Libya: was it worth it?

by Chris Bertram on January 26, 2012

I’m asking the question, because I don’t know, but the signs are extremely worrying. When NATO intervention was first mooted, I wrote a piece here expressing concern that, if the successor government came about thanks to NATO intervention it would lack legitimacy in the eyes of the Libyan people. I’m not sure that I was right about the reasons for that, but the conclusion about the lack of legitimacy itself (much mocked in some quarters) looks to be increasingly vindicated by events. One reason to intervene was to prevent severe human rights violations, including the possibility of massacre in Benghazi. Well a cruel and vicious regime with a dreadful human-rights record has gone, but seems to have been replaced by a squabbling coalition of militias, little inclined to submit to the authority of a central government, with Ghaddafi-loyalists making a comeback. Moreover, said militias seem to be engaged in serious human rights violations themselves, abuses that have been going on pretty much since “victory”. Those who were most enthusiastic for intervention don’t seem to be saying much about these worrying recent developments. An intervention predicated on defending human rights certainly won’t have been justified if the successor regime ends up presiding over similar persecutings, detainings, torturings and killings itself.

{ 161 comments }

1

J. Otto Pohl 01.26.12 at 12:56 pm

No it was not worth it. The US obsession with ‘democracy’ at the expense of human and minority rights is most obvious in Libya, but there are other countries where it has done a lot of harm.

2

Sam Clark 01.26.12 at 12:57 pm

Further point of information about current conditions in Libya:

Detainees in the Libyan city of Misrata are being tortured and denied urgent medical care, leading Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders) to suspend its operations in detention centres in Misrata.

3

Sam Clark 01.26.12 at 12:58 pm

Sorry, my attempt at a blockquote cite tag didn’t work. Quote in previous post from http://www.msf.org.uk/libyaprison360112_20120126.news

4

BenSix 01.26.12 at 1:00 pm

Those who were most enthusiastic for intervention don’t seem to be saying much about these worrying recent developments.

Well, of course not. They’re much too concerned with Syria. But once they’ve dealt with Syria. And Iran. And Somalia. And, well, whatever other nations present themselves I’m sure they’ll go back and reflect on Libya again. After all, it’s not as if the people who were most enthusiastic for intervention in Iraq are completely ignoring the state of that poor country. What? Oh. Never mind.

5

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.26.12 at 2:01 pm

To qualify for a proper Hegelian “irony of history”, the new post-revolutionary regime has to be much worse than the original one. Is it already clear that it’s headed that way?

6

P O'Neill 01.26.12 at 2:37 pm

To qualify for a proper Hegelian “irony of history”, the new post-revolutionary regime has to be much worse than the original one. Is it already clear that it’s headed that way?

Or indeed worse than the trajectory the original one was on, absent intervention.

7

Louis Proyect 01.26.12 at 2:43 pm

little inclined to submit to the authority of a central government, with Ghaddafi-loyalists making a comeback.

This must be a reference to Bani Walid where the NTC forces where expelled by armed men who were at first reported to be Qaddafi supporters hoisting green banners. This turned out to be a false report. The NYT clarified:

But both local fighters and security officials from the transitional council denied that pro-Qaddafi forces had been involved. Each side said the roots of the violence were more local than counterrevolutionary.

“There is nothing about Qaddafi supporters or militias here. The problem is between tribes,” said Salem Dabnon al-Waer, 47, who described himself as commander of the Bani Walid fighters.

In fact the events in Bani Walid are linked to a general resistance to the NTC that has begun to function more and more like all the other counter-revolutionary governments in the area:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/libyan-government-faces-growing-frustrations/2012/01/22/gIQArnVHNQ_story.html
Libyan government faces growing frustrations
By Alice Fordham, Tuesday, January 24, 8:21 AM

BENGHAZI, Libya — As Libya’s interim government struggles to bring security, stability and democracy to the country, a burgeoning protest movement is rocking the fragile nation, venting grudges and challenging the legitimacy of the ruling authorities.

The movement is at its strongest in the eastern city of Benghazi, the cradle of the uprising that saw NATO-backed forces topple Moammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule.

Rebel fighters began battling government forces here in February last year. They controlled most of the city within a few days, and a transitional governing council began operating before the end of that month as the city became the base for the revolution.

But almost a year later, support for the council, which has shifted its operations to Tripoli, is rapidly evaporating. People complain of shaky security, delays in the re-opening of schools and courts, and flaws in the interim constitution and proposed electoral legislation, as well as the continued presence of Gaddafi-era officials on the council.

For more than a month, hundreds of angry demonstrators have gathered nightly in Tree Square in the city center to chant, dance, sing and discuss their grievances.

“What we are asking for is not privileges,” said Saleh el-Haddar, a businessman at a recent protest. “We want the courts to work, we want the followers of Gaddafi to go … and our main concern is transparency.”

(clip)

8

flyingrodent 01.26.12 at 2:58 pm

That title raises an interesting question: Whose judgement are we talking about, when we ask if Libya was “worth it”?

From recent news, it looks a lot like many of the rebel factions are now experiencing some serious buyers’ remorse, from the way they’re battering down the doors at NTC headquarters. I imagine that most Libyans from outside the rebel east and west will have mixed feelings, and I know for a fact that most of Libya’s black population – what remains of it, after so many of them suffered months of ethnic cleansing, executions and expulsions – don’t think it was worth it at all.

Still, I imagine that the populations of the rebel cities and the leadership of the NTC think it was worth it. After all, not only are they not dead – many of them are now in charge, have all the cash and guns and are settling scores of their own! What’s not to like, from their perspective?

In the UK/US, nobody is going to raise a peep of protest. Hell, the Times ran an opinion column explicitly saying “Whatever happens now in Libya, absolutely none of it is our fault and the decision to intervene is 100% correct forever regardless of outcome” the day after the rebels took Tripoli i.e. before the big barbecue in Sirte. That is, before Nato helped to reduce an entire city to rubble around the ears of a large section of its civilian population.

Cameron and Sarkozy got their photo-ops – you’d have to have been deaf not to hear the frantic masturbation from Tory HQ when they visited Libya in the days after the war. The humanitarian bombardiers got their Good War, in which all the inconvenient casualties were kept safely off the front pages and the war crimes swept under the carpet, and are now circling Syria and Iran. The RAF – finally! – got a win in the 21st century. Nato proved it could destroy large tracts of north Africa if it wanted, thus proving its relevance in the modern era, or something.

All in all, a hell of a lot of people see it as “worth it” and will continue to do so. It was a huge win for war and warmongers, and it’ll stay one unless the Libyan bodycount edges up towards at least one million – I think it’ll take at least that before it acquires any political heat at all.

After all, who gives a shit about the politically inconvenient dead? Not Whitehall. Not the now-doomed Sarkozy, whose successor will be able to ignore the whole thing. Nobody on Pennsylvania Avenue, and certainly not the populations of Britain, the US and France. Hell, most of us barely noticed there was a war on in the first place.

9

christian_h 01.26.12 at 4:12 pm

What flyingrodent says. This is a question only for those who mistakenly believe human rights had ever anything to do with NATO’s involvement in this war.

10

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 4:22 pm

” To qualify for a proper Hegelian “irony of history”, the new post-revolutionary regime has to be much worse than the original one. Is it already clear that it’s headed that way?

Or indeed worse than the trajectory the original one was on, absent intervention.”

I think these are both important questions. It is much too early to declare failure.

11

christian_h 01.26.12 at 4:26 pm

I think these are both important questions. It is much too early to declare failure.

Of course! The democratizing effect of the Thirty Years War in the long run is, as well, too often denied by the erstwhile Neo-Stalinist supporters of the Emperor.

12

flyingrodent 01.26.12 at 4:28 pm

Absolutely – it’s far too early to declare failure but not at all too soon to call bullshit, I reckon.

13

Marc 01.26.12 at 4:30 pm

The alternatives that I see were Ghaddafi doing precisely what we’re seeing in Syria, or NATO troops occupying the country.

What’s your alternative Chris? What other road should have been taken, and in what way would the outcome have been better? Why isn’t Syria the obvious and likely model for what would have happened absent NATO intervention?

14

ajay 01.26.12 at 4:38 pm

before Nato helped to reduce an entire city to rubble around the ears of a large section of its civilian population.

This is a lie.

15

flyingrodent 01.26.12 at 4:39 pm

Just a quick note, for info – comparison of the estimated bodycounts puts Libya ahead of the other Arab Spring uprisings by a factor of, maybe, five.

16

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 4:43 pm

“Of course! The democratizing effect of the Thirty Years War in the long run is, as well, too often denied by the erstwhile Neo-Stalinist supporters of the Emperor.”

Very funny stuff. All stable democratic societies are all built over the course of 2 weeks right? I mean it has been 5 whole months since Gaddafi died. More than enough time to construct a modern state. Why I am sure you could organise a fair and efficient judicial system overnight given a white board, some erasable markers and a few textbooks on tort law.

17

flyingrodent 01.26.12 at 4:44 pm

Is it indeed, Ajay. So Sirte isn’t wrecked and all those reports of civvies fleeing during the short ceasefires were made up and the photos faked? I mean, I saw some pretty big flak cannons and artillery batteries firing into Sirte on the news.

18

Chris Bertram 01.26.12 at 4:44 pm

I see (via Corey Robin on FB) that Glenn Greenwald is also writing about this today

http://www.salon.com/2012/01/26/the_human_rights_success_in_libya/singleton/

19

Watson Ladd 01.26.12 at 4:49 pm

I’m missing something from this argument: If the US was responsible for imposing a suitable regime on the Libyan people, that would be imperialism. But apparently actually leaving the choice to the Libyan people themselves isn’t right either. Instead you just leave the people of Libya to whomever has the biggest gun. Or to put it another way: if Japan sinks back into dictatorship, is it McArthur’s fault?

20

christian_h 01.26.12 at 4:50 pm

ajay (14.): Indeed, I say! The city may be rubble now, and it may not have been rubble before – but surely concluding that is was “reduced to rubble” from this is outrageous. It could well have been a consequence of the normal ageing process.

More seriously, it is always amazing to see to what lengths supporters of imperial wars will go to keep inconvenient facts from undermining the tales of humanitarian heroism they tell themselves. It’s particularly absurd in this case when the main piece in the case for war was an event that was entirely fictional and had not actually happened yet – it was merely predicted to happen, by the same people who brought us the Gulf of Tonkin incident, WMD’s in Iraq, the “horse shoe plan” etc. You’d think that this would keep war supporters from simply denying things that actually did happen – but no.

