actually to defend them if the detterence failed).

The number of cases in which the main threat to civilians comes from the government and there is any realistic propsect of an external intervention (for reasons of geopolitics) is very small. It is in those cases that those calling for an intervention have to have some idea about what the triggers that could legitimate it should be.

In the case of a ‘humanitarian intervention’ it is widely accepted these would include a) an ongoing humanitarian crisis, b) the exhaustion of other methods c) a reasonable prospect of ‘success’ d) authorisation by the ‘right authority’ and e) proportionate means to accomplish the goal. A UNSC Resolution is widely seen as conferring ‘right authority’ although some argue that (because of the P5 vetoes) this is too restrictive. However, the UN has clearly repeatedly got it wrong in Somalia. A threshold level of violence is usually also accepted as necessary and the other points flow from this.

The number of cases which satisfy all such criteria is actually very small. Kosovo fails almost all of them. I gave the Rwandan example (or rather a specific time-frame within that intervention) because it is a good illustration of the dilemma.

48

The Creator 03.24.11 at 11:02 am

The basic answer to the question is surely that an armed attack on another country, by definition, cannot be humanitarian. You can argue that by killing people you are preventing other people from being killed; the Rwandan genocide was an example where it might have been possible, through aggression, to save numerous lives. But aggression is not humanitarian. Aggression is not really liberal either, because a war is not a liberal business.

Therefore, instead of using footling phrases which conceal one’s political intent, one should get down to the nitty-gritty: is the Western attack on Libya likely to save a lot of lives? Is attacking the Libyan government in support of rebels trying to overthrow it going to save lives? I really don’t know. So far as I can tell, the U.N. Security Council did not know either. If that is indeed the case, then this is not an operation calculated to save lives; it might have that effect by accident.

Secondly, is the Western attack on Libya likely to lead to a more just, democratic and freedom-loving government there? Are the rebel forces in the east of the country likely to provide a better administration than the Gaddaffi government? I really don’t know, and so far as I can tell, nobody really knows. Therefore, this is not an operation calculated to improve socio-political conditions in Libya.

Thirdly, what are the most plausible political goals of the United States in supporting an attack on Libya? (For, in reality, this is a U.S. operation from start to finish.) To my mind, promoting democracy or saving lives are not very high on that country’s agenda. It seems to me that the goal of the operation is to terrorise countries which have in the past been hostile to, or uncooperative with, U.S. foreign policy, and perhaps to further cement relations between the pro-American regimes in Western Europe while establishing the U.S. government’s aggressive credibility.

If this assessment is correct, then the real basis for the aggression is neither humanitarian nor liberal, and indeed the whole operation is a sordid political scheme cynically exploiting an opportunity to use brutal force for self-interested objectives.

49

Anderson 03.24.11 at 11:06 am

It seems to me that understanding “liberal intervention” would have to begin with the history of the concept: Palmerston (or his popular image, anyway); Gladstone’s pamphlet on “the Bulgarian horrors.”

Gladstone for instance wasn’t calling for the Ottoman Empire’s regime to be replaced; he wanted them effectively driven out of the Balkans, with only nominal sovereignty retained.

Defining “humanitarian intervention” as “whatever intervention the UN happens to authorize for protection of civilians” is not going to satisfy anyone except lawyers, and the very concept of such intervention would not be thinkable without liberal intervention’s having been debated (if not practiced!) for generations before the UN was formed.

And god knows I see no need to concede the term “liberal intervention” to the machinations of Cheneyite neocons.

50

flyingrodent 03.24.11 at 11:32 am

I appreciate Conor’s experience in the field here, but I really think the question of whether intervention works is more pressing than whether it’s legal.

I mean, I know that when Disneyland opened in 1956, nothing worked… But when the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.

51

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 12:01 pm

In a few years Gadaffi will be dead, the new ultra-free-market Libyan constitution will be in place, and US forward bases in Libya will have the landscapers in adding another 9 holes. There will be a gradual slowing of the protracted fighting between NATO and Gadaffi loyalists/’patriots’, the East and the West, various factions against each other and all against the US. Assorted loons and the brutal mercenaries of Blackwater or whatever they are calling themselves that week will still be knocking about adding their own bit of misery into the mix, but not in a very newsworthy way. Important infrastructure, such as oil and gas facilities and, er, that’s it, will long since have been secured, adn the reconstruction project will be proceeding on a ‘good enough for foreign puppet government work’ basis.

Ordinary people will have been big losers, wiped out and mutilated in huge numbers, but that will be starting to be reported as a sunk cost and thus ignorable, the huge number of eggs broken to make such a very small and not very tasty omelette being a difficult and downbeat topic. Some of the more obtuse Risk players will already be proclaiming success and vindication for the project, as though the intervening bloodbath had never happened and the only standard for comparison of the outcome is the worst possible case of continued rule by Gadaffi (‘mad dog’, not ‘in from the cold’ edition).

Those involved will mostly have moved on to new challenges. The official story will have settled down to a few tried and tested core versions which between them cover all purposes. The Wiki page will have stabilised. The Libya Intervention will be shuffling out of the realm of current affairs and into the waiting room of History, admission to be granted once the evidence has thinned out to a manageable set of key documents, all those involved are dead, and a selection from whatever was written down and left lying around is released to GWU.

Under these circumstances, the luxury of asking a few idle questions will be indulged in, in a speculative, almost jocular, ‘go on Mum, admit it – you deliberately told me the wrong time because you knew I would be late otherwise’ kind of way. Among those questions will be –

Were the reports of large scale military attacks on unarmed civilians mistake or gamesmanship?

Was it really appropriate to dismiss ceasefire offers out of hand and instead proceed immediately to the massive-bombardment-of-Gadaffi’s-home-district stage?

and quite probably:

Is the US’s legal opinion that a large ‘peacekeeping’ garrison does not amount to occupation unless foreign soldiers actually outnumber the local population entirely sound?

If the reason for not going to the Hague was that the locals should try Gadaffi, why was he in USA custody throughout, and why did the US choose which specimen charges to press? And why wasn’t Lockerbie among them?

And on the real wacko fringe:

Remind me, how did that armed uprising get started again? What silly inconsequential activity was it this time that the SAS were up to when they got captured?

52

Andrew 03.24.11 at 12:27 pm

Tim… why would the US want to build such grand bases in Libya, exactly? You realize that the US DOD is in the midst of CUTTING its budget, right?

Interventions… break them down by aspects for categorical purposes:

Legality.

Objective.

Motivation.

Justification.

For evaluative purposes, of course, we’d need a list of other aspects as well. But I think this well get us farther than simply declaring humanitarian interventions legal and liberal interventions illegal.

53

bob mcmanus 03.24.11 at 12:55 pm

Important infrastructure, such as oil and gas facilities and, er, that’s it, will long since have been secured

No, that isn’t “it.” One of the interesting things about this MENA revolution is the number of guest workers in the affected countries. China too understands that it must profitably move toward post-industrial democracy and the wage arbitrage will need to be moved to places where labor can be controlled. Africa. Perhaps declining resource economies where the politically active citizens can be bribed are the best bet. Bahrain, SA.

54

john c. halasz 03.24.11 at 1:20 pm

I just heard on the BBC the French foreign minister explain that the goal of the “coalition” is the promotion of “dialogue” in Libya.

55

Steve LaBonne 03.24.11 at 1:33 pm

The pro-intervention case, when made by smart, well-meaning people like Conor, always sounds reasonable and measured. And that’s exactly the problem. We’ve heard it so many times before, in cases in which the outcome turned out to be anything but reasonable and measured. Belief that the next time will turn out to be one of the rare “good” cases becomes harder and harder to sustain.

56

Guido Nius 03.24.11 at 1:35 pm

I just heard on the BBC the French foreign minister explain that the goal of the coalition is the promotion of dialogue in Libya.

Sure looks different without scare quotes, doesn’t it. & there is something to be said for the fact that with less tanks there will be more opportunity for free interchange of ideas.

57

ajay 03.24.11 at 1:44 pm

47: In most of the man-made humanitarian crises over the last twenty or so years, the main threat to civilians has come from non-state forces…

I am quite startled by this assertion and would welcome a bit of expansion on it. It wasn’t, I believe, in the Israel-Palestine conflict, in Iraq (north and south) in 1991, in Sri Lanka, in Bosnia or in Yemen, just to pick a few that come to mind most readily. Further back, it wasn’t true about Ethiopia or East Pakistan or Biafra either. Once you include ostensibly non-state forces which are in fact operating with the support of the government, that gives you East Timor and Sudan and Rwanda as counterexamples as well.

And this is pretty much what you’d expect a priori, because deliberately causing and organising a humanitarian crisis is something that takes effort and resources, just like running the Olympics or collecting taxes or constructing a national electricity grid, and so it’s something that a state would be much more able to do than a non-state actor.

TW: @9: Several commenters then did provide such evidence through links, articles, media clips, etc of large-scale attacks on civilians? I was watching closely and didn’t see that bit.

Well, it was there. I provided it, and you replied to my post so I know you read it, and I can only assume that you’ve forgotten. It’s still there.

58

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 1:51 pm

No no, just not satisfied that it is good evidence for what it’s said to be good evidence of. As I said in that reply – peole can decide for themselves without muggins here having to run the gauntlet of accusations of a something-or-other denial, moral turpitude, unseriousness etc. But felt impelled at least to register may take on it so as not to give the impression that absolutely everyone is entirely happy with the metadossier in question.

59

ajay 03.24.11 at 2:05 pm

There’s a four-step procedure here: is there sufficient evidence of large-scale attacks on civilians? If so, should something be done to try to stop them? If so, should that something be direct military action? If so, should that action be carried out by us?

None of these steps are entirely sturdy, but I think the strongest of them is the first – when you have a situation with lots of artillery shells landing in cities, lots of apparently civilian people on camera with holes in them, and lots of doctors saying “our hospitals are full of civilian casualties caused by shelling” then arguing that large-scale attacks on civilians are not happening is tricky to do. TW is doing it none the less.
The point is that there are still steps 2, 3 and 4 to go, and lots of people (eg Lemuel, see 8 in this thread) seem to skip nimbly over them while throwing doubt at 1. 2 is fairly robust as well. 3, as dsquared and others argue, has already been resolved by the UNSC which has decided essentially that military force is really necessary to stop these attacks.
My own position is that step 4 is the weakest of the lot. Given that all Libya’s neighbours, who have much closer affinity (language, culture, geographical proximity) with Libyan civilians than we do, have decided that the appropriate action is to make sad noises, house Libyan refugees, and do absolutely nothing militarily, why is it incumbent on us to do more for the Libyan people than them?

60

Kevin 03.24.11 at 2:08 pm

Steve L @ 55: “And that’s exactly the problem”.

The problem with what you say is the problem is that there are plenty of arguments on all sides of this that are “unreasoned and unmeasured” (e.g. Rich); there are also some on most sides that are ‘reasoned and measured’. For those of us, like me, who are somewhat perplexed the ethics of all this, and how the ethics of it pertains to real political choices, the problem is how to sort through the various reasoned and measured arguments available on different sides of the debate. The fact that Conor’s posts sound reasoned and measured, and that he brings experience to bear on the problem and provides evidence to support his claims when it’s available, while responding to counterargumetns and evidence in their favor, makes him helpful to read . It doesn’t make him right.

If some people want shake and yell at poor dupes who are simply fooled by tricky dicky smooth snake oil salesmen then he can do that somewhere else. But I think it’s obvious that Conor is not a snake oil salesman and most commenters on these threads are not dupes, but thoughtful and engaged disputers. Which is why I was glad to see Henry ban Rich so that he can go elsewhere for awhile.

I won’t say any more about this since it distracts from the main discussion, but I do hope to hear more from Conor and his thoughtful critics on this and other issues.

61

john c. halasz 03.24.11 at 2:15 pm

@56:

The scare quotes denote buzz words. I.e. the panic and muddle beneath the absence of thought.

62

jim 03.24.11 at 2:23 pm

dsquared @ 42: the UNSC has to be given the delegated authority to start wars because without the authority to start them it can’t have the authority to stop them

I think that’s wrong. The function of the UN is to prevent wars. Jaw-jaw is better than war-war. High words, or at least wounding innuendo, in the Security Council or a strongly worded resolution passed in the General Assembly (after it’s united for pease, of course) is better for all parties than an invasion. Once war starts the UN has failed. For the UN to start a war is to connive at its own failure.

63

jim 03.24.11 at 2:24 pm

peace, not pease.

64

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 2:25 pm

Part of my problem is that no-one seems interested in the timeline, i.e. when these casualties occurred. It is to be expected that many civilains casualties will come about once a civil war is under way. But the claims are of massacres on unarmed protesters – and I think they probably need to be, since if the casualties result from an ongoing war, then it’s not clear that what may amount to escalating and prolonging that war by supporting the weaker side is a godd way of going about things.

And in general, the evidence is being grudgingly dug out and comes in little suggestive dribs and drabs, which is not what you would hope for from those who have been so adamant for so long about the narrative of a huge massacre of defenceless protestors.

65

William Timberman 03.24.11 at 2:36 pm

Kevin @ 60

The urgency of the matter tends to make fools of us all — not only the intemperate, but the reasonable as well. And no matter how you reason it, the truth is that force in the amount which the advocates of force believe is required in situations like Libya is available only to a few of the world’s players. Not only that, the influence they gain by being masters of that amount of force also allows them to dominate the well-meaning in institutions like the UN, which makes the reasoning taking place in such institutions, at least in its public manifestations, something of a morality play no matter what’s happening on the ground.

What becomes of the law in practice, as opposed to theory, when the bully boys come ’round? What happened in the Bush Justice Department, and was later certified by the Obama Justice Department should have reminded us, once out of our robes and powdered wigs, that the law is a servant of our temporal Lords, not our eternal ones, real or imaginary.

Yes, Virginia, the law is no more a bulwark against bad things and temporizing people than morality is, except where civilization is ticking along more or less smoothly. Can anyone honestly say that that’s what we see manifested in the UN today? People are making the attempt, and good on ’em, but we should keep an eye on what they’re actually up to, make sure they don’t waste too much money on parchment, and on publicity for half measures. It’s not that they lie, exactly, it’s that the unvarnished truth isn’t as flattering to their efforts as they might hope.

66

Kevin 03.24.11 at 2:41 pm

Word.

67

Phil 03.24.11 at 2:58 pm

it’s not clear that what may amount to escalating and prolonging that war by supporting the weaker side is a godd way of going about things

Would (or indeed did) you apply this argument to the maintenance of the arms embargo against the states of the former Yugoslavia, five of which were rather seriously under-defended vis-a-vis the sixth?

68

PHB 03.24.11 at 2:58 pm

I don’t know why you folk have to try to cram this event into an irrelevant academic classification.

This intervention is not being driven by the US and the people who are driving it could not give a hoot for the distinction being drawn.

The justification for this intervention is very similar to the justification that was given for the invasion of Iraq. The difference is that the facts are very different and this time the facts are not being falsified or misrepresented, as was the case with Iraq.

Gaddafi was a state sponsor of terror and he has threatened to return to that policy in retaliation for the financial measures taken against him and his family. There is in fact international support for the no-fly zone. Statements by members of the Arab League aside, the Arab League has not changed its position, they are still providing logistical support.