21

christian_h 01.26.12 at 4:52 pm

MPAVictoria: what’s funny is that war supporters will wait for a moment when things seem to be going well at some point in the future and declare “now is the time to judge the war a success!” Not to mention they already did judge it a success on day one, not waiting even 5 months.

22

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 4:57 pm

“what’s funny is that war supporters will wait for a moment when things seem to be going well at some point in the future and declare “now is the time to judge the war a success!” Not to mention they already did judge it a success on day one, not waiting even 5 months.”

So if Libya is not turned into a peaceful, democratic nation immediately after the fall of a tyrant and if it does not stay this way forever the war is a failure? These seem like pretty unfair metrics.

23

Omega Centauri 01.26.12 at 5:10 pm

Predictions of trajectories, as well as estimations of what the trajectory that wasn’t allowed to happen have large uncertainties. At the time the decision was made, the later looked like it would be quite horrible, most likely many times worse than what we’ve seen so far in Syria so far. Neither trajectory is pretty. I figure we’ve given them their chance, now we will just have to wait and see (and use what limited influence we have to moderate what happens). Building democracy from scratch is not an easy task, and the path can be pretty chaotic, meaning nearly impossible to predict with any certainty.

24

Kaveh 01.26.12 at 5:18 pm

For the love of Elvis, can we please base our judgments about particular interventions or policies on the actual conditions in the countries that were subjected to them? This should be about Libya, not about settling our own scores with pro- or anti-interventionists, neocons, &c..

Sirte reduced to rubble is not the same thing as Sirte having had heavy artillery fired at it for a period of time. That’s not the same as reducing a city to rubble.

The current Libyan govt holding 10,000 people in detention, and torturing them, is horrible, but it’s not by itself proof that things would have been better off with Qaddafi still in power. It’s completely unsurprising that rebels are now settling scores and committing abuses of their own. It doesn’t mean the country is descending into a long-term civil war like Iraq.

25

Niall McAuley 01.26.12 at 5:18 pm

I’m not sure what the question is.

Did NATO get value for money?

Did less people die than would have died if NATO had not joined the killing?

Did NATO’s actions result in grace for NATO which outweighs the sins it committed?

If the Brennan Monster was watching from orbit, would it reward NATO, punish NATO or do something inscrutable which could be taken either way but might just be some sort of joke?

26

js. 01.26.12 at 5:22 pm

I get the position supporting intervention on the basis that without it, there would have been massacres. I myself was sympathetic to this position when the possibility of intervention was first brought up. But how the hell do you get from there to support for an all-out campaign to overthrow Gaddhafi? It just doesn’t follow. And it was clear as soon as the latter happened that it wasn’t going to be “worth it”. Which really just goes back to flyingrodent’s point. The actual “intervention” wasn’t and couldn’t have been about human rights.

27

geo 01.26.12 at 5:35 pm

Kaveh @: can we please base our judgments about particular interventions or policies on the actual conditions in the countries that were subjected to them? This should be about Libya, not about settling our own scores with pro- or anti-interventionists, neocons, &c

Actually, Greenwald speaks to Kaveh’s question in the column Chris B cites, where he refers to

” … the other key lesson from these types of invasions. They are almost always sold by appeal to human rights concerns — Iraqi babies pulled from incubators and Saddam’s rape rooms — but that is very rarely their actual objective. When the West invokes human rights concerns to justify an attack on a dictator whom it has long tolerated (and often even supported), that is rather compelling evidence that human rights is the packaging for the war, not the goal. The fact that it is not the goal means more than just another war sold deceitfully based on pretexts: it means that human rights concerns will not drive what happens after the invasion is completed. The materials interests of the invaders are highly likely to be served, but not the human rights of the people of the invaded country.”

28

ajay 01.26.12 at 5:36 pm

Is it indeed, Ajay. So Sirte isn’t wrecked

No. Badly damaged, yes. Reduced to rubble, no. City’s still there, people still living there, most buildings still standing.

and all those reports of civvies fleeing during the short ceasefires were made up and the photos faked?

No, those were probably real.

I mean, I saw some pretty big flak cannons and artillery batteries firing into Sirte on the news.

Good for you. Doesn’t mean that Sirte has been destroyed though. Lying and saying that it has just makes you look bad.

29

George 01.26.12 at 5:48 pm

Thinking about why France & Italy were so enthused about intervention, I wondered if they might have feared a large influx of refugees from Quadafi’s response to the initial ‘revolution’.

If so, the intervention could be called a success. So far.

30

flyingrodent 01.26.12 at 6:03 pm

Hmm. A quick Google search would clear this “rubble” thing up, I reckon. Considering the results as if they related to your home town might quickly blur the line between “destroyed” and “hey look, the corner shop is still standing, thank you Nato you big humanitarians”.

FWIW, I think Cameron & Sarkozy were telling the truth about their humanitarian intent. Of course, they were delighted to take their chance to knock off Gadaffi, but they were serious.

The problem is, all the lies and bullshit they use to cover up all those very definitely non-humanitarian methods and inconvenient war crimes. I don’t remember a single journo asking “Hey Dave, what are you doing to prevent our new allies terrorizing black civilians because of the colour of their skin?”. I do well remember the breathless reports about Gadaffi’s thugs – all big, scary black men, did we mention – being issued Viagra to help them ravish decent Misratan women. It’s weird, since we know that the former is true and the latter invented.

Anyway. The problem here is our habit of hurling high explosives at problems, lying about our methods, ignoring the results and then moving on to bomb hell out of the next problem. To me, it seems wildly irresponsible, and the fact that the British people either unconditionally approve or ignore it entirely is really quite frightening. Especially when there’s a potential pagger with Iran in the post.

31

christian_h 01.26.12 at 6:14 pm

So if “reduced to rubble” can now only be applied to complete destruction, it applies… uhm… oh wait, Carthage, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Only examples I can think of. Not Coventry, not Dresden, not Hanoi… all of those after all remained “standing” and still had people “living in them” after being – to use the words most people would use – reduced to rubble.

In the real world where most of us live and where Humpty Dumpty can’t just make words mean whatever he decrees, “reduced to rubble” applies without a doubt to Sirte.

32

Stephen 01.26.12 at 6:17 pm

To make a comparison: France and Britain intervened in the German-Polish dispute in 1939, hoping to protect Poland. They failed; Poland in 1939-45 suffered atrociously; and for a long time after 1945 the successor regime ended up “presiding over persecutings, detainings, torturings and killings” which were very substantially worse than anything in Poland, 1939. The successor regimes post-1945 in parts of Finland, and all of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria had “severe human rights violations” worse or far worse than pre-1939; for the parts of 1939 Poland that had the misfortune to be incorporated into Belarus, they still do. It’s not even obvious that human rights in East Germany, post-1945, were an improvement on the 1939 situation.

Nevertheless …

33

Stephen 01.26.12 at 6:23 pm

@christian h, 31

I would welcome information as to when, and by whom, Hanoi was reduced to rubble.

34

TheF79 01.26.12 at 6:35 pm

If we had a time machine, I would love to see how this “was it worth it” debate played out in France in 1781 after their intervention in the American Revolution. I imagine pro-intervention French bloggers would be citing the potential massacre of American Revolutionaries and the cause of freedom, while anti-intervention French bloggers would note the reprisals against British Loyalists, that the military leaders of the ware are “now in charge, have all the cash and guns and are settling scores of their own!”, that Louis XVI got his (ironic?) photo-op, that it was all about the French flexing their muscle against the British Empire, that the colonies had failed to crate a unified government, etc.

35

christian_h 01.26.12 at 6:36 pm

Stephen (32.): I don’t even know what to say to that. That’s not apples and oranges, it’s apples and flying pigs.

Stephen (33.): Ever heard of the Vietnam war? Operations Linebacker and Linebacker II, for example?

36

Charlie W 01.26.12 at 6:53 pm

It’s a nitpick, I know, but people still live in Hiroshima and Nagasaki: they never left. Carthage had a hiatus, maybe. Apparently it takes quite a lot to completely erase a city. Pompeii had to be buried for centuries.

37

Kaveh 01.26.12 at 6:57 pm

geo @27 The fact that it is not the goal means more than just another war sold deceitfully based on pretexts: it means that human rights concerns will not drive what happens after the invasion is completed. The materials interests of the invaders are highly likely to be served, but not the human rights of the people of the invaded country.

This still[1] reduces the discussion of military interventions to an evaluation of the intervener’s motives. It also ignores the huge difference between the role of the intervener in post-revolution Libya and Iraq. The motives of the US mattered a lot to the outcome of the invasion of Iraq–the US took over the government and tried to wreck it, to keep Iraq from being a regional power of any kind for the foreseeable future, and/or turn Iraq into a neoliberal paradise (or maybe pretended to do the latter with the real intent of doing the former). There is no such US/NATO role in Libya.

I get that there’s a meta issue of the credibility of the voices who argued for/against intervention in Libya, and I would tend to see destroying the credibility of neocons as a good cause. But behind this there is another meta issue of whether the facts, characters, circumstances, &c., of non-Western or non-wealthy countries are important in their own right, or if everything can be reduced to a discussion of domestic politics in the US and Europe, and who are the good guys and badguys there.

fn 1: At least, if we take it out of the larger context of Greenwald’s argument, which is more about 1) the need to actually evaluate the intervention in Libya, not just declare victory 2) the problems with using this to support similar interventions in Iran or Syria; I agree with Greenwald, as usual.

38

Omega Centauri 01.26.12 at 7:02 pm

If you intervene in a civilwar, and I would say that overthrowing a determined regime with plenty of firepower is effectively a civilwar, you can shoot for two options:

(1) Your favored side wins as quickly, and with the least loss of life and property as possible.

(2) You achieve a stalemate, and that achieves one of the following objectives:
(a) A negotiated settlement, which by your computations will have the best human rights outcome.
or
(b) A continuing stalemate, which you calculate is in your cynical interests (perhaps by removing the country as a viable threat).

If you intervene, but cut off the intervention short of (1), doesn’t that give the victorious side an argument that the losers were traitors, since they had foreign devils on their side, and reprisals likely will be very much worse?