The objection made by Turkey should in my view be seen as tactical. Turkey is going to have to be responsible for fixing the mess that is left afterwards. So it is natural for them to be rather concerned.

Unlike the invasion of Iraq which deterred and delayed democracy, the Arab spring and the intervention in Iraq is encouraging moves towards democracy. Morocco is moving from what was almost a de facto constitutional monarchy to a de jure one.

There is a tendency for US observers to fixate on the Gulf region and the precious oil and precious little Israel. But in European terms they are really not important and each one is the author of at least as much suffering as they claim to be victimized by. Let them stew in the misery they have created for themselves while we fix North Africa.

Sure it is a colonial approach. But that is who Cameron is. That is what it means to be a Tory.

The root justification for this intervention is that North Africa has still not completely escaped from the middle ages. And the reason we are going in is that we have not completely escaped the middle ages either.

The reason the US is involved is because they spend too much on arms and have no choice but to support their allies in this and every other intervention or look pretty stupid.

69

ajay 03.24.11 at 3:00 pm

Part of my problem is that no-one seems interested in the timeline, i.e. when these casualties occurred. It is to be expected that many civilains casualties will come about once a civil war is under way. But the claims are of massacres on unarmed protesters

Here is a link from the BBC with eyewitness accounts of shootings of unarmed civilians on 24 February.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12576427

70

aaron 03.24.11 at 3:01 pm

@Creator I think you can make the case (also made before the Iraq war), that the US government knows enough to make some reasonable predictions. I don’t have the time or ability to sift through the various reports on the Libyan civil war and determine that a few tactical strikes by the US would be enough to lead to rebel victory, or at least a stalemate. But apparently someone did make that assessment, and it is increasingly looking like a very dubious one. That is something of what I meant by only being able to see after the fact whether the intervention/war was justified. It is increasingly looking like a “no,” and Obama might be best off limiting US involvement as soon as he can.

@jim maybe part of the function of the UN is to prevent wars, but it certainly seems to function to start them as well. The UN provides legitimacy for action, up to and including the military intervention. There are lots of reasons to question whether the UN really should have this authority, but it almost seems like its reason for being. Of course, the UN only supports humanitarian wars…i.e. wars that none of the major powers see fit to veto.

71

Uncle Kvetch 03.24.11 at 3:02 pm

Conor: Isn’t just “Yes” a bit glib? Wasn’t aaron merely saying that unless you’re pretty damn sure you won’t be keenly regretting your support within a week, it’s probably wise to withhold support now? Especially given the importance of establishing extreme reluctance to use military force as the norm, as Glen Tomkins and I were urging in the previous thread?

Given that Conor has now chosen to ignore that last point not once but twice, George, I think it’s safe to assume that he does not find it nearly as important as you or Glen (or I) do.

On the continuum of views about military force ranging from “extreme reluctance” to “just another tool in the kit,”* it would appear that Conor is substantially closer to the latter.

*Setting aside for the moment the “war is awesome, provided it’s happening over there somewhere and I’m not doing the killing or dying” view that’s become the norm among the majority of American conservatives.

72

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 3:02 pm

ajay, I think your 2 is pretty otiose, at least if the ‘if possible’ is made explicit, but I have problems with all three of the others, at least when 1 is interpreted as supporting 3, which I think pretty much means positing imminent gratuitous massacres.

(here they are to save scrolling: 1. is there sufficient evidence of large-scale attacks on civilians? 2. If so, should something be done to try to stop them? 3. If so, should that something be direct military action? 4. If so, should that action be carried out by us?

If there were a proper, well-equipped and trained blue-helmeted force which could be expected to try and enforce a ceasefire (and engage in necessary and limited offensive action where those on the ground can see it is clearly required to save lives, send credible reports and receive timely and properly-drafted authorisation) I would very probably be in favour. Or even if professional military men (for whom I’ve developed much more respect oevr the past 10 years or so) were able to make those calls directly, as in Sierra leone. Not sure that is a good blueprint at all, because there are political issues involved in taking sides and wiping out armies. But then the UNSC handed Gadaffi to the americans clearly enough, so that’s at least not a problem specific to the SL model (btw the colonel who took SL into his own hands is the same one who spoke out of turn in saying Gaddafi couldn’t justly be assassinated – an interesting character).

And just in case that all sounds too reasonable and non-tinfoil-hattish, I will take this opp’ty to mention the huge story of half the Polish government dying in extremely suspicious cricumstances a while back, with the Russian government appearing to be the prime suspect. Just to see if anyone else noticed that one at all.

73

Kevin 03.24.11 at 3:24 pm

PHB: “The justification for this intervention is very similar to the justification that was given for the invasion of Iraq. The difference is that the facts are very different and this time the facts are not being falsified or misrepresented, as was the case with Iraq.”

Just to clarify: Is this one of the ‘irrelevant academic classifications” you refer to that ‘others’ are allegedly making?

I strongly agree that this is being driven by realpolitik considerations such that, as William T says, “the unvarnished truth isn’t as flattering to their efforts as they might hope”. But for citizens who need to figure out what to think about this issue, as distinct from those who are in charge in actually doing stuff, the “unvarnished truth” — such as it is or isn’t — is not obviously all that flattering to many of those who support and oppose the current policies re: Libya.

74

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 3:30 pm

there are political issues involved in taking sides and wiping out armies
is true but a conversational misdeed since weaker than I intended. It should have been …and wiping out armies is itslef not an unproblematic activity.

75

Salient 03.24.11 at 3:39 pm

If Khadafi is justified in the use of force and military mobilization to suppress rebellion and reassert control of the country, is what’s happened and been documented so far outlandish enough to obligate the world to invade and stop it?

And if Khadafi is not justified in his use of military force to suppress rebellion, then why aren’t we talking about that?

I’m assuming that everybody’s in agreement (or is agreeing to cede agreement) about a couple hypotheses:

* Khadafi / the Libyan government is in the right to mobilize his army and stop, by categorical killing if necessary, those rebels who have seized control of local government in parts of Libya.

* By seizing control of local government, the groups of rebels have asserted sufficient organization to be considered a violent insurgent rebellion. The rebels should not be called protestors at this stage, as they have taken direct action to undermine the government and install an alternative. They constitute a military force. It is probably up for debate what proportion of the protesters get moved into the ‘military force’ category.

* What is in question is whether Khadafi has sufficiently restricted his just military action to appropriate targets. Those who support intervention assert that Khadafi has not done so.

I am much much much less confident about any of this than the above thoughts might suggest, and am trying to sort out the arguments given here. I’m seeking clarification/correction. If the supporters of military intervention here are not sharing the above assumptions, it would be helpful to outline: how do you categorize the rebel force? Would Khadafi be justified in using his tanks and troops to suppress rebellion? (If rebels/rebellion are the wrong words, please feel free to change them.)

76

PHB 03.24.11 at 3:41 pm

Just to clarify: Is this one of the ‘irrelevant academic classifications” you refer to that ‘others’ are allegedly making?

I find the term ‘liberal intervention’ to be at best useless, at worst a euphemism. Trying to distinguish here between humanitarian and liberal seems an irrelevance to me. Clearly the motive behind the intervention is neither. Cameron and Sarkosy are not liberals, they are rump imperialists who think in terms of flags and bits of maps being shaded in the right, preferably hard-right colour.

There seems to be a move to run away from the justification given for Iraq given the fact that it was obviously fraudulent and obviously a pretext. But that should not be allowed to confuse the fact that there are some circumstances and some facts for which it might have been a good one.

I opposed the intervention in Kewait because I don’t think that our troops should be sent in to defend one dictatorship against another. Saddam’s regime was in many ways more liberal than that of Kewait, it was certainly better than Saudi Arabia. We had other, better tools to defend our economic interests.

I opposed the Iraq war on numerous grounds, not least of which being that it was stupid and obviously going to be a fiasco. It was never intended to lead to a democracy. The Bushie plan was to install Chalabai as the new dictator and force a peace treaty with Israel and then use Iraq as a base from which to attack Iran. It was so deeply stupid, but academics still try to fit it into their models and ‘deeply stupid’ is not a category they use. It should be.

This particular intervention is not justified, but it may not turn out to be too bad. There are times when it makes sense to break the rules even though you don’t want to set a precedent.

In this case Gaddafi has murdered British citizens in the past, he is currently weak. We have the means at our disposal to eliminate him and there is no likely outcome that is worse than him remaining in power. If we do not intervene large numbers of Libyans will die at Gaddafi’s hand. If we do intervene there is a non-negligible chance of a more liberal regime resulting.

This is not a justification but it is a pretty good rationale.

77

ajay 03.24.11 at 3:54 pm

I’m assuming that everybody’s in agreement (or is agreeing to cede agreement) about a couple hypotheses:
* Khadafi / the Libyan government is in the right to mobilize his army and stop, by categorical killing if necessary, those rebels who have seized control of local government in parts of Libya.

That seems like quite a jump to make. Any government is, by definition, in the right when it attempts to forcibly suppress any rebellion, as long as it does so with due consideration for the lives of civilian bystanders? I rather doubt that everyone’s in agreement on that point.

78

Chris Bertram 03.24.11 at 4:01 pm

As I’ve said in previous comments, I’m a sceptic about this one because of the lack of a clear sense of where it is going. However, I’m very open to arguments that I could be wrong. So, in that spirit, here’s a link to the latest from Juan Cole

http://www.juancole.com/2011/03/top-ten-accomplishments-of-the-un-no-fly-zone.html

79

Salient 03.24.11 at 4:05 pm

Any government is, by definition, in the right when it attempts to forcibly suppress any rebellion, as long as it does so with due consideration for the lives of civilian bystanders?

Well, yes, any government that is sufficiently just to warrant acknowledgement of its sovereignty has the right to categorically enforce that sovereignty. That’s why just governments have the right to imprison and kill their own citizens.

If you don’t agree that obtains in this particular case, then I think you’re making a judgment about the right of the government in question to exist, i.e. you’re asserting that the current Libyan government is sufficiently unjust to warrant ceasing to acknowledge its soveriegnty. In that case — and this is the entirety of my point — you are no longer talking about purely humanitarian intervention. A military action which does not acknowledge the sovereignty of a government may be just, but it’s a liberal intervention, not a humanitarian one. (Or perhaps it’s both.)

In order for this to be a purely humanitarian intervention, with no attempt to restrict the sovereignty of the status quo Libyan government, the interveners must in word and deed acknowledge the categorical right of the Libyan government to assert its sovereignty against insurrection, through the use of force as necessary.

To be clear, I don’t think the Libyan government is sufficiently just to warrant that acknowledgement. I am uneasily and hesitantly abstaining from opposing the liberal intervention in Libya, but I definitely don’t support the attempts to brand it as a purely humanitarian intervention. Helping a rebel force in a just war against an unjust government is liberal intervention, and that’s what we’re doing implicitly, since we’re not restricting our actions to those locations which uniformly acknowledge the sovereignty of the status quo government.

80

ajay 03.24.11 at 4:12 pm

79: ah ha. that makes a lot of sense.

81

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 4:17 pm

ajay @69 yes I’ve seen that, it sounds horrific and I don’t doubt that the crowd were fired on, possibly with metal bullets. But it’s exactly the kind of impressionistic stuff I’m talking about. No eyewitness report, no detail, not even any ballpark numbers. And even taking the worst plausible reading it soudns like a Bloody Sunday type event and not really a humanitarian crisis of the kind we are talking about, where bombing might be considered as a remedy.

BTW on the demand for evidence – dsquared mentioned cameraphone ubiquity which is a part of this – absence of evidence can be evidence of absence – if there is known to be a reliable machanism for unearthing and publishing evidence of presence. (actually I think dsq may have made this very point or something close).

Anyway, the US propaganda machine very obviously had this one earmarked, and the media – who did not attempt any serious critical analysis of the key narrative and which I consider to be reliable backers of the official story in matter ssuch as this – in conjunction with the US state are a pretty good mechanism for getting and publishing info that it is in their interest to publish.

Not a deductive argument, I know, but I think it needs to go in the balance. Something like it worked reasonably well as a constructive, if unfortunately expressed, defence of George Galloway anyway. But then the fog of war and all that (funny how the fog so often seems to cause positive false beliefs rather than just cluelessness though, innit – a Rorschach-like projection onto nebulous swirls?).

82

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 4:36 pm

Salient @75: yes I think there is that – which is why the regime change aspect has never been far from the surface. but I think there is a more pragmatic logic there too, which I think I mentioned somewhere in the past few thousand words.

Threatening some kind of intervention may be a good way of preventing a ‘discretionary’ massacre of non-combatants, but joining in a civil war in which at least one side is (so far as one can make out) embedded in cities is much less likely to help.

It might do – if the threat alone works to get a ceasefire, say – but distrust of the US was pretty clearly vindicated when they dismissed such an offer. And in general, threats need to be backed up for the most part to retain credibiility, and it’s not clear that it was OK to back this one up, which introduces a tricky question of whether it was OK to make the threat – in fact, the question doesn’t arise because there didn’t seem to be any expectation that G would offer to deal, presumably in exchange for half his kingdom or I know not what, and there certainly wasn’t the slightest inclination to actually try and negotiate the ceasefire when it was offered (possibly dishonestly, possibly not).

Basically, telling someone like Gadaffi to stop with the gratuitous murder already or there will be measures is one thing, but in a situation in which he takes himself to be fighting for his life-as-he-knows-it, and adding more motivation for resistance in the shape of people who clearly intend to kill him one way or the other, is not a recipe for peace. And basically the possible outcome in which G retains any of Libya was tacitly ruled out, regardless of the humanitarian consequences, which was pretty clear all along I think.

83

praisegod barebones 03.24.11 at 4:38 pm

ajay @ 69:

I find that the folks – especially Tim Wilkinson, but I think there were others on an earlier thread – who insist that there were no attacks by Gaddafi’s forces on unarmed civilians are beginning to remind me of this chap.

That said, I think that anyone who’s genuinely in doubt won’t be persuaded by that link, because of its date. Basically, anything that comes after the ‘liberation’ of Benghazi by forces opposed t0 Gaddafi is going to be suspect. A bit of googling around suggests that was some time on the weekend of the 2oth February. Equally,
since as far as I can remember that was the first sign of armed resistance to Gaddafi, anything before that date ought to be ok (absent evidence of earlier armed resistance)1

Again, memory of earlier googling suggests that the fighter pilots who defected to Malta saying they’d been ordered to shoot civilians were a few days before that. (Also admissible, I think should be the soldiers found cemented into a basement in Benghazi, even though the reports of that came after the cut off date of 20th February, simply because the story about them tallies quite well with the story the Malta pilots gave.) I should add that I’m doing this from memory so I’m willing to be corrected on any of this;

As to D Squared’s point about the lack of videos from phones: given that there were scarcely any journalists in Libya before about 20th February, is not apparent to me a) how this would have got out to the wider world or b) – given a) why people would have wanted to take it.