39

flyingrodent 01.26.12 at 7:08 pm

You know, I don’t think analogies are very useful. The thing that really worries me is this:

We went to the UN to get permission for a no-fly zone; emerged with a mandate to smash hell out of whover and whatever we liked, provided we pretended that we were “protecting civilians” while we did it and didn’t use ground troops*; prevented the destruction of one city by destroying another; prevented atrocities by taking the side of the rebels, who were themselves committing atrocities; prevented mass torture by putting a bunch of torturers in charge of the country and generally acted like a bunch of hypocritical, lying bastards who couldn’t give a shit about human rights.

And remember, this was the Good Intervention. This is the one that worked brilliantly!

Given the mass determination to ignore all of this and simply declare that “intervention works”, you can maybe see why I find this problematic. These people are dead or being tortured as we speak, their homes destroyed, and its barely been mentioned. In fact, when it is mentioned,some folk pretend it never happened!

War is now a tool of policy as humdrum as traffic regulations or interest rates. If Libya is the model for future wars – and clearly, it is – then I’d say we’ve got a shitload more Iraqs to look forward to.

*Although we did actually use ground troops, even though we were explicitly forbidden to do so. And we wonder why the world is so suspicious of our intentions…

40

Kaveh 01.26.12 at 7:20 pm

To wit, #31-36 are a sustained discussion about the definition of “turned to rubble” and events in WWII and the US invasion of Vietnam, not even a mention of Libya!

Back to Sirte, was it damaged even as badly as Gaza City, nevermind Dresden?

41

flyingrodent 01.26.12 at 7:22 pm

Im using an old iPod here so I can’t link, but a Google image search would answer that question.

42

geo 01.26.12 at 7:32 pm

43

js. 01.26.12 at 7:42 pm

We went to the UN to get permission for a no-fly zone; emerged with a mandate to smash hell out of whover and whatever we liked, provided we pretended that we were “protecting civilians” while we did it and didn’t use ground troops*; prevented the destruction of one city by destroying another; prevented atrocities by taking the side of the rebels, who were themselves committing atrocities; prevented mass torture by putting a bunch of torturers in charge of the country and generally acted like a bunch of hypocritical, lying bastards who couldn’t give a shit about human rights.

This. And OC @38, “[i]f you intervene in a civil war” with the aim of protecting human rights, you’re not required to pick a side, nor to stick by it as circumstances change.

44

MPAVictoria 01.26.12 at 7:45 pm

“War is now a tool of policy as humdrum as traffic regulations or interest rates. “

Has it ever been anything else?

45

understudy 01.26.12 at 8:08 pm

“*Although we did actually use ground troops, even though we were explicitly forbidden to do so. And we wonder why the world is so suspicious of our intentions…”

Yeah, if you think the Libyan intervention “used ground forces” it is hard to see this as a serious conversation. Assuming you are not being literal and including the Nato bomb disposal units or embassy personnel who happen to be members of the military, can you please tell me which Nato ground units were used in combat?

46

Chris Bertram 01.26.12 at 8:14 pm

understudy: I believe the units are listed in this article –

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16573516

47

Odm 01.26.12 at 8:22 pm

If the Google Images search isn’t enough to end the Sirte digression, perhaps a BBC reporter stating it has been “blasted to smithereens” would be.

48

Stephen 01.26.12 at 8:32 pm

Christian_h (35)

a) no, it’s an example of how a war with seriously suboptimal consequences might be worth supporting

b) yes, I know a fair bit about Linebacker I and II. Anyone who believes they “reduced Hanoi to rubble” is seriously misinformed.

49

John Quiggin 01.26.12 at 8:37 pm

Just after Gaddafi fled Tripoli (but before Sirte) I blogged about another aspect of “was it worth it” that it seems an economist would worry about

http://johnquiggin.com/2011/09/14/the-just-fight-not-fought/

50

Stephen 01.26.12 at 8:45 pm

flyingrodent (30) – I don’t remember a single journo asking “Hey Dave, what are you doing to prevent our new allies terrorizing black civilians because of the colour of their skin?”

Quite right: not one single one did.

Not certain, myself, what he could have done. If you had been UK PM, what would you have done?

Possibly relevant but of course not exculpatory factor: the rather messy Italian suppression of Libya, 1920s-30s, was largely done with the help of black African troops recruited in Eritrea and Somaliland. Response of Libyans a few generations later to being suppressed by black African mercenaries, or believing themselves to be so, unlikely to live up to enlightened liberal standards.

Pity, for all concerned.

51

flyingrodent 01.26.12 at 8:49 pm

Thanks Chris – that’s actually the report I was thinking of. I think that violates the resolution but frankly, it’s a minor issue and I’ll happily retract this if someone proves otherwise. There’s more than enough alarming stuff elsewhere to be going on with.

52

Stephen 01.26.12 at 8:58 pm

TheF79 (34) “I imagine pro-intervention French bloggers [in 1781] would be citing the potential massacre of American Revolutionaries and the cause of freedom.”

Wouldn’t bet on that. Cause of freedom, ancien regime, supported by some French writers but maybe most pro-intervention French citing cause of damaging, as far as possible, l’Albion perfide.

Hence dilemma of many English at the time: dubious or more than dubious about American war, but when that morphs into war against absolute monarchy …

53

heckblazer 01.26.12 at 9:17 pm

js @ 26: ” But how the hell do you get from there to support for an all-out campaign to overthrow Gaddhafi? It just doesn’t follow.”

It does follow if you decide that there is no way to reach a good-faith settlement between the rebels and Qaddaffi. If you come to believe that, you have to pick a side, otherwise you’re just prolonging a bloody stalemate.

54

Stephen 01.26.12 at 9:31 pm

John Quiggin (49)

Wise words. When you wrote “In most respects, the outcome of the revolution in Libya have been as good as could reasonably be expected” who could disagree? Likewise “While the fighting has been bloody, it has probably cost less lives than if Gaddafi had been allowed to carry out his threats to hunt down his opponents, ‘alley by alley’.”
Also “While there is no guarantee that Gaddafi’s departure will be followed by the emergence of a democratic, or even stable government, success or failure will be primarily up to Libyans themselves. “

But, but: when you go on to write ” The $1 billion the US spent on the Libyan war is a derisory sum. But it is the same amount that the US gave last year to global efforts to fight malaria and TB, largely preventable diseases that kill millions of people every year and disable tens of millions more” your heart may be in the right place, but your mind seems (to me at least) out of alignment with the nature of that cold monster, the state.

Fighting wars against real external enemies is what states do and have always done and always must do, if they have to. Fighting wars against imaginary external enemies is what deluded states do, but diagnosing imagination of enemies is tricky without hindsight (infallible but unusable). Fighting wars against real internal enemies is a sign of a state in deep trouble, but sometimes (US, 1861; Ireland, 1922) unavoidable. Fighting imaginary internal enemies, no.

Ensuring public health at home is what enlightened states have being trying to do for some time, often successfully. Trying to do so for far distant peoples who were not able to help themselves has been one of the better aspects of imperialism, is desirable as an aspect of post-imperialism, but to expect any State to give it high priority …

55

John Quiggin 01.26.12 at 9:57 pm

“your heart may be in the right place, but your mind seems (to me at least) out of alignment with the nature of that cold monster, the state.”

I think this is right, except that I would interchange “heart” and “mind”

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Stephen 01.26.12 at 10:07 pm

John Quiggin (55)

When I wrote “your mind seems out of alignment with the nature of that cold monster, the state” I meant you seemed not to understand its necessarily cold and monstrous nature. That both your mind and heart lack sympathy with it is understandable. But would you consider a reasonably liberal (but still cold, etc) state as the least bad of all possible worlds?

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james 01.26.12 at 10:30 pm

Often the choice is between a Genocide or a Civil War. Once people start killing others in large numbers there never really is a right answer.

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John Quiggin 01.26.12 at 10:36 pm

@Stephen, not really. I see the warmaking propensities of states as atavistic hangovers, rather than an inherent characteristic. The alternative view of the state, sardonically imputed to Australians back in the 1920s, as ‘a vast public utility’ has no room for the waste of blood and treasure implied by wars for national greatness.

The particularly bellicose nature of the US reflects, among other things, the fact that the pre-modern (or maybe pre-postmodern) component of society is much stronger there, as evidenced, for example, by the current Republican primary campaign.

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Bob_a 01.26.12 at 10:50 pm

Chris (46) Your reference speaks to coordination and training/guidance personnel. Aside from Qataris, no numbers to suggest “boots on the ground”.

Do you have any real info on the topic?

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js. 01.26.12 at 10:52 pm

It does follow if you decide that there is no way to reach a good-faith settlement between the rebels and Qaddaffi. If you come to believe that, you have to pick a side, otherwise you’re just prolonging a bloody stalemate.

No, not in the relevant sense of “pick a side”. If you intervene in a civil war-like situation with the aim of preventing human rights abuses, you prevent those abuses, wherever they occur and whoever’s committing them. This is not what NATO did, nor is it what it ever seemed interested in doing.

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derrida derider 01.26.12 at 10:59 pm

“Often the choice is between a Genocide or a Civil War” – james
True, but as it happens this was not the choice NATO faced. The civil war had already started, and there was no threat of true genocide (unless you take the rebels’ racism against blacks as genocide).

The real point here is that NATO pretended that its aim was only to prevent genocide and got a mandate from the UN on that basis. It further pretended that the rebels were nice democrats with overwhelming popular support, rather than a large tribal faction.

It then grossly exceeded that UN mandate when it became clear that, for better or worse, Gaddafi had a large minority (at least) of popular support and consequently the favoured faction began to lose. We should not be surprised that the eventual NATO-created victory of that faction leaves the new government a real legitmacy problem and that that government appears to be a nasty piece of work anyway.

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piglet 01.26.12 at 11:02 pm

After the “successful” Kosovo intervention, massacres and heavy ethnic cleansing followed, with NATO soldiers standing by. It didn’t matter, of course. Nobody cared shit.

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james 01.26.12 at 11:45 pm

piglet @62:

I was under the impression that the massacres and heavy ethnic cleansing occured when United Nation peace keepers where the troops on the ground.

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Gene O'Grady 01.27.12 at 12:49 am

I hesitate to disagree with John Quiggin, but my sense is that the pre-modern tradition in the US was largely hostile to a large military establishment. But then Calvin Coolidge would be out of place in today’s Republican party for other reasons than his desire to increase teacher pay.