I should add that I started off undecided and remain skeptical about the intervention; not because the evidence of atrocities is tainted, but because I suspect that some of those in charge of it may be a bit shaky on the ears/elbow distinction

1: which, of course, we’ll hold to the same standard of evidence as is being required to establish that atrocities did occur.

84

praisegod barebones 03.24.11 at 4:39 pm

Mods: not sure why my comment is being held for moderation. Any chance of freeing it?

85

Kevin 03.24.11 at 4:40 pm

PHB: Thanks.

This pretty much sums up my own view: “In this case Gaddafi has murdered British citizens in the past, he is currently weak. We have the means at our disposal to eliminate him and there is no likely outcome that is worse than him remaining in power. If we do not intervene large numbers of Libyans will die at Gaddafi’s hand. If we do intervene there is a non-negligible chance of a more liberal regime resulting.

This is not a justification but it is a pretty good rationale.”

But also what Salient said at 79, especially this: “(Or perhaps it’s both.)”

86

Christian G. 03.24.11 at 4:41 pm

79: For what it’s worth, the French recognized the rebel’s National Council a few weeks ago as “the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people”.

87

flyingrodent 03.24.11 at 4:59 pm

We have the means at our disposal to eliminate him and there is no likely outcome that is worse than him remaining in power.

Looks like somebody took a bit of a nap through the last decade or so, I think. I’d contend that, for instance, a bloody insurgency by one side or the other lasting around ten years and proving inconclusive could indeed be “worse than (Gaddafi) remaining in power”. In fact, it could be quite a lot worse.

Whether it’s likely to come to that or not, I have no idea – just noting that sentences like thathave a habit of biting the speaker on the backside.

88

dsquared 03.24.11 at 5:29 pm

I find that the folks – especially Tim Wilkinson, but I think there were others on an earlier thread – who insist that there were no attacks by Gaddafi’s forces on unarmed civilians are beginning to remind me of this chap.

I think the question is not “were there attacks on civilians?” – ajay has documented that there definitely were – but “were we definitely looking at an imminent humanitarian disaster, of the sort that would require intervention, ie war?”. As many as three thousand people might have been killed in Venezuela in 1989, but I doubt anyone would have seriously thought that external military intervention was warranted to remove Carlos Andres Perez. There is certainly a defensible point of view (which in fact carried the day at the UNSC) that Qadaffi’s track record is so bad that the threshold of evidence should be set very low, but I don’t think the argument is as strong as you suggest contra people like Tim who set the evidentiary bar higher.

As to D Squared’s point about the lack of videos from phones: given that there were scarcely any journalists in Libya before about 20th February, is not apparent to me a) how this would have got out to the wider world or b) – given a) why people would have wanted to take it.

You can send mobile phone video over the mobile phone network, even without making use of all the internet video sites there are. Some video footage did in fact get out (again, thanks ajay for the links).

89

BenSix 03.24.11 at 5:29 pm

Perhaps my imagination is too unstained but I can’t envisage anything that couldn’t be made worse. (This, perhaps. A preemptive intervention may have been wise there.) It’s especially difficult to think of times where “+ guns” doesn’t add a certain risk to an equation. Doesn’t mean there aren’t risks worth undertaking, of course, but if we fail to acknowledge them it doesn’t speak well for our thought.

90

Guano 03.24.11 at 5:30 pm

Conor: You are right that there is a distinction between humanitarian and liberal interventionism, and you are right to point it out. However in practice politicians and the commentariat don’t understand that distinction and that should give you cause for concern.

If I remember correctly you had a debate with Norman Geras about it, and you provided good evidence from impeccable sources to back up your argument, but in the end Geras simply shrugged his shoulders and said he still didn’t see the difference. Somebody like Freedland should know the difference, but clearly he doesn’t. It has been pointed out countless times that Blair’s 1999 Chicago speech actually contains some very restrictive interpretations of when military intervention should take place but that doesn’t stop it being used as a justification for interventions well outside these boundaries. These people don’t understand because they don’t want to understand.

Most justifications for war are post-hoc rationalisations. This was very clear with the invasion of Iraq but it is happening this time too. There is no reason why humanitarians should not question military interventions even when humanitarian motices are given and even when a UN resolution has been obtained.

91

Guano 03.24.11 at 5:43 pm

BenSix: there was a strong case for a military intervention when civil war restarted after the 1992 elections in Angola. A ten year civil war could have been avoided. The USA claimed to be in charge of the whole process of the elections ands claimed that they had brought peace to a “tough neighbourhood” right up to the moment when their client lost the elections and restarted the war. The grounds would be not only humanitarian but the fact that it was Americans’ responsibility to ensure that the process of deocratisation was completed. However it didn’t happen because it was politically impossible for the Americans to point their guns at UNITA, especially in the run-up to presidential elections. And it was quite easy to shrug off the responsibilities by saying that no-one could have predicted that this would happen, it’s all a long way away, bith sides are at fault etc etc.

R2P means a responsibility, a duty. It means that an international body has to intervene when certain criteria are met. I really don’t think that our governments want to be in a position where they are forced to get involved around the world: they want to choose. They don;t really mean R2P.

92

praisegod barebones 03.24.11 at 6:33 pm

D squared: does that mean you’re dropping the ‘no cell phone pictures, so it didn’t really happen’ line of argument? Or are you saying – ‘Well, some cell-phone footage got out, so the fact that there isn’t enough of it to convince someone like me is evidence that things weren’t as bad as that’?

I think the question is not “were there attacks on civilians?” – ajay has documented that there definitely were – but “were we definitely looking at an imminent humanitarian disaster, of the sort that would require intervention, ie war

As far as I can see, the Comical Tendency has tried both ‘well they weren’t really civilians by the time they were being shot at’ line and ‘well there weren’t enough of them to count’ on this thread. Compare for example Tim Wilkinson @ 64 – worrying about the time-line – with Tim Wilkinson @ 81 – saying it was probably a bit like Bloody Sunday. (FWIW 81 was posted while I was composing my comment at 84).

In response to 84: I was about 2 years old when Bloody Sunday happened. Still, I don’t remember any stories of fighter pilots being told to strafe the crowd. As for ball-park figures: I think it was about 130 soldiers cemented into the basement in Benghazi.

Penultimately (for this post): I’m inclined to think that what weighs heavily here is not so much the number of casualties as the nature of the orders which Gaddafi was apparently – according to the reports of those receiving them giving to part of the airforce.

Finally – and this is mostly ad hominem for D squared: given the great deference you grant the UNSC, does the fact that there was an earlier (possibly pre-Benghazi) SC resolution referring Gaddafi’s treatment of the protestors to the ICC carry any weight with you. (Obviously, innocent until proven guilty; but on the other hand, presumably prima facie evidence of significant violations of international law.)

93

Conor Foley 03.24.11 at 7:09 pm

ajay@ 57 yes – apologies – I meant man-made crises when there has been a humanitarian intervention. Obviously, where governments can get on with crushing resistance themselves they tend to prefer to do that and where they have friends on (or are members of) the UNSC with a veto the chances of a UN authorised intervention (or any other sort really) are virtually zero.

ajay @ 77 staging an armed uprising is not prohibited under international law and nor is forcibly crushing it (with the proviso that you add).

Salient, I think that is a very good point and the best distinction between the two that I have read.

To go back to an earlier point that I raised and Dsquared picked me up on. ten countries voted for the UNSC resolution authorizing ´protection of civilians ´ and none against, while five abstained. A number of countries have since called for a ceasefire on the grounds that the current military actions go beyond their understanding of the original mandate and appear to be aimed at regime-change. I don´t think that is necessarily an inconsistent position.

George and Uncle Kvetch: in my first post here I stated that my personal views on the conflict were not really very important in the global scheme of things. However, I felt that might be too much of a cop-out and so gave a very equivocal support to the enforcement of Resolution 1973 in the second (while clarifying in the comments section that I did not think humanitarian organizations should ever compromise their neutrality by taking positions on such questions). In this post I was merely trying to draw out the relationship between a multilateral ´protect civilians´ type of operation and a unilateral regime-change type one. I think that a lot of the comments have addressed that in interesting ways.

94

bianca steele 03.24.11 at 7:13 pm

PHB wrote, “I opposed the intervention in Kewait because I don’t think that our troops should be sent in to defend one dictatorship against another. “

Whose troops? I was in England that summer. Every paper but IIRC the Guardian had front-page headlines with complaints from Thatcher and the French that the US hadn’t already sent troops. In Paris a few weeks later it was the same. (Oh, sure, I’ll bet, the CIA put them up to it.)

95

bianca steele 03.24.11 at 7:31 pm

I may be wrong, but my understanding is that humanitarian intervention aims to get the country to a point where UN institutions like UNESCO can functional locally without interference from the government. That is, permitting UN institutions and other NGOs to operate is considered a necessary condition for legitimacy, at least in places that fail to meet a certain threshold for the legitimate government’s meeting certain needs–humanitarian needs in particular–among its people.

This is very different from the UN authorizing intervention in cases where the local government fails to meet certain political standards, like permitting free and fair elections, permitting free exercise of religion, and so forth.

Regardless of the atrocities committed by Qaddafi, it seems that the UN argument could not be used to justify this intervention (as it has not been used to justify other interventions) without the idea that humanitarian institutions ought to have a footprint in a certain way. And it does not seem plausible–at least to me–that there is any path from here to there that makes use of military intervention. So is the US going to add the UN and humanitarian agencies to the list of groups it will piss off by pursuing this course?

96

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 7:43 pm

praisegod barebones: so you assess the evidence (of a kind that might be useful to someone ‘genuinely in doubt’ – the best kind of evidence I always think) as amounting to:

1. unproofed statements of two defectors, in explanation of what at some level they presumably regard as dereliction of duty, that their newly-made enemy ordered them to do something (which in the event they did not do, and we have no substantial evidence suggesting that any of the other, non-defecting, pilots did). If you need concrete examples to get the idea, you might remember what Iraqi exiles were saying when they wanted to encourage an invasion. Why on earth are the statements of these two defectors of unknown character, telling their debriefers what they want to hear and and what they probably want them to hear, treated as sufficient evidence this time round, when, to repeat, we have no substantial evidence suggesting that any of the other, non-defecting, pilots did?

2. one other report about 7 people (not 130 in the first-Googled version that I read: this thing is called a ‘link’), at least some acknowledged to be ‘mutineers’, I suppose one calls them, who were apparently imprisoned, and apparently concreted in sometime before the rebels overran the compound. Now that is as weird as it is grisly, but I don’t really see what it establishes, remembering that we are talking about humanitarian crisis, rather than weird non-committal ways of (not) killing a handful of rebels.

And what is inconsistent about pointing out the various reasons why none of these miscellaneous titbits constitute what they obviously don’t constitute – something that indicates a humanitarian crisis? Is your idea that a sufficiently wide variety of failure will average out to success? I’m not shifting my ground, I’m pointing out that the case for imminent massacre is. (As, it appears to me, are you with your penultimate point.)

And: are you saying ‘Well, some cell-phone footage got out, so the fact that there isn’t enough of it to convince someone like me is evidence that things weren’t as bad as that’?

I’d guess that’s close – I would hazard a guess that it’s ‘phone footage could get out, yet none showed any sign of large-scale atrocities. Which is pretty rum, on the hypothesis of some large scale massacre involving mass demonstrators’ (or is it supposed to be some other kind of atrocity, something indefinable perhaps?). Equally odd the failure to get any detailed eyewitness accounts, isn’t it?

dsquared There is certainly a defensible point of view (which in fact carried the day at the UNSC) that Qadaffi’s track record is so bad that the threshold of evidence should be set very low, but I don’t think the argument is as strong as you suggest contra people like Tim who set the evidentiary bar higher.

I’m setting the bar pretty low anyway – I just want something that actively suggests that the imminent massacre scenario was a significant likelihood. But I don’t even think this is really a question of setting an evidentiary bar – the ‘mad dog’ approach is more or less fact-insensitive. Which is why it has this curious scattergun appearance, with disconnected bits and pieces of evildoing piled up haphazardly to support the vague impression of something big and bad. (Note for example p. barebones has introduced strafing into the Bloody Sunday(+-) scenario.) Now where is that evidence – I could swear I had it earlier. It all seemed so clear when William Hague said it.

And I think it is precisely Gaddaffi’s reputation (a well-chosen word) that helps to underwrite this inflation and conflation of various bits and pieces of nastiness into a casus belli.

Previous reputation, when not shown to be relevant e.g. by way of showing MO, rebuttal of good character defence etc, is prejudicial, like telling the jury about previous convictions. It tends, if not corrected for, to provide false corroboration – reputation builds on reputation, and both the accusation and its assessment take account of past form, thus double-counting. In fact reports need to be checked (as best one can) for anti-Gadaffi bias for that very reason – and a failure to do so is not setting the bar lower, but ignoring relevant evidence.

There’s also the aspect of adopting an inadvertent version of our leaders’ failure (not entirely inadvertent, though well-buried/compartmentalised in natural liars like Blair) to grasp the difference between ‘nasty and worth replacing with something better if reasonably feasible’ and ‘about to kill thousands if not seriously threatened with bombing’, i.e., roughly the distinction under discussion. And that’s one of those ‘bounded reasonableness’ things, where amassing evidence is all very well, but if anyone suggests it’s inadequate to the advertised purpose, it’s time to stop that game and take a reality check; let’s be honest, Gadaffi is a wrong’un, and that’s that.

Also, may I point out that the Juan Cole link provided by Chris B, and those of its links that I’ve looked at, seem blatantly one-sided in the way they frame casualties at the hands of Gadaffi’s forces (bombing ‘civilan cities’, unlike the coalition), and minimise or simply omit mention of those which must have occurred at the hands of the coalition/rebel forces, e.g. when ‘bombing suburbs’. Cole also constantly makes bold assertions about the terrible things that various bombing raids have averted. And how about this:

At night, the surviving tanks crept into the city and bombarded its center, including a hospital with 400 patients in it! [the centre includes a hospital with patients]. All through Wednesday, pro-Qaddafi snipers took a toll on pedestrians in the downtown area. [Is it actually very plasuible that these were, as is strongly suggested, just pot-shots at flaneurs?] Still, the cessation of the bombardment for many hours benefited the city, which could easily have seen many times the 16 dead killed by Qaddafi’s thugs. [I suppose so – you might think that if these tanks ‘bombarding the city centre’ had tried, they could have killed a lot more – maybe those 400 patients for example?]

And that kind of observable bias suggests that there is likely to be unobservable bias too. Doesn’t it.

(And I hope, rather forlornly, that I don’t need to point out that this is not an attempt to defend or excuse anyone for anything, but an analysis of manifest bias)

97

simple mind 03.24.11 at 8:03 pm

Where was the US humanitarian intervention in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, etc. when they were slaughtering their own people under the generals a generation ago? Doh, we were on the side of the generals!

98

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.24.11 at 8:13 pm

Doubting atrocities of the Eurasian army, huh? Doubleplusungood.

99

Tim Wilkinson 03.24.11 at 10:41 pm

100

sg 03.24.11 at 10:50 pm

dsquared at 88, the evidence of early killings of civilians was undoubtedly not enough to warrant intervention, but the intervention didn’t come at that point – it came at the point that tank columns were moving towards Benghazi, after Gaddafi made public claims that he was going to kill people.

In 2007 Gaddafi claimed an islamic uprising was occurring in Benghazi, and after stating on tv that he wanted the rebels to “die like dogs without trial” he cut off electricity, water and phone lines, and sent helicopter gunships into Benghazi.

We also have two pilots who defected after they were told to bomb demonstrators, long before the demonstrations had turned into civil war; and recall that foreign ambassadors defected to the rebels before there was a military confrontation. It was after that happened that Gaddafi instigated the military action and started flying in his mercenaries.

What he was going to do to Benghazi this time around was obviously intended to be more serious than 2007. Unless you have very strong evidence that he was not going to do what he has a history of doing, it’s really pushing the limits of credibility to claim that this wasn’t going to end horribly.

101

Salient 03.24.11 at 11:25 pm

it’s really pushing the limits of credibility to claim that this wasn’t going to end horribly.

The evidence of wrongdoing that folks have accumulated in these comment threads has met reasonably high standards; it would be nice if commenters chose to be equally concrete with their projections. The above’s a good example. There are things that end horribly that can’t be stopped [e.g. earthquakes], things that end horribly that nonetheless shouldn’t be forcibly stopped [e.g. the election of Scott Walker], things that’ll end horribly that would be horribly costly to stop, things that’ll end horribly that one should intervene to stop but only without the use of force, and there are very very very few things so horrible that full-scale war is warranted to stop them. It doesn’t make sense to just abstractly argue that a tragedy would occur in the absence of action (and I appreciate that Conor hasn’t done so). You have to argue from available evidence that the world is obligated to overthrow Khadafi by force.

What we need are reasonable upper-bound estimates of what constitutes a horror so horrible that military intervention is justified. For example. If Iran announced they plan to kill n Iranian citizens per day indefinitely, that would annihilate any claim to theoretical/moral legitimacy the Iranian government had for any positive value of n, but it would not justify military intervention, much less full-scale war, unless n was rather large. If Iran chose to kill on average two citizens per day, because those citizens were allegedly contributing to an attempt to undermine the government or hurt its people, this would perhaps justify sanctions but it wouldn’t justify intervention. (Those who feel themselves reflexively disagreeing are invited to protest the death penalty in the U.S., which is an example of a government deciding to put to death its own citizens with approximately n = 3. Also cf. China’s state-authorized executions, etc.)

The burden of proof for “we should launch a full-scale war to depose this government” ought to be quite astronomically high. The burden of proof for “we shouldn’t launch a full-scale war to depose this government, but we should attack their military to prevent its anticipated attack on civilians” is actually even higher in some sense, because you have to tightrope-walk. I honestly can’t think of a situation that obviously meets that intermediate category.

Note that all of this collapses even further if you’re trying to argue for a purely humanitarian intervention. In that case, you’re additionally assuming that Khadafi (or more broadly the current Libyan government) retains the right to assert sovereignty over Libya. In that case not only are you arguing for airstrikes-but-not-troops, you’re arguing for airstrikes-and-deference. As someone pointed out upthread, not even France is doing that, probably because it’s insanely hard to credibly argue that [a] Khadafi was planning to cause a humanitarian crisis horrible enough to justify immediate military contravention but [b] not horrible enough to justify full-scale war against him and [c] he hasn’t even forfeited his government’s right to sovereignty.

102

Lemuel Pitkin 03.24.11 at 11:35 pm

I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to participate in this thread since Conor responded so politely to my initial snarky interventions. But Salient and Tim Wilkinson are saying pretty much everything that needs to be said.

103

Phil 03.24.11 at 11:35 pm

I guess the question really is whether we’re looking at a lawless and unconstrained ‘liberal’ intervention wearing a humanitarian helmet, or a limited and UN-endorsed humanitarian intervention with added mission creep. A secondary question is whether ‘mission creep’ should be qualified by ‘inevitable’ or just ‘sadly predictable’.

104

Lemuel Pitkin 03.24.11 at 11:39 pm

my personal view, stated once and once only for this thread, is that the UNSC has to be given the delegated authority to start wars because without the authority to start them it can’t have the authority to stop them and the alternative is a de facto policy of no international law at all

Gosh, what does that remind me of? Maybe this?

the general run of debate has been that classic schema of argument that you hear over and over again in politics: Q: “this is not possible”, A: “but not having it would be really bad”, Q: “Okay it’s possible then”

105

William Timberman 03.25.11 at 12:32 am

salient @ 101

I would add that the legitimacy of the UN as presently constituted to play world policeman with the air forces of its most powerful member states should not go as unquestioned as it has by some commenters here. Doing so is, I believe, is to be complicit in something which will almost inevitably end more horribly than anything Gaddafy was likely to do in Benghazi.

Not even the UN has the right, in my opinion, to dispense bombs along with its expressions of concern — not while simultaneously claiming the moral high ground, at any rate. This just isn’t how anyone sane should go about building the New Jerusalem.

106

logern 03.25.11 at 12:35 am

What we need are reasonable upper-bound estimates of what constitutes a horror so horrible that military intervention is justified.

I’m not sure what Khadafi needs to do, but if he is responsible for holding even one person in solitary confinement and making them stand naked…then he probably needs to answer for that.

107

sg 03.25.11 at 12:41 am

Salient, I think you misunderstand my point. You say

You have to argue from available evidence that the world is obligated to overthrow Khadafi by force

but this isn’t what I’m arguing. I’m pointing out to dsquared that it’s likely gaddafi was going to do bad things. Whether we are obligated to stop him is a separate problem.

I’m arguing against claims made by dsquared and Tim Wilkinson that we have little evidence he was going to commit an atrocity.

From there I agree, the issue of whether the west should intervene is subject to all sorts of other considerations. But it’s pretty clear from Gaddafi’s behaviour to date that he intended to, was able to, and almost certainly would have, killed lots of civilians. We have a prima facie case for moving to stage 2 of the question: should we intervene? Tim Wilkinson and dsquared, in their eagerness to oppose intervention, seem to be still arguing against the evidence for even moving to stage 2.

108

novakant 03.25.11 at 12:43 am

5.4 million were killed in the Second Congo War (1998-2008) and nobody gave a shit.

109

an adult 03.25.11 at 12:49 am

The Security Council is not the UN. The SC deals with spots like Libya, which are important. The UN is left to deal with unimportant states like the Ivory Coast.

110

an adult 03.25.11 at 12:58 am

Also, to discuss Libya with no sense of present context is frankly obscene. Political theory is not politics. A political debate about the situation in the ME would be welcome but I see no sign that anyone is interested in getting much beyond the schoolroom.
Again I expected more fro C Foley.

111

politicalfootball 03.25.11 at 1:16 am

I would add that the legitimacy of the UN as presently constituted to play world policeman with the air forces of its most powerful member states should not go as unquestioned as it has by some commenters here.

I once called dsquared a procedural liberal, but I repented. One ought not hurl insults in blog conversations, regardless of how well-deserved.

112

Salient 03.25.11 at 1:18 am

“But it’s pretty clear from Gaddafi’s behaviour to date that he intended to, was able to, and almost certainly would have, killed lots of civilians.”

It’s not clear to me — I might’ve thought he was going to kill lots of insurgents, and maybe some civilians who he thought (or claimed to think) were insurgents or citizens providing material support to insurgents. We’d do the same thing here in the U.S. in a heartbeat, and have on a few notable occasions (e.g. Waco), and it’s not crystal clear to me that putting down an insurgency attempting to undermine the government is an obviously unacceptable use of maximum military force.

I think a whole lot hinges on whether or not you acknowledge the insurgent rebel forces to be bona fide insurgent rebel forces (and I should mention that I’m not sure on this myself, so perhaps this criticism of your comment is unfair). However, since France has explicitly formally acknowledged the insurgent rebel forces and their attempt to assert an alternative government of Libya, I’m kind of assuming that everybody agrees Khadafi was heading into Bengazi to kill insurgents, not innocent civilians.

(For the sake of goodness, please take all this with some salt. I taste bile in my mouth every time I type the word insurgents, and I’m deeply uncomfortable with a lot of my own assertions, especially those that I’m trying to put forth just to get a better handle on what kinds of assumptions people in the pro-intervention camp are assuming. I’m currently too disoriented to firmly assert my support of or opposition to any of this.)

113

Lemuel Pitkin 03.25.11 at 1:51 am

114

William Timberman 03.25.11 at 2:27 am

PF @ 101

As a generality, true enough. What constitutes an insult in a specific case, though, is not for the accused to judge. If you think that I’ve been guilty of insulting anyone here, I can only say that no offense was intended, and I apologize if any was taken.

115

LFC 03.25.11 at 2:43 am

@113–the situation depicted in the linked LA Times article is disturbing but not surprising. Although it’s one episode as seen through one reporter’s eyes, it would suggest that there should not be too much of a rush to move the current mission from “protect the civilian population” to “ensure that the rebels win”.
———–
@108: “5.4 million were killed in the Second Congo War…and nobody gave a shit.” I suppose that’s why DRC has had the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world for years (unfortunately, of rather spotty effectiveness, afaik). In any case, this kind of point at most goes to motive (the hypocrisy charge) rather than the merits of the action.

116

LFC 03.25.11 at 2:44 am

sorry, ignore the dashes in the above

117

William Timberman 03.25.11 at 2:44 am

If I may, one more comment on this thread, and then I’m done. When I read of the The Responsibility to Protect, I’m reminded of the motto of the old Strategic Air Command: Peace Is Our Profession. There’s a sense in which that motto was perfectly true, and another sense in which it represented a ghastly moral inversion — thanatos dressed up as eros, complete with rouged cheeks and false eyelashes.

I also remember that the Pentagon found Dr. Strangelove insulting. Perhaps it was, but it was also a cry of desperation, which, now I come to think of it, had less to do with H-bombs per se than it did with the men who built and deployed them with a perfectly clear conscience.

118

Martin Bento 03.25.11 at 2:45 am

It seems the crux of the matter lies a lot in the basis of the distinction between insurgents and civilians. The bulk of the insurgents were ordinary citizens a month ago and still are in most respects. Because of this, they are indistinguishable from other civilians save in those moments when they are openly using or brandishing weapons, something under their, not Gaddafi’s, control. In this situation, can Gaddafi practically distinguish combatants from others? If he cannot, can he expected to try to spare “civilians” while crushing “combatants”?

Let’s see how a parallel situation would look in the US. Suppose the militia movement caught fire and got the participation of large masses of people. Because the US military is not primarily organized to fight insurgency and because some in the military took the insurgent’s side, they were able to take control, not of 90% of the country, but, let’s say, of the South and Appalachia, in which areas they have considerable support, though it is difficult to quantify. Their forces are now massed in Virginia City and planning to attack Washington. Washington can stop them only with the fairly crude means of jets, artillery, and the like, which leaves very little room for distinguishing combatants from non, especially in urban areas. Suppose 1/3 of the population is active in the insurgency, another third sympathizes passively, and a third opposes. Does Washington have the right to treat “Virginia City” as the enemy and begin shelling it or using jet fire? Keep in mind that this is arguably a greater justification than the North had in the Civil War, as the South did not pose an existential threat to the North.

This is not merely a rhetorical question. I think there is a real argument for “no”, even where “no” means that the US government is overthrown. If a government cannot keep enough popular support to prevent a situation like this, perhaps that is sufficient to condemn it as illegitimate. However, what the government is pondering is not really the same as saying let’s go get the Tutsis or the Jews or whomever, more of less out of nowhere. It’s not even the same as Stalin saying “let’s starve the Urkrainians because they *might* rebel in large numbers.” A few weeks ago, most of the punditocracy was gleefully proclaiming Gaddafi finished and chatting about lamppost decorations.

Now, it may be that the case rests on some things that Gaddafi has or is said to have done or intended to do that go beyond what directly serves counterinsurgency into punitive measures. However, I don’t think it is clear that punitive measures are superfluous. It may be that what is required to maintain Gaddafi’s power is to rebuild “the wall of fear”, and that the way to do that is with a reign of terror. I don’t think anything yet documented rises to the reign of terror level, but let’s take it to max and argue that. Is a reign of terror illegitimate if that is the only way to forestall violent revolution? Regardless, of whether this is currently true in Libya, even in the abstract, do we recognize limits on what a government can do to protect itself from immediate and dire violent threats from within? If the answer is yes, we are committing ourselves to the view that some violent revolutions have the moral right to succeed and claim international aid to do so and this without regard for the content of the underlying dispute, but rather as a consequence of the strategic situation.

This is an important philosophical dispute, and one this war forces us to confront. I’ve yet to see anyone demonstrate how Gaddafi can suppress this insurgency without harming non-combatants fairly indiscriminately. If he can’t, then saying he cannot harm non-combatants is saying he must go. Which many western leaders including Obama have in fact said, though they seem not to recognize the consequences. In terms of Conor’s distinction, an intervention that necessarily entails the end of a regime is political, or, if you like, “liberal” in nature. I don’t see how the situation can be reduced to a “humannitarian” effort, since the aim cannot be limited to ending or preventing human rights violations.

In my comparison of Gaddafis situation to a large militia rebellion in the US, some might think it matters that the US is democratic while Libya is not. I think Conor implied this in the previous post by saying dictators are now second-class citizens. However, if Gaddafi’s being a dictator plays any significant role in the casus belli, the war is political, not humanitarian.

119

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 3:16 am

sg @100 – It has not yet ended horribly. It has not even begun to end horribly. It has perhaps finished starting horribly.

The Benghazyi revolt was in 1997, not 2007. It was a real Islamic extremist revolt and ‘extraordinarily violent’ with it, according to some bunch at (the maroon text coming up is called a ‘hyperlink’ or just ‘link’, and what you do is click on it) West Point. Not that such people can be entirely trusted to avoid the old type 1s when diagbnosing Islamism, but still, what are you talking about? Here’s some more maroon on the topic: Sporadic violent clashes continued between the security forces and members of Islamist armed groups, particularly in northeastern Libya.

Further, your claims about timing are wrong (I’m not going to maroon myself, kadaboom tissh, in moderation for your benefit so I will suggest ‘Google’, a popular internet ‘search engine’) which very strongly suggests that the occurrences you allude to, and more importantly the prospects, were not of discretionary atrocity but of continued civil war. There was no evidence of an imminent atrocity separable from the usual disgusting horrible shit that is involved in war.

An intervention in defence of civilians then becomes a matter of ending the war – either by ceasefire or defeat of one side or other. Expecting surrender from Gadaffi is fundamentally unrealistic, given the behaviour of those wedded to power. Like Salient, I’m disinclined to go further and categorise this as sovereign self-defence in any strongly vindicatory sense. However, I’d also like to know a bit more about the new lot before deciding that even if utterly united they are a replacement (the story seems to be that they are to be the replacement, albeit assumed democratic for now since that is convenient) so attractive as to merit prolonging and reversing the course of the war. I’mn not sure that would even be possible assuming they were Ghandi (oh yeah, sorry, bad example).