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Peter T 01.27.12 at 2:12 am

I’ve been on the edges of government debates about intervention. They are incredibly difficult, because so much hinges on unknowns, primarily about how the different people on the other sides feel and will respond. Each case is different – anyone who turns one or even several successes or failures into a rule is simply silly. And gauging what people will resist violently, and how far, requires a deep understanding of the personalities, cultures, institutions etc. So I am not sympathetic to second-guessing after the fact if there was some reasonable attempt to weigh all the angles (this leaves one free to condemn GW Bush on Iraq, as reason and knowledge do not seem to have been factors at all).

In this case, Libya was run by the Sirte Mob, headed by Ghaddafi and family. The Benghazi Mob, sensing weakness, revolted. Lots of others joined in. But the Sirte Mob held its nerve, mustered its considerable assets, and struck back. Ghaddafi’s rhetoric, together with the actions of similar regimes in similar circumstances, suggested that vengeance would be thorough and indiscriminate (examples include Assad’s treatment of Hama in 1982 or Saddam’s of the Kurds and Shia after the first Gulf War). What to do?

I think humanitarian considerations played some part. So did the prospect of disruptions to the oil market (either by war, or by sanctions). So did the prospect of a flood of refugees, and of hosting/controlling a group bent on ousting Ghaddafi. Plus that intervention looked militarily feasible, and at moderate cost. Arab opinion was broadly sympathetic to intervention. Would the successor regime be better? Probably not, but there was a chance it would. It’s a fine call.

Once the decision was made, the rhetoric is in the hands of the spin doctors (that’s what they are for). Of course the humanitarian aspect was played up. As for judging was it worth it – clearly the Benghazi Mob and assorted others thought the chance worth taking. Was it worth letting them and various innocent bystanders pay the price? I genuinely do not know.

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Omega Centauri 01.27.12 at 2:24 am

It sure looked to me, at the time the decision was made, that Qaddafi was going to “go Roman” on those places that rebelled.Remember medical personell who had the effrontery to treat injured people, were being brutally killed. Once the decision was made to stop the advance on BenGhazi, was there any sort of exit strategy other than victory for the rebels, which wouldn’t result in mass reprisals? Often decisions have to be made quickly, and with very incomplete information. Sometimes the early decisions commit one to a future path.

There was some dicussion of concern about the treatment of black people found in Libya. I remember at least for the press cameras, the rebels were making the right sounds about humane treatment and rule of law.

Mainly I follow Juan Cole, and Al Jazeera. Neither of these would be considered to be pro-colonial sites. Yet both were strongly in favor of the intervention. The fact that most interventions are not done for the proper reasons, and don’t have good results, does not prove that all are bad. There is no substitute for careful case by case analysis. I’d give the reasons for the intervention as 65% avoidance of destabiling refuge flows, 15% desire to get rid of that pest Qaddafi, and 20% humanitarian.

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dsquared 01.27.12 at 6:37 am

They are incredibly difficult, because so much hinges on unknowns, primarily about how the different people on the other sides feel and will respond. Each case is different – anyone who turns one or even several successes or failures into a rule is simply silly

Each case is not that different you know. After several experiments, we have enough of an idea of how people “feel and respond” to foreign bombing and civil wars to be able to make generalisations. And as JQ regularly points out, the historical record is not really “several successes or failures”; more or less every single war, with the possible exception of the Second World War and the American Civil War, has been a bd idea that shouldn’t have been started.

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Peter T 01.27.12 at 8:11 am

d2

Do we? A lot of people in Misrata and Sarajevo were pleading for foreign bombing. I reckon Palestinians would welcome some Iranian bombs on their side. “Foreign” and “civil war” are not cut and dried categories – as Eric Hobsbawm observed, identities are not like hats – you can wear several at once. Parties to the conflict try to categorise things to suit their agendas.

Who’s the “we”? I agree that wars are almost always a bad idea, and one should not start them. But once someone does start one, (as, say, the Germans started World War I) you don’t get a full range of choices. Often, all you can do is weigh largely imponderable odds, and then wrestle the best result you can.

And, BTW, while war is almost always a bad idea for someone, it can pay off handsomely for others. Anyone of European descent in, say, the US or Australia is certainly much better off then they would have been if their ancestors had not winners in the various wars that acquired these places. It does not become us to enjoy the fruits while dismissing the way they were gained.

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dsquared 01.27.12 at 8:14 am

I reckon Palestinians would welcome some Iranian bombs on their side

The fact that some Palestinians would welcome something does not make it ipso facto a good idea.

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Asteele 01.27.12 at 8:51 am

I enjoy the idea that it is unbecoming to dismiss the historical processess from which I’ve unjustly gained, this explains my support for chattel slavery and the prevention of women from owning property.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 9:22 am

I agree that wars are almost always a bad idea, and one should not start them. But once someone does start one, (as, say, the Germans started World War I) you don’t get a full range of choices.

I think it’s a mistake to lump ‘war’ and ‘civil war’ together. Civil war is an internal matter, internal power struggle, and once you intervene (militarily) from the outside, you become the one who started a war. An international criminal.

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JMH 01.27.12 at 9:52 am

Hey,

I think it was ‘worth it’. Recall that the ‘it’ in question was few lost lives (Western, since we talk about ‘worth it’ from a western government perspective), and relatively little treasure. Yes, many Libyan lives were lost – but since the rebellion was ongoing, there would’ve been a slaughter in Misrata if we hadn’t intervened. It turned out that meant there was a slaughter in Sirte, but there was a chance, even a decent one, that there would not have been. Saving lives now – when we saved Misrata – was worth some risk of costing lives later, which unfortunately is what happened.

Is what’s going on now bad? Sure. But probably no worse than the ongoing (though more secret/ignored due to it being ‘business as usual’) excesses of the Gaddafi regime. Even though the NTC doesn’t seem to be working out quite as we’d hoped, it was probably ‘worth’ a punt on a better outcome.

Do we have an obligation to do more? Absolutely. But (as we see in Iraq) enforcing policy through ‘boots on the ground’ doesn’t always give the results you want, and may be counter-productive in the Libya environment. Besides, if the thesis is ‘we shouldn’t have taken military action against Gaddafi but rather used more peaceful levers against his regime’, then surely those same levers will be no less effective on the NTC (even ignoring the fact it ‘owes us one’ now).

I… hesitate to mention this in this environment, but this intervention should secure the Libyan oil industry. Other, better run African countries will be able to ship their oil through Libya, making profits that can improve the welfare of their people. The welfare of poor people in western countries may be improved – it seems like oil prices are a brake on at least the present economy of the USA. Security of supply in Africa will also free our hands somewhat with Iran (in this company, let’s say that nuclear weapons are welfare-retarding whoever has them and leave it at that), and allow us to stand back and let Saudi Arabia follow natural course towards democracy.

Yours,

JMH

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ajay 01.27.12 at 9:56 am

Civil war is an internal matter, internal power struggle, and once you intervene (militarily) from the outside, you become the one who started a war. An international criminal.

I have to say that I enjoy the sheer loopiness of a worldview that would put George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway in the dock at Nuremberg.

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ajay 01.27.12 at 9:57 am

And as JQ regularly points out, the historical record is not really “several successes or failures”; more or less every single war, with the possible exception of the Second World War and the American Civil War, has been a bd idea that shouldn’t have been started.

Why those exceptions? The American Civil War was an incredibly bad idea for the side that started it. So was the Second World War.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 10:23 am

@73, absolutely not. I see no problem whatsoever with foreign individuals taking sides and engaging in civil war hostilities. In fact, this is exactly what they should do, those who have strong feeling about foreign tyrants and so on.

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flyingrodent 01.27.12 at 10:30 am

You really can predict these campaigns down to the last detail, can’t you?

The terrible humanitarian crisis pitched as the absolute worst it can potentially get – a brutal civil war isn’t merely a brutal civil war, it’s imminent genocide. A castrated and criminal regime isn’t just a castrated and criminal regime – it’s a dire threat to the world. Immediate action is required; whatever hyper-violent and highly dubious actions we take cannot possibly be worse than keeping our noses out and if you disagree, you are indifferent to/cheerleading for actual mass murder like a Nazi.

Jump to one year later.

Well, of course mistakes were made. Wars are terrible things. Yes, there’s now a lot of violence/torture/executions/racially-motivated terrorisation and mass exile etc. going on, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs and anyway, do you want to see This Year’s Hitler back in power?

Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. It looks more like a pattern than a coincidence, doesn’t it?

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Peter T 01.27.12 at 10:36 am

@69 – I did not say it was a good idea, just that foreign intervention is not ipso facto always unwelcome

@70 – sitting on a pile of stolen gold proclaiming that theft is not only a bad idea but always unprofitable is unbecoming – and unconvincing to those who want some back.

HV – what’s internal is often the matter under dispute. Was the Irish War of Independence a British civil war? – yes to one side, no to the other. Ditto Bosnia. Does common allegiance to Catholicism or Protestantism or Islam trump allegiance to this ruler or that state, or vice versa? What are one side’s interfering foreigners are another side’s welcome allies in the glorious cause. States and nations don’t just happen – they are made, and can be unmade.

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flyingrodent 01.27.12 at 10:39 am

BTW, the sole reason that this is in the public eye is because Medicins Sans Frontiers decided that the new regime’s torture programme was so obnoxious and blatant that they couldn’t continue to operate alongside it. If they’d decided to bite their tongues for now, there would still be total silence on the subject and the general public would be none the wiser.

And yet if you were watching closely, you’d have known exactly what the new government was doing to civilians and captured enemy fighters ten months ago. None of this is new or shocking. Every single one of the war’s public advocates has known this was going on throughout, and I haven’t seen a single one tackle it head-on. We won! Just rejoice in that.

Really, I recommend bearing this year-long silence/you-can’t-make-an-omelette-without-torturing-some-prisoners act in mind, the next time these jokers tell us about intolerable human rights enormity (x) that cannot be allowed to pass without a massive aerial assault on country (y). It’s at least the third time we’ve done it this decade, so it’s a good guide to how future wars will go.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 10:48 am

Peter T, nation-state is a commonly accepted concept (these days) to determine what’s internal and what’s not. Separatism is an internal matter, until a new state, with (at a minimum) a government that controls the territory, is formed.

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Asteele 01.27.12 at 11:04 am

I also like the idea that the “business as usual of the gadaffi regime”, is the equivalent of the ethnic cleansing of the black population, oh wait he didn’t do that, but maybe he did something jet as bad, in Peoples fantasies.

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Peter T 01.27.12 at 11:20 am

“nation-state is a commonly accepted concept (these days) to determine what’s internal and what’s not.”