And yet again I’ll just mention the brush-off given to offers of ceasefire from Gadaffi. If ceasefire had been achieved I would have to accept – with pleasure – that the threat of intervention had been effective, even though the context in which it was credible might still not be desirable all-things-considered. But that wasn’t on the cards – regime change was – to repeat again – obviously the aim, with the mad dog being displaced by the mad mullahs or whatever agglomeration of interests the rebels turn out to be composed of, assuming they have sufficiently near-universal support to take on that mantle without needing quite a lot of armed help from guess who in their transition to neoliberal constitutionalism.

(This has been hanging around for a while, MB has preempted some points; some are repetitive already. Are we now getting close to a consensus that this was not an intervention based on humanitarian crisis, but on backing regime change?)

120

LFC 03.25.11 at 3:19 am

I’ve yet to see anyone demonstrate how Gaddafi can suppress this insurgency without harming non-combatants fairly indiscriminately. If he can’t, then saying he cannot harm non-combatants is saying he must go.

The current measures, if maintained but not escalated, could have the effect of preventing the insurgents/rebels from losing and thereby creating a standoff, which could lead to some kind of partition. Nobody wants a partition, but it may come to look (at least from the outside) like the least-worst solution. Gaddafi would not “go”; he would rule over a smaller country. I don’t know anything about Libya (“well, that’s obvious!” I can hear you say), but if the tribal bases of support are geographically concentrated, then a partition would not necessarily be impractical, much as everyone might not be happy about it.

(For that matter — OT — some kind of partition of the current Afghanistan, called “a vertically integrated criminal enterprise” by someone quoted in Filkins’ recent New Yorker piece, might not be terrible either.)

121

sg 03.25.11 at 3:43 am

Tim, if you had read my previous comment you would be aware that the “die like dogs” quote comes from the maroon you so condescendingly linked to. I got the publication and uprising dates wrong. From that very maroon that you link to we can see that Gaddafi ended that uprising using gunships and seige tactics.

I note that you choose to interpret the violent turn that uprising took as being the fault of “islamists,” which conveniently enables you to again pretend that gaddafi doesn’t have form killing civilians. Why, one would wonder why he needs a state security apparatus at all when he’s so gentle and kind.

You also misinterpreted my “end horribly” comment. It was going to end horribly if Gaddafi had been allowed to continue his assault on Benghazi. That doesn’t preclude the possibility of it ending horribly anyway, but let’s not pretend that the only bad ending that could happen here is all our fault.

Which leaves me wondering how you can claim in the same comment that “expecting surrender from gaddafi is fundamentally unrealistic” and then complain about “the brush-off given to offers of ceasefire from Gaddafi.” Could it be that the rebels don’t trust him? That they want him to stand trial for murdering civilians? That they want to dismantle his police state? If the rebels refuse to surrender, Gaddafi has the option to withdraw his troops unilaterally, and not threaten to “fight to the last bullet.”

You have a very consistent streak of victim blaming, and supporting the aggressor. You also are trying to turn this into a fight between islamists and dicatorship, which is exactly the logic of American client statism in the region.

122

Martin Bento 03.25.11 at 4:11 am

Partition looks to me the most likely outcome, along with a long term military presence. If the problem is that Gaddafi is going to go punitive against the rebels, there must be many people in the territories he now controls who rebelled, and he will have the ability to comb through video archives and hire snitches to locate them. And if he really wishes to attach non-combatants as well, e.g., for reign of terror purposes, nothing will stop him from doing that either. So partition would seem to fall short of the objectives of the intervention, if the intervention advocates are correct in their assessment of Gaddafi’s intentions.

123

Lemuel Pitkin 03.25.11 at 5:02 am

A point that I don’t think has gotten enough attention here is that it was just a few years ago that Libya gave up it’s nuclear program, in return – so they thought – for normalized relations with the West. You can bet that’s a mistake that governments that might face future no-fly zones are not going to repeat. As far as I can tell, supporters of this intervention have not given one moment’s thought to its implications for nonproliferation.

This is symptomatic of the larger case for humanitarian intervention, which depends on treating each case in isolation. Once one allows for the possibility that “we” are not the only ones who make choices, and that the choices of others will be affected by what we do, it no longed makes sense to just ask whether this particular intervention will save lives. (which, for the record, I’m still not at all convinced that it will.) You have to consider what kind of international order it’s compatible with. The much-maligned Westphalian system had one very big advantage: if sovereign states are assured that they won’t be subject to attack as long as they don’t attack other sovereign states, they don’t have to prepare for war with each other. “humanitarians” don’t realize what a great advance that was.

124

Josh G. 03.25.11 at 7:50 am

If I thought non-proliferation was a principle worth defending, then that would indeed be evidence against Libyan intervention. But since I think non-proliferation is a crock of bull, that argument carries no weight with me.

125

sg 03.25.11 at 8:30 am

You can bet that’s a mistake that governments that might face future no-fly zones are not going to repeat

Perhaps an easier mistake not to repeat would be “opening fire on peaceful demonstrators” followed by “announcing on tv you’re going to kill everyone” then “shipping in mercenaries” and “bombing anyone you don’t like.”

I’m sure Gaddafi thought he could have his cake and eat it too – get paid for non-proliferation, get access to better weapons for killing demonstrators, and get to use them. Turns out that wasn’t true. Doesn’t mean he couldn’t still have benefited from the non-proliferation part of the deal.

126

dsquared 03.25.11 at 9:28 am

Perhaps an easier mistake not to repeat would be “opening fire on peaceful demonstrators” followed by “announcing on tv you’re going to kill everyone” then “shipping in mercenaries” and “bombing anyone you don’t like.”

As the example of Bahrain shows, you can make all those mistakes and get away with it.

127

The Creator 03.25.11 at 10:45 am

To be impolite, the arguments that there was going to be a gigantic massacre in Benghazi if the Libyan Army conquered the town seem to be ex post facto justifications for Western imperialist aggression. It is, of course, possible that Gaddaffi may be insane and may actually want to slaughter the populace. It is much more likely that Gaddaffi is sane and does not want to do more than murder the ringleaders and imprison the militias. After all, he does want his sons to rule Libya, and most of the oil is in eastern Libya, and if you murder all the inhabitants there, who’s going to run the oil plants? And if you don’t murder them all, the ones you leave alive may be as grumpy as the Chechens who survived their forced removal to Central Asia. And meanwhile, mass genocide will certainly make the western Libyans nervous. No, I have difficulty believing in this stuff.

Also, there is the problem that virtually every Western imperialist aggression has been launched on a wave of dishonest propaganda about how evil the bad guys are. Running it back in time, we have Somalia, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo — in every occasion, the bad guys were the devil and the good guys were angels, and only long after the bloody fragments had stopped falling to earth did we learn that the bad guys were often quite popular with the locals, and the good guys were very often sleazy crooks working for Western intelligence agencies. It is rather difficult to believe, given this record, that the information being pumped out into the Western media, which has historically been almost unbelievably willing to print whatever the spin-doctors of the Western military want it to print, can be trusted by anyone of independent mind.

There is, of course, another important point which not a lot of people have mentioned here. The Libyan war is the first war of Western aggression which has been explicitly endorsed in advance by the United Nations. In other words, the U.N. Charter has been officially torn up and flushed down the toilet. From now on, it seems reasonable to assume that any country which the West wants to attack will get attacked, unless it is sufficiently well armed to defend itself, or unless the West happens to be too out of pocket either to drop the bombs itself, or to hire the mercenaries to do the dirty work (as in Somalia).

And, of course, when the West threatens dictators, this word “dictator” can mean a popular elected leader pursuing uncontroversial policies within the country, so long as the West wants a convenient distracting war, or feels the need to have more control over the country’s resources (I accept that Laurent Gbagbo is not the nicest politician on the block — though he’s hardly conspicuously the worst guy in Abidjan — but firstly he hasn’t done anything that George W Bush didn’t do in terms of stealing the election by demanding that the electoral commission disregard the actual votes in some provinces, and secondly nobody would be coming down on him if there weren’t so much off-shore oil off the Ivory Coast).

Oh, I’m dumping on the West because they happen to have the guns and the money. I dare say that if the Malagasy Republic’s navy dominated the seas and skies, they would be behaving little better.

128

Hidari 03.25.11 at 11:20 am

‘Nobody wants a partition, but it may come to look (at least from the outside) like the least-worst solution. Gaddafi would not “go”; he would rule over a smaller country. ‘

The problem with this is that Gaddafi’s ‘part’ of Libya has all the oil. The Americans, sorry, Nato, sorry, the International Community will never let that happen.

At the moment I think there are only three things we can be sure of.

1: When the ‘International Community’ say that the goal is a no fly zone, they are lying. The goal is regime change. While it’s true that Gaddafi will be brought up on war crimes charges if he lives, it’s very clear from the ‘pattern’ of missile attacks that one of the main goals of the attack is to kill him.

2: When the ‘International Community’ state that ground troops have been ruled out, they are lying. Indeed, given that ‘1’ (above) is true, they could hardly NOT be ruled out.

3: In Kosova NATO’s bombing campaign lasted for ten weeks and during this period, NATO aircraft flew over 38,000 combat missions. This mission failed to bring down Milošević *(that happened later). Moreover, Gaddafi has been on the ‘throne’ in Libya for an awful lot longer than Milošević had, and has embedded himself much more thoroughly into Libyan society than Milošević had.

Don’t get me wrong. For all I know Gaddafi will capitulate tomorrow. But it is reasonable to think that this attack on Libya will last at least 10 weeks, maybe longer. Maybe a lot longer. Given the fact that this may be the case, and the fact that we know, a priori, that NATO forces always and in all cases (of military attack) end up killing innocent civilians, we know that resistance to ‘us’ will grow and that eventually the number of people ‘we’ kill (if we stay long enough) will exceed the number of people Gaddafi might have killed.

Also: if Gaddafi doesn’t cave in that means ground troops and that means invasion, and occupation, perhaps long term occupation.

One last thing: if recent history has taught us anything it is that if there is slightest, tiniest, most miniscule chance of fucking everything up, the Americans will take that chance and run with it.

*I know this wasn’t an official ‘war aim’ and wisely so. But you are deluding yourself if you don’t think that the Americans wanted him gone by this time.

129

Andrew 03.25.11 at 11:28 am

Conor @15: This is an ongoing debate in places like the DRC because many of the attacks on civilians are made by government forces. Should, and to what extent should, UN-mandated forces protect civilians when they are being attacked by their own governments?

To do this the protecting force needs to be able, and willing, to destroy the government’s military. In the case of the DRC, that would leave the UN forces in a tricky position.

Lemuel @123: The much-maligned Westphalian system had one very big advantage: if sovereign states are assured that they won’t be subject to attack as long as they don’t attack other sovereign states, they don’t have to prepare for war with each other. “humanitarians” don’t realize what a great advance that was.

It was a very big advantage for the Westphalian system, except for all the wars. ;)

More seriously… if the red-lines that trigger the possibility of a humanitarian intervention are reasonably clear, then there is no reason why humanitarian interventions should increase, significantly, uncertainty about attack in the absence of those red-lines being crossed.

130

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 11:54 am

sg – I think the only point in your latest that merits a response is

how you can claim in the same comment that “expecting surrender from gaddafi is fundamentally unrealistic” and then complain about “the brush-off given to offers of ceasefire from Gaddafi.”

A ceasefire arrangement is obviously not a surrender and G might have hoped to retain some or all of his power. But of course the political objectives have been bolted firmly onto the humanitarian case, so that

Could it be that the rebels don’t trust him? That they want him to stand trial for murdering civilians? That they want to dismantle his police state?

become reasons why a ceasefire offer short of surrender just doesn’t count as a ceasefire offer, rather than (bad) reasons why it should be ignored.

If the rebels refuse to surrender, Gaddafi has the option to withdraw his troops unilaterally, and not threaten to “fight to the last bullet.”

Well that was the unrealistic option I mentioned wasn’t it.

Over-reliance on bellicose rhetoric (cf announcing on tv you’re going to kill everyone) is a Decent favourite, btw, as is this kind of smear:

You have a very consistent streak of victim blaming, and supporting the aggressor. You also are trying to turn this into a fight between islamists and dicatorship

(you could at least have had the small-d decency to just stick to ‘anti-American’, which in one sense (the non-kneejerk one) I’d probably be willing to let pass.)

The second point is perhaps worth answering (so that’s two actually) – the main point of the Islamic stuff was I suppose a bit of an ad hominem really against neocon GWOT types, which is not an especially important or useful thing to be doing I’ll admit.

But it’s also one small part of pointing out that the rebels are not necessarily an unproblematic successor to Gadaffi, committed to democracy human rights and apple pie. (And nor are all of them, it would appear if the West Point people are to be believed which is not necessarily the case, ordinary peaceful Egypt-style demonstrators who found themselves ‘turned into’ combatants by Juan Cole’s unexplained process).

Which is in turn one argument against precipitate regime change attempts in their favour, which is what we are observing despite your intransigent attempt to present it as a kind of pre-emptive rescue attempt which just happens to be made more tricky by being embedded in the middle of a civil war.

And I would note that the pro-coalition politicians and media are not interested in looking critically at the rebels/rebellion at all. Personally I think that is because the predominant aim is to get G, and the ‘break ’em down and build em up’ method means that continuing mayhem is not considered a bug, but in a sidelong kind of way, a feature.

Anyway I’ve wasted enough time on you, as Col Bat Guano would say.

131

politicalfootball 03.25.11 at 12:54 pm

If you think that I’ve been guilty of insulting anyone here

No, no. I was just (1)making a joke and (2)taking a cheap shot at (2a) dsquared and (2b) procedural liberals.

132

Barry 03.25.11 at 1:11 pm

sg:

” Perhaps an easier mistake not to repeat would be “opening fire on peaceful demonstrators” followed by “announcing on tv you’re going to kill everyone” then “shipping in mercenaries” and “bombing anyone you don’t like.””

Well, it must be a hard mistake to avoid, since the government of Bahrain and Saudia Arabia are doing just that (albeit with ground troops, not aircraft).

” I’m sure Gaddafi thought he could have his cake and eat it too – get paid for non-proliferation, get access to better weapons for killing demonstrators, and get to use them. Turns out that wasn’t true. Doesn’t mean he couldn’t still have benefited from the non-proliferation part of the deal.”

It’s a deal which many governments have taken advantage of, please note.

133

ajay 03.25.11 at 2:27 pm

As the example of Bahrain shows, you can make all those mistakes and get away with it.

This is simply not true: there hasn’t been any bombing in Bahrain.

The problem with this is that Gaddafi’s ‘part’ of Libya has all the oil. The Americans, sorry, Nato, sorry, the International Community will never let that happen.

This is simply not true: fields like Sarir are in rebel-held territory (inasmuch as anyone holds the middle of the desert) as is some infrastructure like the Tobruk refinery. And some oil export terminals are either rebel held or heavily disputed.

NATO aircraft flew over 38,000 combat missions. This mission failed to bring down Milošević

True, but dishonestly misleading.

134

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 2:43 pm

there hasn’t been any bombing in Bahrain

Just to keep plugging away, as far as anyone is able to establish, there weren’t any air attacks on protestors in Libya either, agreed?

135

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 3:08 pm

Also, LP @123:

Libya gave up its nuclear program

As far as I’m aware, there wasn’t actually a nuclear programme in any sense other than (possibly) a vague ambition. The context was that G’s Damascene conversion was to be touted as a triumph for the Iraq invasion strategy’s deterrent effect.

But I haven’t really looked into it very throughly, so general call for any links to further info that anyone happens to have…

136

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 3:11 pm

Even ‘not very thoroughly’ is an overstatement, actually.

137

chris 03.25.11 at 3:14 pm

Salient: I’m kind of assuming that everybody agrees Khadafi was heading into Bengazi to kill insurgents, not innocent civilians.

I thought everyone agreed he was going to kill both indiscriminately. (Although as some people here have pointed out, distinguishing can be quite difficult in fact, ISTM widely accepted that you have to have pretty solid basis for believing that you have successfully done so before killing anyone that doesn’t actually have a weapon in their hand at the time of killing.)

Martin Bento: I don’t see how the situation can be reduced to a “humannitarian” effort, since the aim cannot be limited to ending or preventing human rights violations.

Didn’t you just get through proving that regime change is a necessary condition to ending or preventing human rights violations? ISTM that this collapses the distinction between the two types of interventions (or at least demonstrates the existence of an overlap). If the government *is* the disaster, then ending the disaster means ending the government — or at least changing its course to something less disastrous. If the latter could be done diplomatically, of course that would be better, but I don’t see anyone arguing that was possible here.

And in response to Lemuel’s point that our actions affect others’ actions, if this gives other governments an incentive to avoid killing so many people that their continuing existence and/or policies stated and acted upon are declared a humanitarian crisis… that’s good, isn’t it? If Mubarak lives in some comfortable retirement and Gaddafi dies, doesn’t that tend to make other dictators faced with uprisings think that abdication and retirement is not so bad after all? By contrast, if Gaddafi clings to power atop a mountain of opposition corpses, that would create just the opposite incentive set; Mubarak would look like the failure of the two by comparison, to any future dictator finding himself in similar shoes.

There’s something odd about this whole line of reasoning, like it subordinates the Libyan people and their political and humanitarian outcomes to the need to provide object lessons to others, but even looking at the “what happens here has repercussions elsewhere” argument on its own terms, it seems to me to militate in favor of creating a bad outcome for Gaddafi.

138

Lemuel Pitkin 03.25.11 at 3:33 pm

There’s something odd about this whole line of reasoning, like it subordinates the Libyan people and their political and humanitarian outcomes to the need to provide object lessons to others

Well, yes. That’s what a system of rules *does* — subordinates immediate outcomes to long-term incentives.

139

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 3:56 pm

How about this message: the gratuitous killings or absence of them don’t make any difference – if they want to get you they will come up with something and come and get you, and if they don’t they will let you get on with it.

But this is starting a new topic about impunity of heads of government/state, UN peacekeeping forces, international law generally, etc.

Also Chris: I thought everyone agreed he was going to kill both indiscriminately I don’t think everyone does agree that that’s the case – it appears quite a bold assertion. Maybe you would clarify exactly what is meant by it, and what is the reasoning that leads to it?

140

Salient 03.25.11 at 4:28 pm

I thought everyone agreed he was going to kill both indiscriminately.

No, anyone who claims he was going to kill every last occupant of the city of Benghazi is being crazy or hyperbolic (probably the latter). Given that he wasn’t going to categorically kill every person in the city, you have to assume he was going to kill somewhat discriminately, though it would be completely fair to assert the hypothesis/assumption that he was going to kill insufficiently discriminately.

Perhaps the distinction is stupid/pointless outside of this thread, but I think it gets to the heart of the matter here (of liberal versus humanitarian intent): Khadafi is attempting to reassert the Libyan government’s control of and sovereignty over Libya. A good question is [a] should we let him, provided he plays by certain humanitarian rules of proportionality or [b] should we prevent him, on liberal-intervention grounds, because he and his government have forfeited all claims to legitimacy?

From what I can tell, the UNSC answer is “choose [b] but assert that we’re choosing [a]” — effectively collapsing the liberal-versus-humanitarian distinction. It seems to me like they’re not going to let Khadafi kill anyone who aided or abetted the attempt to overthrow or undermine the Libyan government — like they won’t let him kill large numbers of insurgents even if he demonstrates some attempt to keep his military attack proportional. I’m not at all certain or confident about my assessment, though.

141

Salient 03.25.11 at 4:46 pm

So yeah, the ‘why’ of it matters. Why, in our estimation, is Khadafi launching a military attack against lots of Libyan people? It’s not because of their ethnic affiliation, for example. I think we all agree he’s launching / has launched a military strike against the protesters because they (some of them) have been working to undermine and overthrow his government.

* Has Khadafi somehow forfeited his right to do that? (Also answer yes if you feel he never had the right to do that.)

* Do we have the right to invade/attack and prevent him from doing that?

* Do we have an obligation to invade/attack and prevent him from doing that?

If your answers to those questions are yes, you’re advocating for a military intervention on liberal grounds — in which case the humanitarian grounds are kind of irrelevant (second-order of importance). Aren’t they? You’d be supporting invasion on the same grounds even if Khadafi was more discriminate in his attacks. (It’s quite possible I am wrong about this, due to drawing my distinction badly — improvements on my three questions are welcome.)

If your answers to some of those questions are no, I suppose you might still be advocating for a military intervention on liberal or humanitarian grounds, but you have a lot more work to do arguing why we ought to invade/attack — it’s a tightrope-walk, on the one hand acknowledging Khadafi’s right to sovereignty, on the other hand specifying appropriate limits to his sovereignty. Not saying it can’t be done, but I haven’t read a persuasive argument that tightrope-walks yet. Supporters of the intervention seem to be uniformly half a breath away from saying that Khadafi must go, and I’ve seen zero attempts at explaining how the UNSC will help restore Khadafi’s government to power in a just way.

142

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 5:29 pm

Over on the Yemen thread: Alice de Tocqueville is making some realistic points (sg and possibly chris might find them a bit mind-boggling though).

143

chris 03.25.11 at 6:02 pm

Well, yes. That’s what a system of rules does—subordinates immediate outcomes to long-term incentives.

You seem to have defined yourself into a position analogous to “No, one shouldn’t steal a gun to prevent a murder, because stealing is wrong”. Was that intentional? Or do I misunderstand you?

Of course the long-term consequences of encouraging stealing *in general* are bad, but the short-term consequences of not preventing murder are *even worse*, or so the conventional argument goes, anyway.

So, in the same way that the gun theft is justified theft, the invasion of Libya might be justified invasion… unless it isn’t because the connection to the outcome is too weak, which is a factual, not a deontological argument. Or unless you reject the principle of the lesser evil.

144

Salient 03.25.11 at 6:07 pm

You seem to have defined yourself into a position analogous to “No, one shouldn’t steal a gun to prevent a murder, because stealing is wrong”.

…Hey now.

No, really, officer, I had to steal a gun so I could go kill that guy. He was a murderer. Well, ok, he was going to be a murderer. He’d already hit somebody, and there’s lots of videotape showing he’s flown into a violent rage in the past. And sure, I shot a couple dozen uninvolved people in my attempt to shoot him. But if I had let him go into his rampage, he might’ve killed all five hundred people in that courtyard, and that’s much worse.

…Yours is the kind of argument I’m trying to encourage people not to make, because it leads to silly abstract recharacterizations of what’s going on. There’s no need to resort to analogy! And resorting to analogy like this just muddles and obfuscates exactly those details which we are most likely to disagree about.

145

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 6:25 pm

chris: You may very well accept the principle that in extreme, exceptional cases general rules break down in some sense (e.g. individuals have an ethical duty to break them – possibly facing the usual consequences, possibly having a defence/excuse/mitigation etc).

But you will have to keep an eye out for people pretending that circumstances are more extreme and exceptional than they really are (see last 10 years, passim) so as to justify lawless conduct.

And what counts as extreme will depend on context. When you are talking about rules explicitly set up to govern situations like WW2, then you will have to get pretty extreme if you are going to trump them, won’t you.

146

praisegod barebones 03.25.11 at 6:37 pm

OK, dealing with the the Comical Tendency feels a bit whack-a-mole at the moment. Before engaging with that issue, a couple of quick points:

1. It’s quite possible to believe that there was a humanitarian crisis and be skeptical either about the whole idea of armed intervention or about this intervention in particular. As far as I can see both ajay and I fall into at least the second of those categories. (ajay because he thinks that someone else should have been intervening; me because I’m not convinced that those in charge have a clue what they’re doing. As a specific example, I’d give Liam Fox – iirc – suggesting that Gaddafi was a target of air attacks and then having to walk it back. First: that strikes me as a clear case of failure of those at the top to agree about what was an what was not acceptable – and given that there’d been several weeks of diplomacy beforehand – lack of clarity there strikes me as likely to be symptomatic of similar lacks of clarity about other equally importat stuff. And secondly, because it’s clearly the wrong thing to do if you’re claiming that the purpose of the intervention is to prevent civilian casualties.)

2. I’m also inclined to think that the motives (and even more, the histories) of the defecting army officers in Benghazi might be a bit dodgy. So I’d agree: it’s not clear that if they won in a civil war – with outside support – they’d be an improvement.

3. As someone whose skepticism about the intervention is based on a belief that the people in charge might be shaky on the arse/elbow distinction, I reckon I’m precluded from thinking that there’s a carefully thought out plan to get hold of Libya’s oil.

I do however, have a question for those who see it that way: if Obama’s support for the SC resolution authorising intervention was ‘all about the oil’ was his apparent opposition to such a resolution back in February also ‘all about the oil’? If so, how’s that supposed to work?

4. That’s not to say I think that oil’s irrelevant here. While I doubt its the main motivation for intervention, I’d be surprised if it’s presence isn’t something which ends up having a substantial warping effect on all sorts of low-level decisions about what kinds of action to take.

5. Tim Wilkinson @ 96: I didn’t say that your 81 and 64 were inconsistent, and I didn’t even, in fact, mean to suggest it. I merely pointed out that you’d advanced both arguments – in response to d-squared’s suggestion that by addressing the time-line point, I hadn’t dealt with ‘the real issue’.

6. Also @ Tim Wilkinson: I’m glad to see that you are an expert with links. Could you provide one to support your suggestion @81 that the Libyan protestors were being fired at with non-metal (ie presumably plastic or rubber bullets)? Obviously, I’ll require cell-phone footage to be fully convinced, but a link to a reputable news source will do for now.

7. @ Tim W. again You suggest that the Libyan pilots might have been telling the people who debriefed them ‘what they wanted to hear’. Every news story I’ve checked says they were debriefed by the Maltese authorities. I’m not clear why the Maltese would want to hear that Gaddafi was ordering his airforce to fire on citizens. Could you elucidate?

8. I’m also confused by the reference to Iraqi defectors, but I guess the comparison is to Chalabi being in the pay of the Iranians. So I guess the suggestion is that the Libyan pilots might have been in the pay of Iran. Again, a link to support this suggestion – which I’ve not heard before – would move things forward.

9. Tim Wilkinson @ 119: You say that Gaddafi offered a cease-fire. For some reason you aren’t treating this claim with the skepticism you’ve treated everything else that’s been reported about this conflict. Why is that?

As it happened, I haven’t seen any reports that Gaddafi offered any such thing. I have read that he ‘announced’ a cease-fire (to foreign news media, but not domestically) without actually ceasing fire. For what its worth, even Hobbes thought that was a no-no.

10. @Dsquared: I’m still not clear what your answer to my question @92 was. But here’s a bunch of links to reports of land-line, cell-phone, and internet connections being cut off after 21st February.

http://www.google.com.tr/search?q=libya+telephone+lines+cut+february&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

Particularly interesting links brought up by that search include this one from the UNHCR:

http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/publisher,RSF,,LBY,4d82268728,0.html

and for useful background, this one:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/networking/libya-turns-off-the-internet-and-the-massacres-begin/711

11. Purely anecdotally: as someone who lives outside the USA and Western Europe, and in a country which is relatively stable and has strong legal institutions, but also a history of military involvement in politics, I’d think twice before filming an anti government demo, or publishing it on the internet. In an authoritarian state, transparency can cut both ways. I think that someone in Libya would have even more reason ton be cautious.

147

Hidari 03.25.11 at 6:45 pm

According to the Daily Mail, FWIW, there are already British ground troops in Libya, despite the fact that we were repeatedly promised that this would not happen.

‘The bombing of the country came as it was revealed that hundreds of British special forces troops have been deployed deep inside Libya targeting Colonel Gaddafi’s forces – and more are on standby.
While Chancellor George Osborne repeated that UK ground troops would not be involved, the Daily Mail can reveal there are an estimated 350 already mounting covert operations.
In total it is understood that just under 250 UK special forces soldiers and their support have been in Libya since before the launch of air strikes to enforce the no-fly zone against Gaddafi’s forces.
The troops in Libya were drawn from a squadron of SAS and SBS personnel, some who have been in the country for a month and are being re-supplied with water, food and ammunition via airdrops from Cyprus.
Those numbers were further boosted by nearly 100 this week when paratroopers from the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) were sent to Libya as coalition commanders prepare to increase the tempo of operations.
A further 800 Royal Marines are on five days’ notice to deploy to the Mediterranean to support humanitarian relief and aid operations.
The beefing up of the Special Forces contingent comes as commanders switch attacks against command and control centres to low-level attacks against Gaddafi’s tanks.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1369763/Libya-African-Union-offer-host-peace-talks-Gaddafi-rebels.html#ixzz1Hddnbsq9

148

praisegod barebones 03.25.11 at 6:51 pm

The fact that SAS troops are (or have been) in Libya isn’t a surprise if you were following the news in February: apparently they turned up in Benghazi, the provisional government told them to sod off, and William Hague had to explain red-fsaced to the house of commons, wtf they were supposed to be up to.

149

praisegod barebones 03.25.11 at 7:02 pm

In re 147, and just for Tim Wilkinson, here are a couple of links from notorious imperialist lackeys Richard Seymour and Craig Murray in support of my assertions

http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/03/humanitarian-intervention-gone-awry.html

http://craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2011/03/this-hague-cock-up-must-be-explained/

(Fair play – it turns out this wasn’t February but March 7th. Still.)

150

chris 03.25.11 at 8:13 pm

When you are talking about rules explicitly set up to govern situations like WW2

But we’re not, are we? Every a priori argument from high principles against intervention in Libya (a category which excludes factual arguments like “the evidence isn’t good enough”, which has already been addressed several times) is an equally good and noble-sounding argument against intervention in Auschwitz. Germany is a sovereign country with the right to resolve its own political issues, we ought to let them work out their own troubles, it’s better than encouraging countries to invade each other willy-nilly, and if we did try to intervene to prevent a humanitarian crisis, who knows where it might end? Millions of people could be killed. (And were, in fact.)

Although, in fact, the war started when Germany invaded someone else, removing the need to agonize over whether it was justifiable to start one, ISTM that the anti-intervention arguments prove too much.

151

politicalfootball 03.25.11 at 8:19 pm

if Obama’s support for the SC resolution authorising intervention was ‘all about the oil’ was his apparent opposition to such a resolution back in February also ‘all about the oil’? If so, how’s that supposed to work?