Accepted by whom? Not the parties, obviously. Or is HV arguing that if the Benghazi Mob had proclaimed The People’s Republic of Cyrenaica then intervention would have been alright?

To clarify – I’m saying that whether or not intervention can be justified, the outcome will be uncertain and risky either way. Which is a good reason for being very, very cautious. We rightly deplore the actions of the TNC. We could equally rightly be deploring the Massacre of Benghazi and the misery and squalor of the refugee camps in Tunisia and Egypt.

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Guido Nius 01.27.12 at 12:28 pm

When you have a specific form of tyranny (Khadaffi, Kim Jong x, …) it invariably ends in chaos. Whether intervention is good or bad (and it is mostly bad), cannot be measure by how bad things are after the tyranny has collapsed. In the case of Libya the civil war was already ongoing (which is a marked difference with Iraq) before any real intervention so the current miseries can certainly not be put entirely on the airborne intervention.

I think we’ll all agree that there should be a way of ending tyrannies swiftly and most will agree that if Myanmar keeps going where it seems to be going that that is desirable to the way Libya went and Syria is going. But the key difference is that some countries (in the words of Rawls) have some aspects of decency and have some openness to the world constraining the actions whilst others have absolutely none. It is in these latter countries that I don’t think one can pre-emptively say military intervention is going to make things worse. In fact, the full absence of threat of intervention in the case of N. Korea seems to put the people there in a situation which is certainly not better than the one in Libya.

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JMH 01.27.12 at 1:00 pm

@76, flyingrodent: To me, there is a substantial difference between Iraq/Afghanistan and Libya. The opportunity cost of Iraq was huge. Those resources (money, basically) could’ve been committed somewhere else, to curing AIDS in Africa, say. [Awful + effort = good], or at least it ought to if you’re deploying your resources correctly. [Awful + (not trying very hard) = Awful (slightly less?)], isn’t the result we hoped for, but it isn’t some great disaster either.

It’s valid – and useful! – to ask if some other low-effort strategy could’ve resulted in something better than awful, but the case [Awful + no intervention = Awful] isn’t very different than the one that occurred.

Yours,

JMH

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chris 01.27.12 at 1:12 pm

Civil war is an internal matter, internal power struggle, and once you intervene (militarily) from the outside, you become the one who started a war. An international criminal.

I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re saying here, or maybe I just don’t believe my eyes. The French are international criminals for “starting” the American Revolution?

85

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 1:22 pm

American revolutionary war wasn’t a civil war, it was a colonial war. More importantly, it was a log time ago. The modern world order in this respect originates after WWII, and from WWII. You don’t invade foreign countries, period. That’s your rule number 1. Pretty much everything else is debatable.

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Marc 01.27.12 at 1:27 pm

@84: The anti-intervention team in this discussion seems to be operating purely out of first principles, ignoring any real-world considerations. There were two plausible outcomes of refusing to intervene: many people would have been massacred by the dictator, or the rebels would have won an even bloodier and longer civil war. I suppose there is some fantasy realm where there would have been fewer reprisals than there were with the intervention…but on what, precisely, is that wishful thinking based? People were also getting tortured in Libya before intervention – again, the cost of the continued dictatorship to the people there is not allowed to count.

It’s a comforting game to play make-believe, where any military force is always bad, any intervention evil. It’s also intellectually bankrupt. Many of the fears of the intervention opponents turned out to be unfounded (for example, about a western ground presence.) Intervention opponents here continue to evade the reality of choices – for example, that there are political situations where all options involve people getting killed, and your choice is how many and which ones.

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Marc 01.27.12 at 1:28 pm

@85: I presume that you would then refuse to intervene against the Khmer Rouge and the Rwandan massacres?

88

tomslee 01.27.12 at 1:37 pm

Marc: I presume that you would then refuse to intervene against the Khmer Rouge and the Rwandan massacres?

Part of the problem with the whole Responsibility to Protect initiative is this idea that “we” can intervene. So let’s put that to one side and admit that Henri Vieuxtemps would not intervene against the Khmer Rouge and the Rwanda massacres, and neither would you and neither would I.

The question is whether we approve of our various national governments intervening, and whether we trust them to do so. In the case of the Khmer Rouge, of course, the US government created the conditions for their existence so the idea of them “intervening” is odd to say the least. Personally I lean towards the non-intervention side: I see no way to encourage western governments to intervene in Rwanda that does not also lead to more Iraqs.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 1:48 pm

Perhaps the fact that no state did intervene militarily in the Rwandan massacres should tell you something: namely, that states don’t invade other states for humanitarian reasons. And when you say ‘you refuse’, who am I in this sentence? A US president? Bill Clinton did refuse, and he was a savvy politician. And this means that if I were savvy enough to be in his place, then yes, I would’ve refused too.

90

Christian G. 01.27.12 at 2:22 pm

JMH in 72:
Yes, many Libyan lives were lost – but since the rebellion was ongoing, there would’ve been a slaughter in Misrata if we hadn’t intervened.

That certainly wasn’t the argument at the time. It was about Benghazi.

For the record, confirmed Misrata fatalities were reported by Human Rights Watch in April as 257, after more than a month of fighting. Misrata has a population of over 300,000.

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understudy 01.27.12 at 2:28 pm

“Sources say the number of men sent from D Squadron of 22 SAS Regiment was capped at 24. They were performing their mission by late August. “

By that definition of “ground troops” the US was engaged in a war with Soviet and Chinese “ground forces” in both the Korea war and Vietnam conflict … and you can probably count NATO in Serbia too, depending on who you believe was running some of Serbia’s air defense systems.

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joe from Lowell 01.27.12 at 2:29 pm

1. You don’t really provide any evidence or even argument at all to support the claim that “events” demonstrate that the revolution and the successor government aren’t seen as legitimate. The existence of squabbling among factions, the human rights abuses, and even the inability of the central government to resolve them (on your timeline) doesn’t demonstrate a broad vision that the government lacks legitimacy. It certainly doesn’t demonstrate that such a position is “increasing.” And it most certainly doesn’t demonstrate that the squabbling militias and/or rights abuses think that the NATO intervention caused the government to lack legitimacy.

2. Noting that there are human rights abuses is not the same thing as demonstrating that they are equivalent to those Gadhaffi carried out, or those he planned to carry out. The human rights situation in Libya would have to become quite a bit worse indeed to even begin to approach the level of what was expected in Benghazi.

3. Gadhaffi loyalists should make a comeback and be involved in Libyan politics, for both practical and principled reasons. In a democratic society, the views of every faction need to have a voice in the political process. Look at what happened in Iraq when the Baath Party, the most legitimate voice of most Sunni Arabs, was banned from the political process.

2.

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joe from Lowell 01.27.12 at 2:35 pm

Perhaps the fact that no state did intervene militarily in the Rwandan massacres should tell you something: namely, that states don’t invade other states for humanitarian reasons.

So the theory here is that all states, in all times, in all places, regardless of their leaderships, act exactly the same?

All men are John, eh?

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joe from Lowell 01.27.12 at 2:39 pm

Do these arguments against NATO protecting civilians and helping the rebels overthrow their country’s dictator and attempt to produce a democratic society – it might not work, people get killed in war, there have been some bad outcomes – also make it wrong for the rebels themselves to have attempted to overthrow their dictator and produce a democratic society?

Was it wrong for them to try to overthrow a tyrant and produce a democracy, because there are no guarantees in life?

95

tomslee 01.27.12 at 3:10 pm

@joe: Anti-interventionists do not accept that NATO is sincere about “protecting civilians and helping the rebels overthrow their country’s dictator and attempt to produce a democratic society.”

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Bruce Baugh 01.27.12 at 3:18 pm

Marc: The anti-intervention team in this discussion seems to be operating purely out of first principles, ignoring any real-world considerations. The anti-intervention side isn’t the one left defending a series of claims proven bogus, tyrannies replaced by other tyrannies + chaotic muddles, and other harm done, and saying, “But wait, next time it’ll work out!”

I could probably be persuaded to approve of an intervention that started out with enforceable, enforced measures in place to deal with the problems that keep coming up, just as I approve of parole for released felons and such. But since the offenders are the wardens, it seems very unlikely that there’ll be such constraints any time soon, and therefore no chance of my saying “Yes, this time it looks like it’ll work out.”

It occurs to me that I feel similarly about pro-intervention/invasion and anti-abortion crusades these days. Both want me to support their making a maximal effort of a specific sort, and then their going away to other things.

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Kaveh 01.27.12 at 3:23 pm

Does the fact that Amnesty International and MSF harshly criticize the NTC for abuses of detainees now mean the NTC is just as bad as Qaddafi was? Or that Qaddafi wouldn’t have done worse things had he taken back the east? I don’t see how you can say that. It matters on what scale these abuses occur.

@86 The anti-intervention team in this discussion seems to be operating purely out of first principles, ignoring any real-world considerations.

Arguing strictly from first principles means you don’t have to learn funny furriner names.

The mob of straw men in here is a fire hazard. flying rodent @76 and Asteele @80 I’m looking at you. The NTC “ethnically cleansed” the “black population” from Libya? Qaddafi was being compared to Hitler? I specifically don’t remember anyone calling him an Islamofascist, or anything similar. The Libyan rebels were violent and committed war crimes in some cases, including racist reprisals against innocent Sub-Saharan African migrant workers, or people from southern Libya–probably a lot of victims, all told, when you include the detainees. I don’t see anybody denying this. But I don’t see how anyone can dismiss as mere fantasy the abuses that the Qaddafi government was accused of, or fears of what they would do if they took back more of the country.

Here’s one Amnesty International report, from Sept. 13 2011:

During the conflict, the organization found evidence that forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi committed violations of IHL, in some cases amounting to war crimes. They launched indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians. Al-Gaddafi’s security forces also committed gross violations of human rights, including the deliberate killing of scores of unarmed demonstrators, a widespread campaign of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, and torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. To the extent that these violations have been committed as part of a systematic or widespread attack against the civilian population, in pursuit of official policy, they constitute crimes against humanity.

Members and supporters of the opposition also committed human rights abuses and violations of IHL, albeit on a smaller scale, including violent attacks against perceived supporters of al-Gaddafi and suspected “mercenaries”.

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Kaveh 01.27.12 at 3:25 pm

(that last para. is also from the AI report, still figuring out the block quote formatting here…)

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christian_h 01.27.12 at 3:43 pm

If your argument is down to “we can’t be sure it wouldn’t have been worse otherwise”, you’d be wise to bow out gracefully, I’d say.