The existence of lots of oil was a necessary condition for intervention in a case like this. It was not a sufficient condition.

152

Salient 03.25.11 at 8:22 pm

Chris, uh, are you accusing the jewish of having attempted to overthrow the German government? Are you suggesting the jewish had already taken over control of several towns prior to the roundup and slaughter? … umm … ?!

…I’m pretty sure that’s crazy, and I’m pretty sure you’re not crazy, so, err, what is it you’re trying to say again?

153

Salient 03.25.11 at 8:28 pm

I really shouldn’t have phrased that in the form of a question, inviting an equally sour response or needless back-and-forth. chris, if you’re going to be a bit of an arse and effectively accuse undecided/oppositional folks like me of being willing to stand by during the Holocaust, you’d damn well better have your analogy straight and trim and proper, i’s dotted, t’s crossed. As it’s patently obvious to anyone following along that your analogy doesn’t hold — and for reasons we’ve already talked to death — whatever limit there is on how glibly offensive you can be before folks are no longer obligated to give you credence just got crossed.

154

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 8:36 pm

p. barebones:

This Comical Tendency tag you seem unaccountably pleased with – is there some kind of allusion or pun in there, or is it just something you like the sound of? A bit of general advice – try not to be too persistent with phrases that refuse to catch. It’s a bit like trying to legislate your own nickname – doesn’t look good.

5. Tim Wilkinson @ 96: I didn’t say that your 81 and 64 were inconsistent, and I didn’t even, in fact, mean to suggest it. I merely pointed out that you’d advanced both arguments – in response to d-squared’s suggestion that by addressing the time-line point, I hadn’t dealt with ‘the real issue’.

Oh good that clears that up then…

6. Also @ Tim Wilkinson: I’m glad to see that you are an expert with links. Could you provide one to support your suggestion @81 that the Libyan protestors -were being- might conceivably for all you know have been fired at with non-metal (ie presumably plastic or rubber bullets)? Obviously, I’ll require cell-phone footage to be fully convinced, but a link to a reputable news source will do for now.

Fixed. You are really reaching here, you old comedian you. Here’s what I tapped out, with the outrageous ‘suggestion’ highlighted:

ajay @69 yes I’ve seen that, it sounds horrific and I don’t doubt that the crowd were fired on, possibly with metal bullets. But it’s exactly the kind of impressionistic stuff I’m talking about. No eyewitness report, no detail, not even any ballpark numbers. And even taking the worst plausible reading it soudns like a Bloody Sunday type event and not really a humanitarian crisis of the kind we are talking about, where bombing might be considered as a remedy.

7. @ Tim W. again You suggest that the Libyan pilots might have been telling the people who debriefed them ‘what they wanted to hear’. Every news story I’ve checked says they were debriefed by the Maltese authorities. I’m not clear why the Maltese would want to hear that Gaddafi was ordering his airforce to fire on citizens. Could you elucidate?

Now that is a devastating point and not in any way comical. In fact, I’ve since learned that the main debriefer had a heachache and didn’t want to hear anything at all, so I must accept that that point is discredited beyond repair.

8. I’m also confused by the reference to Iraqi defectors, but I guess the comparison is to Chalabi being in the pay of the Iranians. So I guess the suggestion is that the Libyan pilots might have been in the pay of Iran. Again, a link to support this suggestion – which I’ve not heard before – would move things forward.

I think I said Iraqi exiles – any lurid tale any of them could think of was immediately plastered all over the TV news (if you can plaster things over TV news). Also Cuban exiles on Castro, etc. But I like this stuff about Iran – is it your own material?

9. Tim Wilkinson @ 119: You say that Gaddafi offered a cease-fire. For some reason you aren’t treating this claim with the skepticism you’ve treated everything else that’s been reported about this conflict. Why is that?

Because I don’t actually think that all news reports are false – there are different aspects – is there a source, is it on the record, is it biased, is it likely to be misinformed, is it too vague, does it posit facts in outline which can’t be filled in in any plausible way, is it likely be subject to known influences etc etc. All the stuff one does in evaluating news reports, if one is put on notice by any prima facie warning sign anyway. This isn’t some idiosyncratic peculiarity of mine is it?

As it happened, I haven’t seen any reports that Gaddafi offered any such thing. I have read that he ‘announced’ a cease-fire (to foreign news media, but not domestically) without actually ceasing fire. For what its worth, even Hobbes thought that was a no-no.

I’ve provided the link I got this from before, but as you seem keen to whack that mole, I’ll dig it up for you again:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8391952/Libya-ceasefire-announcement-challenged-by-West.html

The well-polished narrative coming from the likes of Cameron is now that G announced it and then broke it almost immediately. But people don’t just do a ceasefire, do they. They require reciprocation, recognition. Gadaffi may or may not have been the one to break it, or he may not have told the rebels to stop defending themselves, or all sorts of things may have happened. But that there would be no meaningful ceasefire was a self-guaranteeing prophecy because it was simply never taken seriously by those who mattered. The cartoon Gadaffi these comedians portray can always be relied on to do the most duplicitous and venal thing possible in any circumstances. But I’m willing to argue the toss over it. Maybe serious consideration was given to making it work by those in a position to do so, but I haven’t come across any links suggesting that was the case.

RE: phones – but the rebels apparently have an organisation – and they are in direct contact with the press. The point is that if anyone had recorded any footage (and aren’t we talking about a lot of casualties in a big crowd?), they could be expected to try and get it out, and doing so would be considered very much worth doing. And even in the absence of any phone or web network, it could be organised pretty easily by giving the phone to the reporters. But in any case, there just aren’t any detailed accounts or anything – it’s all insubstantial. Kinell.

RE: SAS: yes, we know. A bit crazed to harbour scepticism about full and frank reporting of the, er, covert op, I realise. But IIRC, the story – or impression given/taken – was that those were the only seven SAS, and had just arrived, and were captured straight way, and then went home ASAP.

155

chris 03.25.11 at 8:46 pm

It wasn’t my analogy — Tim Wilkinson brought up WWII. Maybe I misunderstood him? He certainly seemed to be saying that rules mandating respect for the sovereignty of other countries (seemingly regardless of what that country happens to be doing to its own citizens) were “set up to govern situations like WWII”. I was just pointing out that in that case, they would have mandated nonintervention in Nazi Germany. Certainly the most general “wars can only screw things up worse” and “countries should respect each others’ sovereignty” arguments would. (Prior to the invasion of Poland, anyway.)

Are you claiming that Gaddafi’s actions are justified *because* the rebels are rebels? (I don’t see what difference it would have made if the Jews had fought back or not — heck, for all I know some of them may have, just not with enough large-scale success to be covered in nonspecialist history books.) Or if not justified outright, that the possession of some weapons by the rebels is a ground for nonintervention?

BTW, why do you say “accusing” the Jews of armed resistance? Surely they would have been justified in doing so, if they had?

ISTM that the fact that war has already broken out is exactly what takes the “starting wars usually makes things worse” factor off the scale — the international forces aren’t starting a war, they’re getting involved in one which has already started. But in the case of Germany pre-Blitzkrieg that wasn’t the case and the even higher barrier of starting a war would have had to be overcome.

156

chris 03.25.11 at 8:51 pm

…And I just realized that this line of discussion implicitly compares Gaddafi to Hitler. I’m not sure if that means the (sub?) thread is over and I lose, or not. After all, some other people *are* mass murdering dictators and they ought to be called on it, oughtn’t they?

157

Tim Wilkinson 03.25.11 at 9:11 pm

Yes the thread is now over. It was getting a bit crabby and repetitive anyway. I suggest relocating to the Yemen thread. Looks quite unspoilt, it’s only 50 comments long, and has some interesting links @50, though I can’t claim to know whether they count as utterly disgusting and ludicrous or if they have managed to sublimate into too-obvious-to-remark-on status.

158

politicalfootball 03.25.11 at 9:20 pm

a category which excludes factual arguments like “the evidence isn’t good enough”, which has already been addressed several times

“Evidence” of what, though? What’s the proper threshold for an action as severe as an military attack aimed at overthrowing a foreign government? Gaddafi’s a bad guy, but so was Saddam.

Say that Gaddafi has committed “atrocities” and of course there is plenty of evidence. But atrocities worthy of invasion?

Like WMD in Iraq, “atrocities” are a red herring. WMD was so broadly defined that even if we had found, say, a serious chemical warfare capability in Baghdad, it wouldn’t have come close to justifying the invasion. Likewise, Gaddafi is a villain, but it’s hard to see how his villainy is distinct from, say, Saddam’s or that of other despots whose countries we acknowledge that we have no business invading.

159

sg 03.26.11 at 1:07 am

Tim at 129, you said this:

But it’s also one small part of pointing out that the rebels are not necessarily an unproblematic successor to Gadaffi, committed to democracy human rights and apple pie. (And nor are all of them, it would appear if the West Point people are to be believed which is not necessarily the case, ordinary peaceful Egypt-style demonstrators who found themselves ‘turned into’ combatants by Juan Cole’s unexplained process).

about which I can also respond with two points.

1. as per Conor Foley’s definitions, I don’t particularly care whether the rebels are all about ponies and apple pie; my support for the NFZ is for humanitarian, not liberal reasons, i.e. to stop the indiscriminate killing of civilians in North Eastern cities.

2. that West Point report is interesting, but it’s got nothing to say about the islamist nature of rebellions in Libya (or anywhere else for that matter). It’s a convenience sample from one place, i.e. it is completely ungeneralizable.

So, the only evidence we have for an islamist involvement in this uprising is a) lots of Libyans are muslims and b) Gaddafi said so. You do seem very fond of believing everything Gaddafi says and ignoring information that contradicts him (e.g. the “impressionistic” experiences of demonstrators who had been shot), but maybe you shouldn’t fall for such propaganda so easily. I’m sure you pride yourself on never having believed Saddam Hussein was connected to al Qaeda, because you were told that information by a liar. Maybe you should extend the same degree of discrimination to the things that Gaddafi (also a liar, and a proven thug and murderer) tells you.

160

Andrew 03.26.11 at 3:12 am

If atrocities are necessary for dictators in certain situations to retain power, then a humanitarian intervention will deny to a government the very tool it needs to survive. This denial is, therefore, little different from the liberal intervention, which would seek to do the same thing. Liberal or humanitarian, the government has become the enemy.

Therefore the dictator will be confronted with three options:

1 – Attack the intervention force;
2 – Retreat, dig in, and begin to commit atrocities using means not easily stopped by intervention forces, e.g. smaller death squads already infiltrated into an urban area – this is the “long war” promises by Gadhafi;
3 – Roll the dice with a cease-fire, and bargain hard for a role in a new government, and use that to rebuild;
4 – Flee.

We have foreclosed options 3 and 4 to Gadhafi.
Attacking the intervention forces isn’t possible at this stage since they’re at FL60.
That leaves him 2, the long war, punctuated by terrorism, and other unconventional tactics.

This can be a very aggressive long war, with continued efforts to locate military goods outside the normal channels. In fact, G’s desperate straits might lead to some innovative plans of action that would be troubling to a great many people.

So, let’s be real about this. Gadhafi thinks he needs his arms, his ability to PUNISH the peoples; and yeah he thinks he needs to stay in power. The Western powers disagree, and will continue to degrade his military forces.

The hope, I suppose, that the loyalists lose morale, depose Gadhafi, or defect. That outcome would be ideal.

But if it appears unlikely, then let’s get this done. We’ve been committed. Obliterate Libya’s military, seek out and destroy Gadhafi – his bill was long since past due anyway – and let’s stop fiddling around with tit-for-tat. This utterly confused military exercise is going to get us… the need for additional confused military exercises.

Why are we prolonging this? Bring forward the necessary force, and offer him trial at the Hague; when he refuses, keep him on the phone, and obliterate any number of his “elite” units; tell him he can still save the lives of his men if he were willing to give an account of himself, before the law, where all can hear him. And if he proves obstinate, then wish him well, as he is about to stop existing.

And yes… we’ve ended at liberal intervention. We’ve ended at war.

161

an adult 03.26.11 at 2:40 pm

1 million people flee Abidjan. The UN has promised ‘an inveestigation’.
Context free discussion is meaninless.

162

Areanimator 03.26.11 at 8:09 pm

I have been following the discussion on this thread and the previous one with a great deal of frustration, one that I couldn’t begin to articulate. Fortunately, Aaron Bady sums it up nicely for me at zunguzungu:

“I would suggest, in fact, that it is precisely because there are no stakes in doing so that so many influential columnists and bloggers — who had no powerful opinions about Libya before the NFZ was declared, when their influence might have mattered – are now strongly asserting one position or another, vigorously battling each other over a decision that has just become academic. And while this very public debate over Libya (after the decision) allows us to pretend we have a real, functioning public sphere, self-important debate tricks us into thinking that debate actually is important, that “taking a position” is somehow a valuable and necessary social function. I would say, instead, that the fact that the decision has already been taken is actually what relieves their opinions of any force, thereby freeing them to perform their ideology for each other, to position themselves for the next big confrontation with their ideological foes, and to place their cultural and intellectual capital on the market and try to make it grow.”

163

an adult 03.26.11 at 9:31 pm

162

Thank you.

164

an adult 03.26.11 at 9:49 pm

An added caveat.
One should at least pay attention to the opinions of those with more at stake. Throwing up your hands is not the only alternative to spouting off.

165

Martin Bento 03.26.11 at 11:05 pm

Well, I don’t kid myself that I am an influential blogger, so it’s not like my opinion would have made any difference before the fact either. And intervention looked unlikely almost to the point where it was decided on, so it’s not like there was much of a window for the influential bloggers to weigh in where it was clear that their opinion could have consequences to the decision (though I question whether this is ever the case anyway, at least for bloggers who are primarily famous as bloggers, rather than people from other arenas who blog).

166

LFC 03.26.11 at 11:21 pm

Aaron Bady quoted at 162:
self-important debate tricks us into thinking that debate actually is important

whereas of course everyone knows that debate has no importance whatsoever … indeed, come to think of it, why are the Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemenis, Bahrainis protesting? these poor misguided people seem to think the right to engage in meaningless, unimportant, or should I say factitiously self-important, debate is worth something.

167

an adult 03.27.11 at 12:01 am

LFC
Have there been any references or links to Egyptians, Tunesians, Yemenis, or arabs of any sort on this page?

Liberalism is an ‘idea’ nothing more.

168

Andrew 03.27.11 at 1:34 pm

Coalition forces continue to destroy Gadhafi’s ground forces, especially those most loyal to the regime:

[Gen. Ham] said allied warplanes were also attacking troops from the Libyan 32nd Brigade, which is based in Tripoli and commanded by Colonel Qaddafi’s son Khamis. Colonel Qaddafi has used that brigade in other crackdowns, General Ham said, and allied commanders suspect it may be brought up to counterattack the rebel forces in the next few days. N.Y. Times

As this continues, one wonders when the proponents of humanitarian intervention will agree that, in this case and similar cases, R2P will require the destruction of the government – or liberal intervention.

169

Tim Wilkinson 03.27.11 at 2:40 pm

Is that meant to be new data supporting the humanitarian-war position?