As for the Khmer Rouge: the US did intervene Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge’s overthrow. On the side of the Khmer Rouge.

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dsquared 01.27.12 at 4:17 pm

Perhaps the fact that no state did intervene militarily in the Rwandan massacres should tell you something: namely, that states don’t invade other states for humanitarian reasons

Perhaps the fact that France did (Operation Turquoise; there was also an armed multilateral mission on the ground, UNAMIR), should tell you something. And indeed, the fact that Operation Turquoise turned out to be a badly planned, politically motivated and for the most part horribly counterproductive exercise (ie, completely typical of humanitarian operations) is also potentially quite informative.

I wrote a post entitled “Alice in Rwandaland” a while ago, specifically on this amazing tendency to rewrite history to erase the actual operations and retell Rwanda as a story where the world did nothing. I’ve never understood why.

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Satan Mayo 01.27.12 at 4:25 pm

I wrote a post entitled “Alice in Rwandaland” a while ago, specifically on this amazing tendency to rewrite history to erase the actual operations and retell Rwanda as a story where the world did nothing. I’ve never understood why.

Surely you understand why. People want to say “This could have been prevented if the world had done something”.

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MPAVictoria 01.27.12 at 4:40 pm

Henri at what point does a rebel faction within a country start to count as a seperate state?

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Kaveh 01.27.12 at 4:49 pm

@96 If your argument is down to “we can’t be sure it wouldn’t have been worse otherwise”, you’d be wise to bow out gracefully, I’d say.

Whose argument is that supposed to be?

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piglet 01.27.12 at 5:10 pm

james 63: You may be right. NATO bombed and then they let the UN watch over the ethnic cleansing. I thought it was obvious, with respect to NATO and Kosovo, that the principle “you broke it – you own it” applied. But public opinion in NATO countries didn’t give a hoot about how many people died or were displaced after the “liberation” of Kosovo. If anybody had any illusion in that respect, they should have been cured of them long ago.

MPAVictoria: “at what point does a rebel faction within a country start to count as a separate state?”
I think the strict answer is “when the UN (i. e. the security council) recognize them as a separate state”. The practical answer nowadays however is “when Western powers decide to recognize”. Kosovo has never been formally recognized but in practice, as soon as UCK had the sympathy of the Western media and political establishment, it was treated as if it was representing a separate state.

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MPAVictoria 01.27.12 at 5:12 pm

“Whose argument is that supposed to be?”

Mr. Straw T. Man I believe…

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subdoxastic 01.27.12 at 5:56 pm

Ask Lt.Gen Charles Bouchard.

On 25 March 2011, Bouchard was named Commander of the NATO military mission in Libya. For his actions he received the Meritorious Service Cross, an award presented “to recognize highly professional acts that are of considerable benefit to the Canadian Forces….”

He got it November 21st at a ceremony in Ottawa.

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js. 01.27.12 at 6:28 pm

But I don’t see how anyone can dismiss as mere fantasy the abuses that the Qaddafi government was accused of, or fears of what they would do if they took back more of the country.

And no one is dismissing this either. The question is whether this justifies the, you know, “actually existing intervention”, rather than some fantasy awesome intervention that was a good-faith effort to prevent human rights abuses. And I’m not exactly sure who’s “ignoring real world considerations”, but as one with a “funny furriner name”, I can assure you that being on the receiving end of Western interventions, “humanitarian” or not, does not tend to make you a fan.

108

geo 01.27.12 at 6:31 pm

ajay @74 and chris @84 ridicule the idea that external intervention in a civil war is a crime, citing the American Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. But it’s only been a crime since the law against external military intervention was codified in the UN Charter. The Charter was and remains a potential watershed in human affairs. After the worst catastrophe in history, the human race sobered up for a moment and reflected together on how to prevent such catastrophes in future. Part of the answer they came up with was to bar unilateral military intervention. It was entirely obvious that great powers often could and would stir up political opposition in other nations, arm that opposition, and then intervene in support, whereupon other great powers might intervene in response, leading to war on a large scale. Instead, those seeking armed aid from outside against genocidal or other horrendous oppression would have to convince the international community, ie the Security Council, to intervene.

Of course this solution would (will) only work to the extent that the Security Council plausibly represents the international community, and can enforce its judgments even on the great powers. In other words, this solution depends on the good will and cooperation of the great powers. Since 1945 the great powers, particularly the US, have consistently subverted or disregarded the workings of the UN Charter. No one can make them, except the citizens of the great powers, ie, us. That’s an immense job: it means, in effect, creating a genuinely democratic polity, which has never yet existed in a great power. But if we don’t, the result will be just what the nations foresaw after World War II: a return to international anarchy, culminating sooner or later in a military cataclysm, vastly more destructive than WWII.

Think about it ajay, chris, marc, and other anti-anti-interventionists.

109

geo 01.27.12 at 6:33 pm

Sorry, that sentence should read: “No one can make them do otherwise, except … “

110

Kenny Easwaran 01.27.12 at 6:37 pm

Several people seem to be saying that the motives for intervention in Libya were something other than humanitarian. (See the discussion between 91 and 92, where tomslee says that anti-interventionists think NATO was not sincere about wanting to protect civilians and help set up a democratic society.) But does anyone have any claims about what the motive was otherwise? If it was colonialism or imperialism, then surely NATO would be trying to assert some sort of authority over Libya now. Is the allegation that NATO motives were entirely internal and irrelevant to conditions in Libya? Or that there is some deeper, sinister motivation that just can’t be spoken in public? Because no one seems to have said what this motivation is, if not humanitarian.

111

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.27.12 at 7:30 pm

Henri at what point does a rebel faction within a country start to count as a seperate state?

A rebel faction doesn’t start counting as a separate state. It may take over, or get defeated.
I was talking about separatist movements. This is just my intuition, but it seems to me that once a separatist province has managed to build basic state institutions, for all intents and purposes it becomes a state. And the most basic state institution is a government that controls its territory. But I don’t insist on this being the definition or anything. Just common sense.

112

JMH 01.27.12 at 7:32 pm

@92 – christian_h, I derped and confused Benghazi with Mizrata. My bad, but I think the point still stands. JMH

113

js. 01.27.12 at 7:53 pm

KE @107:

The point isn’t about “motives” per se. See flyingrodent @30 for (what I think is) a good explanation of the point.

114

novakant 01.27.12 at 8:14 pm

“We” have killed several hundred thousand people in Iraq and “we” are still killing innocent and not-so-innocent people after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Yet “we” continue to believe in our unquestionable moral authority to judge the rest of the world and to kill more people whenever we see fit – as long as they are brown and live in far away countries. “We” should shut up and do some serious soul-searching.

115

bobbyp 01.27.12 at 8:34 pm

Henri at what point does a rebel faction within a country start to count as a seperate state?

Passage of the first zoning regulation.

116

tomslee 01.27.12 at 9:22 pm

Kenny Easwaran: But does anyone have any claims about what the motive was otherwise? If it was colonialism or imperialism, then surely NATO would be trying to assert some sort of authority over Libya now. Is the allegation that NATO motives were entirely internal and irrelevant to conditions in Libya?

The conditions in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa were relevant, for sure. But my guess as to motives: a pinch of taking the opportunity to get rid of a long-time irritant, a teaspoon of getting on the right side of North African history, and a shake of making sure oil is owned by our friends?

The fact that NATO took the Arab League’s call for civilian protection and immediately escalated it to regime overthrow does suggest a prior agenda that could suddenly be put into action.

117

Bruce Baugh 01.27.12 at 9:40 pm

Kenny: Basic politics. A desire for a reasonable, moral-free balance of interests, including not too much chaos, not too little ability for prominent associates to do business, and so on. No grand vision needed, and often none wanted.

118

Peter K. 01.27.12 at 10:10 pm

I’d be nervous if I was Assad in Syria. Saddam Hussein: gone. Mubarak: gone. Gadaffi: gone.

He should negotiate a way out but looks like he’ll go down fighting. Egypt is pushing back against Western imperialism but so what, they’re broke. Moderate Muslims are doing well in their new democratic politics and hopefully they’ll be more like Turkey.

119

Watson Ladd 01.27.12 at 10:23 pm

geo, can you imagine the world standing idly by as genocide happens? Well, it did: From 1933 until 1940 no one did anything to assist Jews in fleeing from Germany. I would far rather that we err in killing dictators that we accidentally let them rule. Having returned Libya to the Libyans, we are not responsible for what they do to it. What gives us the right? Quite simply, that the freedoms we enjoy are the natural entitlement of all mankind.

120

bobbyp 01.27.12 at 10:55 pm

Kenny: Basic politics. A desire for a reasonable, moral-free balance of interests, including not too much chaos, not too little ability for prominent associates to do business, and so on. No grand vision needed, and often none wanted.

So then Britain and France would have had justifiable grounds for military intervention for our genocide against Native American peoples throughout the 19th century? Would justice have been served if they had blockaded our ports during the era of segregation?Or are these examples of the “unrealistic” exemption, and therefore not applicable?

I grant, it is not an easy choice. However, I am appalled at the easy glibness exhibited by many interventionists. I also recall George Bush employed similar logic wrt Iraq.

121

bobbyp 01.27.12 at 11:01 pm

Egypt is pushing back against Western imperialism but so what, they’re broke.

So, pushing back against imperialism is not a good thing? It’s a good thing the people of Egypt are broke?

Is that what you really mean here? Could you clarify, please?

122

Chris Bertram 01.27.12 at 11:13 pm

Watson, please stop talking crap:

_Well, it did: From 1933 until 1940 no one did anything to assist Jews in fleeing from Germany._

Just for example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindertransport

123

Chris Bertram 01.27.12 at 11:16 pm

To which I could add that the Nazi genocide hadn’t begun during the years you list (Wannsee conference is January 1942).

124

gordon 01.27.12 at 11:23 pm

Kenny (at 110), tomslee (at 116) and Bruce (at 117) maybe it was control of oil revenues via the central bank. That would be “Petrodollar Warfare”.

http://www.examiner.com/finance-examiner-in-national/american-policy-looks-to-take-down-iran-s-central-bank-as-they-did-libya

http://news.yahoo.com/us-seeking-close-down-iran-central-bank-205529742.html

125

Kaveh 01.27.12 at 11:41 pm

js @107, I don’t think there should have been any doubt from the rest of my comment that I’m talking about the actually existing intervention, and its actual consequences.

js @113, I’m in complete agreement with that.

My bigger point is that, for all of the tragedies happening in the aftermath of Qaddafi’s overthrow, it doesn’t follow that the NATO intervention in Libya was, on balance, a bad thing. I don’t think that’s the right approach to take in arguing about the larger picture, because it’s at odds with the facts about Libya, and leads to a discussion mainly in terms of US factions and first principles, ignoring the views and circumstances of the people who are mainly affected by these interventions. Even if the main point (discouraging further interventions) is basically right, this is a shaky and crooked (in the worst way) foundation to build on.

126

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 12:24 am

I think the main fact about Libya is that the ruling coalition there (call it ‘Qaddafi’ if you wish, but it probably had a base of a million+ people) got beat up and another one (whose base isn’t necessarily larger) took over. The hope is that the new one will be more pro western/less anti zionist, which may or may not turn out to be the case. If it does turn out to be the case, its base will probably shrink, and repression intensify.

127

christian_h 01.28.12 at 2:08 am

Kaveh (103.): Whose argument is that supposed to be?

That’s exactly the argument many intervention supporters here are making. The claim that you can’t judge an action from its actual consequences, but only from comparison to the imagined consequences of not taking that action is precisely what I described – unless you want to make the manifestly absurd claim that every policy short of war would with certainty have resulted in a worse (by whatever metric) outcome.

Those of us living in the real world have to consider real consequences. I repeat, if you are reduced to defending your support for war by comparing the real world to (and it is of some importance that those real consequences were predicted, and entirely predictable, at the time) some fantasy alternate history world, you’re in trouble.

128

chris 01.28.12 at 2:15 am

> The anti-intervention team in this discussion seems to be operating purely out of first principles, ignoring any real-world considerations.

The anti-intervention side isn’t the one left defending a series of claims proven bogus, tyrannies replaced by other tyrannies + chaotic muddles, and other harm done, and saying, “But wait, next time it’ll work out!”

So there’s two sides, the one that believes all interventions are bad, and the one that believes all interventions including Iraq are good?

False dichotomy? That’s all you got? Of course it’s easy to ridicule the pro-all-interventions side, just like it’s easy to ridicule pro-all-government liberal “statists”, for the same reason: they’re crude strawmen.

“Sometimes intervention is better than non-intervention” is not refuted by individual cases where intervention proved to be (a) imperfect, or even (b) worse than non-intervention. (b) does of course allow you to narrow the circumstances under which intervention might plausibly be claimed to be better.

Of course, since it isn’t a sweeping universal principle, you can always argue “sure, sometimes, but not this time”. And people who believe in intervening sometimes will engage you on the details and everything! Threads like this might come in handy in that sort of discussion. But only if you actually have a thread and don’t just say “it was an intervention, therefore it must have sucked”.

Sure, counterfactuals are hard, but you really can’t do consequentialism without them. And a term like “worth it” presumes a consequentialist frame.

129

tomslee 01.28.12 at 2:34 am

chris: I do have a problem with the argument that “Sometimes intervention is better than non-intervention” without specifying who is doing the intervening. The real-world question is not “should an intervention be undertaken”, but “should we support the governments of NATO, with their track records of past interventions, as they set about another one”?

130

Watson Ladd 01.28.12 at 3:11 am

Chris, the first acts of the Nazi genocide precede the Wannsee conference. What happened during the 1930’s was definitely aimed at expelling the Jews, and gave rise to the events in Lithuania and Latvia, which then became the model for the rest of the Reich. The dehumanization of German Jews was intensifying over this period and proved an important part of the actual killings: I think it’s reasonable (although you disagree) to consider the intensified persecution of German Jews from the 1933 election onwards as part of the Shoah because of this continuity. Certainly people were prosecuted at Nuremberg for crimes committed during these years.

Tomslee, why does it matter that it’s NATO doing the intervening? Dictators can never be legitimate rulers. The new Libyan government, unless it’s another dictatorship, will have the legitimation of deriving its authority ultimately from the consent of the governed. NATO can only achieve its goals through intervening to establish a democracy if those goals agree with the will of the people. If NATO was intervening to establish another dictatorship, that would be bad, but not because it’s NATO doing it.

131

bobbyp 01.28.12 at 3:40 am

The new Libyan government, unless it’s another dictatorship, will have the legitimation of deriving its authority ultimately from the consent of the governed.

1. “Unless it’s another dictatorship”? This strikes me as carte blanc to intervene whenever we (or others who were are not so enamored of) wish. Is that your rubric for judging international behavior?
2. “Ultimately”? What are your guidelines for determining absence of consent? Because YOU don’t like that particular government?

132

bobbyp 01.28.12 at 3:44 am

If NATO was intervening to establish another dictatorship, that would be bad, but not because it’s NATO doing it.

Pure. Goebbelstygook. I think a major rewrite is in order here.

133

Natilo Paennim 01.28.12 at 3:48 am

130 : Tomslee, why does it matter that it’s NATO doing the intervening? Dictators can never be legitimate rulers. The new Libyan government, unless it’s another dictatorship, will have the legitimation of deriving its authority ultimately from the consent of the governed.

“consent of the governed” is sure doing a lot of work here. More than a few US and NATO interventions have had the effect of putting a regime in power which has some of the trappings of democracy, but which in fact are effectively one-party states. If you’ve killed, tortured and imprisoned a big chunk of the natural opposition, you may legitimately win an election, but it’s a big of a stretch to call that democratic, or even consensually non-democratic.

If someone came over to your house and killed your dog, who’d been misbehaving, but then bought you a new dog who had a fancier pedigree, would you call that justice?

134

Natilo Paennim 01.28.12 at 3:51 am

119: I would far rather that we err in killing dictators [than] that we accidentally let them rule.

Can you please provide a list of the dictators whom the US/UK/NATO has “accidentally” let rule? Could you also provide a comparison of that list to the list of dictators that the US/UK/NATO has actively supported?

135

Natilo Paennim 01.28.12 at 3:58 am

110: If it was colonialism or imperialism, then surely NATO would be trying to assert some sort of authority over Libya now.

Apparently we have a time-traveler from the 19th century commenting now! I wonder if perhaps our illustrious time-traveler could avail himself of some histories of the last century or so, which could describe for him the ways in which imperialism has mutated since King Leopold owned the Congo. I daresay he might learn that the crude imposition of illegitimate authority is simply not the done thing anymore. Quite the contrary, ye shall know the neo-imperialists by their constant encomiums to “democracy” and “self-determination” which conceal the fact that institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and various other agents of imperial control are the ones who move in after the shooting has stopped in order to impose their will.

136

Peter T 01.28.12 at 4:07 am

Consequentialism only works if there are sufficient similarity between cases. Iraq is not Libya and neither is Afghanistan. Iran is vastly different again. None of these are Chad (where the French intervened), or Somalia, or Bosnia. There are too many variables. The policy-makers can’t say “it worked last time, so it should this” (or “it didn’t work last time, so it won’t this”). They have to operate in extreme uncertainty. I think they can reasonably be blamed when they do not take steps to minimise that uncertainty as far as possible, and blamed when they simplistically apply the lessons of the last time, and blamed when they don’t watch the situation closely and adjust quickly and with an open mind to developments. That leaves plenty of blame to go round, but it doesn’t make the job easier.

Watson – check out William Rubinstein’s The Myth of Rescue. By 1939. almost all those German Jews who would leave had – unfortunately in large part to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. You might also check Adam Tooze’s Wages of Death on the pressures exerted on Germany as Nazi policy towards Jews became clearer.

137

bobbyp 01.28.12 at 4:15 am

Natilo,

It’s “good for them”. Even the Romans claimed that to be the case. Some things never change.

138

Watson Ladd 01.28.12 at 4:18 am

bobbyp, do you think that actions should be judged independently from the identity of actors? If so, then dictatorships are bad wether imposed by NATO or anyone else. Of course it’s bloody obvious when a state has no written constitutions, no independent judiciary, and no elections.

Natilo, your dog analogy is off. A dictator is an illegitimate ruler, where legitimate means “consent of the governed”. One doesn’t have affection for a dictator, but fear, the kind of fear that people who live in households with abusers develop. Furthermore, NATO doesn’t impose a democratic regime but permits the country to develop one. The second half is an interesting question, but I’ll disagree: even if the original founding of the state involves disenfranchisement (think US circa 1865) that doesn’t reflect on the legitimacy of the state’s rule later. It certainly doesn’t seem to apply to the Libya situation or many civil wars.

Active support of dictators is a red herring: I’m against it. As for the neo-Imperialism argument capitalism is reconstituted on the periphery as well: it doesn’t take military force for Qaddafi to sell his oil on the market to the highest bidder.

139

Kaveh 01.28.12 at 5:24 am

christian_h @127 The claim that you can’t judge an action from its actual consequences, but only from comparison to the imagined consequences of not taking that action is precisely what I described

Isn’t it the most basic, obvious tautology that the way to evaluate any action is by comparing its outcome to other outcomes that likely would have followed from not taking it? It’s not fantasy to say that Qaddafi would likely have committed large-scale war crimes against the population, even if the rebellion lied or exaggerated about the extent of those he had already committed.

tomslee @129 The real-world question is not “should an intervention be undertaken”, but “should we support the governments of NATO, with their track records of past interventions, as they set about another one”?

It’s also important to ask who in NATO is promoting a given intervention, and what is their agenda? The invasion of Iraq and proposed wars against Iran are promoted almost entirely by neocons and others motivated by a kind of vicarious Israeli hyper-nationalism (like Sheldon Adelson now massively funding Newt, and the Clarion Fund). The post-war administration of Iraq largely reflected their agenda–for example, de-Baathification and other policies that probably greatly increased the brutality of the Iraqi civil war. Their motives, goals, and methods are quite different from those of the liberal interventionists that promoted intervention in Libya (like Samantha Power, apparently).

Henri @126 Another factor to consider is press freedom and speech freedom under the new government, which is almost certain to be better than it was under Qaddafi.

140

G. Mcthornbody 01.28.12 at 5:37 am

The OP question is general and vague in so many ways, yet such a compelling starting point. There have been plenty of comments already answering “worth what to whom?” That’s a pretty fun question to explore, but the second half of CB’s post brings hindsight and realism into play. Before committing to intervene, a government has lists of projected costs and contingencies in order to target an acceptable outcome considered “worth” the investment and intervention.