170

Andrew 03.27.11 at 3:32 pm

No, I think that data has already been referenced in this thread and others, particularly the promise of Gadhafi’s forces to inflict massive casualties within Benghazi.

171

Guido Nius 03.27.11 at 3:34 pm

Tim, are you worried that this might actually work in spite of your apocalyptic predictions and hackling?

172

Tim Wilkinson 03.27.11 at 4:08 pm

What is your point then? (Andrew, I mean, obviously).

173

an adult 03.27.11 at 4:14 pm

174

Salient 03.27.11 at 4:34 pm

Tim, are you worried that this might actually work in spite of your apocalyptic predictions and hackling?

What is “this” and how are we defining “actually work”? I assume the definition of “actually work” for a humanitarian intervention is: Khadafi retains power, the rebels/protesters/overthrow-sympathizers are deposed and brought to trial within the legal framework of Libya’s current status quo government (and probably all executed for treason in a semi-sham trial), and the Libyan military is reauthorized to conduct whatever functions are deemed legitimate by the international community, with Khadafi’s various assets unfrozen and the open availability of billions of dollars’ worth of American weapons for his purchase. (Not blood for oil per se, but the renewal and continuation of a ‘weapons for oil’ agreement.)

It’s not at all clear to me that I should be excited about, or even patiently resigned to, the outcome I just described. I literally am worried that the intervention might work! In the event that those in charge go ahead and admit they’re looking to bring about a regime change through killing off the Libyan army, I have my own set of worries for that, but that’s a very different (and perhaps more honest) universe than ours.

175

Tim Wilkinson 03.27.11 at 5:09 pm

Humanitarian concerns are defined by minimising harm, shurely, not by which despots do or don’t manage to cling to (some) power in the process? I have no problem with the possibility that a successful humanitarian effort might bring about regime change. I just don’t see that that was the case here on 17 Mar, nor before then (for it appears – unsurprisingly to anyone who shared my vile opinions at the time – that Western and other outside influence over the militarisation of the protests started some time before then).

Given the blatant propaganda campaign under way, I’m not satisfied with ex cathedra announcements that even now, hostilities could not be halted – though of course the reality by now created on the ground may be that all boats are effectively burned, and since 17 May there has been no question of that happening in any case.

Nor am I sanguine that Gaddafi’s demise will also see an end to casualties.

176

Andrew 03.27.11 at 8:57 pm

Tim, my point is that a humanitarian intervention will become, in certain circumstances, nearly indistinguishable from a liberal intervention. Those circumstances, which apply here, occur when the party from which civilians must be protected is the government, and the government believes that the very measures forbidden by the foreign force are those necessary to its survival.

Thus the difference in practice between liberal and humanitarian interventions in such circumstances, from the perspective of limited conflict, is almost nil. Regime-change is the goal of both.

And that is precisely what is happening here, albeit more slowly than would be advantageous.

I don’t regard humanitarian intervention in this case as a fig leaf for more strategic concerns – from a realist, strategic vantage I think Libya simply isn’t worth it, and I question the wisdom of getting involved. I think the humanitarian concerns are justified, and likely a key motivating factor.

BUT the pretensions of an engagement limited to protecting civilians are silly and counterproductive, in that they limit the formation of the political will, military resources, and the crystal-clear signaling to resolve the issue sooner rather than later.

Thus the signal to those around Gadhafi should be, and should have been from the beginning: throw him over the side and come to the bargaining table, or drown with him. Instead those around him heard about the limited nature of the NFZ and incoherent denials of regime-change as a goal.

The air-strikes should have been aimed from the start at completely crippling Gadhafi’s military and security apparatus, not simply its air-power and mechanized capabilities.

And the nation should have been told, clearly, the course upon which we are now committed.

177

an adult 03.27.11 at 9:35 pm

178

sg 03.27.11 at 11:34 pm

wow Tim, you’ve gone from claims of islamic insurgency to now suggesting “western influence” on the rebels. Who was it – the CIA? You’re really desperate to prove they had military aims from the start, aren’t you?

179

Tim Wilkinson 03.28.11 at 12:00 am

I get that much, but I don’t see that the quote supports it.

180

Tim Wilkinson 03.28.11 at 12:00 am

Sorry, again that’s to Andrew, of course. (What is this, the Hall of the bloody Mountain King?)

181

Andrew 03.28.11 at 1:32 pm

This is to Tim (just in case):

If the view I’ve expressed is correct, then we would expect coalition forces to be broadening their strikes while still insisting – rightly – that R2P is the rationale. The quote supports that the coalition is in fact broadening their strikes, expanding them now to one of a small number of units critical to Gadhafi’s existence on the rationale that it “may be brought up to counterattack the rebels in the next few days.”

Now, I suspect you’ll say that we would also expect coalition forces to broaden their strikes if R2P was never the real motivation, and that the incursion was motivated by realist/economic values with the intention of deposing Gadhafi. I agree, though I don’t think this was the motivation, or that it’s a particularly good justification by its own lights.

Tonight the President will announce that the intervention has worked, that the US is stepping down from a leadership role (while still providing air and naval support, and clandestine assistance on the ground), that the intervention was justified on both realist/national-interest grounds and on humanitarian grounds – and that the intervention will go on for some time.

Question: Will the President tonight express strong US support for democratic movements across MENA, linking US action in Libya to this support?

182

Tim Wilkinson 03.28.11 at 5:50 pm

Yeah, I think we get each others’ positions. One more elaboration of an aspect of mine I think I haven’t mentioned, and which is compatible with a R2P (though not a Duty2P) justification (or supposed justification) for intervention. I would suggest what I consider to be two further motives for a regime change assault on Gadaffi (which I think we both agree is happening, and actually we both agree that IF it is to happen, twere better done with a bit more focus and a bit less of the old meatgrinder).

1. Choose Gadaffi:
Because (among other things) it distracts from – and is explicitly used to resist demands for intervention of any kind in Bahrain, Yemen. (The latter done by a useful formula – just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something. The relevant words (in bold) are asserted in a subtle way by being treated as an assumption, so any argument about double standards becomes one about whether to intervene in Libya (and that argument becomes one about saving protestors from massacre, or you think you can get away with it, ‘genocide’).

This point at the very least cannot have escaped the attention of those involved, and specifically of the dictators of the Arab League whose blessing was claimed as providing additional legitimacy for the action. And if one accepts that increasing pressure meant something-or-other was going to have to be done against one of those oil producing ME arab dictatorships, Gadaffi is the obvious choice, since he is not really signed up in line with Western interests, and is a prominent hate figure and all-round pain in the arse to boot, whereas working arrangements were in place with the other contemporary candidates, and the idea of jeopardising those was pretty unthinkable.

2. Choose all-out regime change war:
Because (among other things) if you are going to intervene, you may as well go for full war, not only because of some of the reasons given for picking Gadaffi, but also because only in that way can Western powers ensure they are in the driving seat and in a position to influence, if not outright direct, the process of rebuilding society (as well as oil production – important – and everything else – bonus) from the ground up, as a Western-allied state with an ultra-neoliberal constitution.

The war strategy also allows exciting and supply-absorbing hi-tech methods to be used, and (it is probably hoped) may mean it is possible to avoid domestic-casualty-intensive peacekeeping methods involving ground troops. It also ironically allows the intervention to appear less intrusive – it is still being described on the BBC as a ‘no-fly-zone’ (no detail provided) that levels the playing field, so helping the rebels to help themselves.

(Here’s mild-mannered militarist Ming Campbell: We could keep out of the Arab world but we would be giving up an opportunity {to nurture democracy and} to exercise {a benign} influence. We would create a vacuum which others less well disposed to our interests would be eager to fill. (de-emphasis mine)

Oh yeah, one more thing before I bury my objectively pro-fascist uniform and blend into the general population: I think there’s a bit of tension between

a humanitarian intervention will become, in certain circumstances, nearly indistinguishable from a liberal intervention. Those circumstances, which apply here, occur when the party from which civilians must be protected is the government, and the government believes that the very measures forbidden by the foreign force are those necessary to its survival.

and

BUT the pretensions of an engagement limited to protecting civilians are silly and counterproductive, in that they limit the formation of the political will, military resources, and the crystal-clear signaling to resolve the issue sooner rather than later.

This can be resolved, by specifying that ‘protecting civilians’ in the second part is meant in a ‘narrow’ sense familiar from the formula ‘narrow self-interest’, and on a proper understanding of ‘protecting civilians’, the difference in practice between liberal and humanitarian interventions in such circumstances, from the perspective of limited conflict, is almost nil. Regime-change is the goal of both.

There’s obviously the danger that a broad sense of ‘protecting civilians’ will be stretched further than is justifiable (as I would suggest has happened here). But even when it is not, I don’t think the (‘near -‘, for interesting senses of ‘near’) equivalence thesis can be maintained, since for example ceasefire/conditional surrender is urgently to be sought in the humanitarian case, and resisted/ignored in the regime change one. Only by presupposing implacable and unmitigable brutality can the two be made equivalent, and that is a substantial thesis which even in the most favourable case is never so well-known to apply as to establish total regime change as a fixed goal.

Q: will the noises coming out of Italy and Germany about trying to arrange a ceasefire be given any consideration at all by the US/NATO? I predict that they won’t, regardless of how viable they might in fact be.

183

Andrew 03.29.11 at 1:50 am

Tim, well, I agree that both of the additional motives you suggested are possible effects of the intervention, but I don’t think they’re likely to be actual motivations or objectives.

As to the first (focus on Gadhafi to excuse lack of action on others), I simply don’t think that the pressure to act on Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia, or Jordan, was ever strong enough to be a concern. If there were no unrest in Libya, do you think that the West would have had to seriously consider intervening elsewhere?

As to the second (intervene so that we can influence the shape of the new Libya), the most the air war will provide the coalition, as far as influence over a post-Gadhafi Libya, is good-will among rebel factions. Effective influence over the shape of the post-Gadhafi Libya without a large ground force would, imho, depend heavily on so many other factors which can be only dimly predicted at this point, that I don’t think it furnishes a good motivation for the intervention or a good objective. It’s simply too uncertain. I also just don’t think the West cares that much about whether Libya is neoliberal or not.

But even when it is not, I don’t think the (‘near -’, for interesting senses of ‘near’) equivalence thesis can be maintained, since for example ceasefire/conditional surrender is urgently to be sought in the humanitarian case, and resisted/ignored in the regime change one. Only by presupposing implacable and unmitigable brutality can the two be made equivalent, and that is a substantial thesis which even in the most favourable case is never so well-known to apply as to establish total regime change as a fixed goal.

Well, but I’m saying that the equivalence occurs only in cases where the regime believes that its survival depends on the very measures forbidden by the intervening force. So – certainly – a humanitarian intervention would welcome a regime’s decision to stop such measures. But the regime will be unlikely to actually do so, leaving the intervention with no choice but to change the regime – or determine instead that it will protect some of the civilians, but not all of them – that it will leave those civilians in loyalist territory to their fate, and settle for saving those in rebel territory.

And that latter option does, I agree, reduce the force of the equivalence, but I’d note that the equivalence is reduced only insofar as we reduce R2P.

184

Tim Wilkinson 03.29.11 at 4:44 pm

Alright then a quick rejoinder: I’d just say

1. that the pressure to act – in some way – on e.g. Bahrain might be greater if there were any coverage of what was going on there. Libya coverage seems to have displaced any attempt to report on what appears to far as one can tell to be a Saudi military assault on protestors. And there’s stuff like the BBC’s establishment to the point of caricature security correspondent Frank Gardner using not-being-Libya as a reason why Bahrain is just not that bad, the idea of intervening not even being considered.

2. I think (and have thought from the start) that there will be boots on the ground, with soldiers’ feet in and everything, after the fighting kicks off in the West. The next few weeks will see a gradual acceptance of the idea, as serious commentators say that unfortunately the unpredictable course of events means we are now committed, can’t cut and run, humanitarianism, all the eminently predictable reasonis – which by then will quite possibly have been made entirely valid by the facts created on the ground.

Also, I don’t think any of these motives have to be all that strong – there are a lot of vectors which always push towards war, and there just isn’t much downside from the POV of the likes of Clinton or Cameron.

185

an adult 03.29.11 at 11:37 pm

186

john c. halasz 03.30.11 at 12:06 am

I’d thought the Arab League backing for the “humanitarian intervention” in Libya was already based on an implicit or sotto voce deal for “non-intervention” in Arabia. No?

187

LFC 03.30.11 at 12:50 am

an adult @185:

Orford writes that UN factfinding and peacekeeping, unforeseen by the drafters of the UN Charter, amount to an “expansive apparatus of international rule.” This assertion is quite laughable and suggests too long an immersion in the works of Foucault, Schmitt (quoted in her post), or fill-in-the-blank. The main drafter of the preamble to the UN Charter was Jan Smuts. He wouldn’t recognize the UN today. I doubt that’s a bad thing.

Orford says that discretion under R2P is exercised highly selectively. True. (That’s what discretion means.) She says that the ‘decolonized world’ has been screwed over by an alliance of local elites and Western business interests. Some truth to that. It also happens to be largely irrelevant to the matter at hand.

188

Andrew 03.30.11 at 11:19 am

Tim, an even quicker rejoinder:

1. Pressure by whom? The American public wasn’t pressing for an intervention in Bahrain.

2. The American public will not accept a humanitarian argument for putting troops (beyond the special operations and similar forces that are likely already there) into Libya for the purpose of battle; nor would the Republicans in Congress; nor will the proposal be met with warm agreement by Secretary Gates; nor, for that matter, will many Democrats be able to support such a proposal.

And given that Obama has already committed to NOT doing so, I don’t think he’s left much room to reverse course.

Those are the politics. From a strategic vantage, the US military already has its hands full, and I think stretching them further by a deployment of ground forces in Libya would be so immensely unwise that not even the strongest proponents of intervention in Libya, namely Clinton and (Susan) Rice, could support it.

I am willing to bet 1 million Crooked Timber dollars on my view.

189

an adult 03.30.11 at 12:31 pm

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,2062162,00.html

And I thought justice was supposed to be blind or at least appear to be.

190

Tim Wilkinson 03.30.11 at 2:15 pm

Pressure by anyone, on anyone capable of doing it. That has (by the peculiar logic of these things) been forestalled.

I wouldn’t want to invest in it, but I’m willing to predict a permanent US base in Libya within, say, 5 years.

191

Andrew 03.31.11 at 12:23 pm

Well, but Tim, if the forestalling of such pressure was part of the motivation to intervene in Libya, then surely there should be some perception of who might be bringing such pressure to bear. “Possible pressure by someone” isn’t much motivation.

I think a base in Libya is possible if and only if Libya stabilizes. I understood your earlier comment to be a prediction that the US would send conventional ground forces to fight, and perhaps I misunderstood. If we’re talking about a base at some point in the future, where no combat is required, I think that’s politically feasible, though a waste of money and resources.

On a related note, the success of Gadhafi’s most recent counteroffensive does not bode well for the coalition’s current strategy.

192

Hidari 03.31.11 at 12:34 pm

With notably rare exceptions, American attacks on Arab countries have always gone swimmingly, so what’s the problem?

Comments on this entry are closed.