The upshot is that even with the best intentions (as if there was such a thing) and a high degree of probability, you still might not get the outcome you wanted. I would be interested in historical instances of applicable situations where dictators were deposed and everyone was then magically happy. (I see some commenters have already tried to find comparisons). As it stands, intestine chaos and local fighting factions are easier to exploit without blame. The VSL of foreign lives versus the the VSL of your own homeland is a hugely inequitable exchange. Moral arguments at this point are also dogmatic: dictators are always bad so all options are on the table except our kid-gloves that we lost because it was economically un-profitable for warmongers to use them–besides, god likes democracy or whatever.

I’m not going to delve into the reasoning behind either “yes it was worth it” or “no it was wasn’t!” aside from what I’d find typical responses . If the answer was yes, we could respond, “well you foreign interventionists don’t really care about the plight of the Libyan people even though you use human rights as an excuse to intervene, and therefore you are exploitative assholes and cannot claim any moral high ground. If the answer is no, then you’d have to admit that intervention was both a failure (human rights still abused, people dying, etc) or else simply a poorly thought out plan to begin with, in which case intervention is still a failure both in execution and judgement.

I think the most heartless analysis in the “yes it was worth it” camp is fairly accurate: the Libyans are perfectly capable of making more Libyans, and if we have more influence over their future generations, fantastic. It’s also a good excuse for a Martyr Memorial Day or a Deposed Dictator Day 40 years hence if foreigners can convince the Libyans, or at least the winning faction, that “it was worth it.” Pretty depressing while we’re in the midst of it all though.

141

js. 01.28.12 at 6:57 am

Kaveh @125: My bigger point is that, for all of the tragedies happening in the aftermath of Qaddafi’s overthrow, it doesn’t follow that the NATO intervention in Libya was, on balance, a bad thing.

If it indeed was not, then I think this is basically an accident. Really, the disagreement centers on your response to tomslee @139. While I don’t disagree that the motives, methods, etc., of “liberal interventionists” are different from those of hard core neo-cons, I distrust them both equally. (The methods, more than the motives.) And again, I base this on the track record.

142

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 9:39 am

Dear Watson: the first acts of the Nazi genocide precede the Wannsee conference. What happened during the 1930’s was definitely aimed at expelling the Jews

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41051&Cr=palestin&Cr1=

26 January 2012 –

Almost 1,100 Palestinians, over half of them children, were displaced due to home demolitions in the West Bank by Israeli forces in 2011 – over 80 per cent more than in the previous year – according to a United Nations report released today.

“Demolitions and Forced Displacement in the Occupied West Bank,” prepared by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), adds that an additional 4,200 people were affected by the demolition of structures related to their livelihoods.

The report states that Israeli forces destroyed 622 structures owned by Palestinians including homes, animal shelters, classrooms and mosques – a 42 per cent increase compared to 2010.

Suggestions?

143

John Quiggin 01.28.12 at 10:29 am

“To me, there is a substantial difference between Iraq/Afghanistan and Libya. The opportunity cost of Iraq was huge. Those resources (money, basically) could’ve been committed somewhere else, to curing AIDS in Africa, say. “

In the case of Iraq/Afghanistan, the trillions spent could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives if it had been spent on health care in the US, let alone Africa. The opportunities foregone are too much to think about.

But, as I point out in the article linked above, the monetary cost of the Libya war still runs into the billions. Spent elsewhere in Africa, that money could have saved millions of lives.

144

vimothy 01.28.12 at 11:39 am

After the worst catastrophe in history, the human race sobered up for a moment and reflected together on how to prevent such catastrophes in future. Part of the answer they came up with was to bar unilateral military intervention.

The problem with the non-interventionist idea is that, in practice, no one is prepared to to carry it through to its logical conclusion; namely, that no one else should intervene in the affairs of other nations, even in the event of “unilateral military intervention”.

I’m not even convinced that people really support such a thing with respect to civil wars. E.g., I suspect that, had the US not intervened in Egypt, but rather turned a blind eye as Mubarak crushed the rebellion, few would be trumpeting the results as the consequence of wise policy.

145

Doug M. 01.28.12 at 12:04 pm

I note in passing that the Khmer Rouge genocide was in fact stopped by foreign intervention — the Vietnamese invaded, overthrew the KR, and installed a new government. The new rulers of Cambodia were Communist and brutally authoritarian (and foreign puppets to boot) but they weren’t genocidal lunatics. After some initial hiccups, they settled down to a rule that was dull and oppressive, but distinctly non-murderous.

The genocide was still going full blast when the Vietnamese crossed the border, so the invasion pretty much without question saved hundreds of thousands of lives. (Seriously: the KR were still starving and massacring their people just as enthusiastically as ever. Presumably it would have stopped at some point before they ran out of Cambodians, but given the personalities involved that would likely have taken a while.) And it was a short victorious war, over in just a few weeks, so the combat casualties were quite low. So, a successful humanitarian intervention by any reasonable standard.

Unfortunately, since it was (1) done by a brutal authoritarian Communist regime, (2) for completely non-humanitarian reasons, and (3) in order to set up another brutal authoritarian Communist puppet regime, the Vietnamese don’t often get credit for it.

Doug M.

146

Chris Bertram 01.28.12 at 12:15 pm

Watson:

Your initial claim was

_Well, it did: From 1933 until 1940 no one did anything to assist Jews in fleeing from Germany._

I demonstrated that was false.

147

Manta1976 01.28.12 at 12:45 pm

I keep reading about these debates and be amazed.
This holds about any of the previous wars, and will continue to hold for any of the future ones: the politicians that are cheering for the war do *not* care one iota about human rights, democracy, and saving lives. They are not even pretending to care.

For instance, if you thought that either Obama, Sarkozy, or Cameron cared about any of the above during the Libya war it’s your fault: Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.

148

smoon 01.28.12 at 1:01 pm

There was never any real evidence that Gaddafi was “massacring” his own people. The heavy bombing of Misrata didn’t happen until after Western military intervention. There was nothing like the videos we see from Syria. The civil war would have ended with far less bloodshed if the West had simply helped to evacuate refugees and supported the peacemaking efforts of the African Union.

Libyans are already missing the stability, education, and health care of the Gaddafi era, as this post from an anti-Gaddafi blogger (you can search her blog’s post history to see she is anti-Gaddafi) describes: http://lonehighlander.blogspot.com/2012/01/harsh-realities-make-some-libyans-evoke.html

149

Tom Bach 01.28.12 at 1:05 pm

I would be interested in historical instances of applicable situations where dictators were deposed and everyone was then magically happy.

Deposed by age but Franco and Salazar might be the kind of examples you’re looking for.

150

Doug M. 01.28.12 at 2:06 pm

…you know, there’s actually a fair amount of political science theory on this stuff. It’s a little surprising that, on an academic blog, nobody has brought any of it up. (Or maybe not.)

Anyway: available evidence suggests that a country with no civil society and no previous experience with working democracy is never — as in, not ever — going to become a functioning liberal democracy at one go. Best case scenario, you can get there in a generation or so if you’re patient and are willing to accept an interim regime that, while not itself very democratic or liberal, is willing and able to allow political liberalization and the growth of civil society.

The literature also suggests that the most likely outcome in Libya — over the short to medium term; next couple of years, say — is some sort of competitive authoritarian regime. (Oh, look it up.) The second most likely outcome is another round or two of civil war — but any civil war in Libya is likely to be quite short if one side controls oil revenue and the other doesn’t. So, you probably end up at competitive authoritarianism that way too, just after killing a bunch of people first. The interesting long-term question then becomes whether you get a CA regime that allows additional political evolution, or not.

Doug M.

151

Watson Ladd 01.28.12 at 2:27 pm

Chris, what does that say about the rest of the post I made? About nothing: the international response to the Holocaust was inadequate, and whether a small number of people were saved or not does not change the fact that international efforts to save the Jews collapsed because few countries wanted to permit them to immigrate.

Doug, that’s an interesting point. Of course, regardless of the merits of such evolution, it leads to the same place as 1789: the deposal of the dictator in favor of an actual democracy. Once people have accepted bourgeois legitimation norms, there is no turning back. The question then is why supporting such efforts becomes controversial: some people have even tried to special plead the American and French revolutions.

152

Henri Vieuxtemps 01.28.12 at 3:05 pm

I thought 1789 led to Robespierre (and a few friends) presiding over something conspicuously named “the Reign of Terror”. Some freedom loving government should’ve interfered and put an end to it. Ditto the American revolution, genocide of Indians being a part of it.

153

G. Mcthornbody 01.28.12 at 3:12 pm

@148 I don’t really think Spain and Portugal count as “applicable situations” because they largely weren’t coerced in the same way by an international community (unless you count Portuguese colonies). Libya, on the other hand, was bombarded by cruise missiles and air strikes by foreign forces. I’d find it tough to argue that the dictatorship would have fizzled relatively peacefully if everyone just decided to wait it out. It seems to me they were more influenced by the regional cultural community. The Arab spring was a worry to governments and already had a lot of momentum. Perhaps the UN consensus was that intervention would speed along the inevitable, but that seems a fatalist and also self-fulfilling prophecy.

154

G. Mcthornbody 01.28.12 at 3:32 pm

News from today could make for an interesting comparison of the worthiness of foreign endeavors. From http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/28/us-syria-idUSTRE8041A820120128

“Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow wanted a Syrian-led political process, not “an Arab League-imposed outcome of a political process that has not yet taken place” or Libyan-style “regime change.”

“Turkey, which spent years rebuilding relations with Syria, turned against Assad after he ignored its advice to enact reforms to calm protests inspired by the “Arab Spring” revolts around the region.”

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christian_h 01.28.12 at 4:22 pm

Kaveh (139.): No, what’s a tautology is that when you contemplate an action you consider the necessarily opaque future consequences of the various choices you have at that time. After you act in a certain way, you then evaluate what the actual consequences were. If you claimed beforehand that the consequences would be the prevention of massacres, the saving of lives, and the introduction of democracy; and it then so happens that among the consequences of your action are massacres, large numbers of violent deaths, torture and rule by warlords, then you should judge your action a failure. Unless of course you never cared about any of those things in the first place.

With your approach of comparing the actual outcome to an imagined alternate history you can never come to any conclusion. All choices are, in fact, equally valid since any half-way competent person can cook up a convincing scenario under which the consequences of your action were preferable to (or, if they so choose, worse than) the alternate history so constructed.

At the very least, since the actual consequences did in fact occur, you have to weigh them much higher than your imagined alternate history, which, after all, may or may not have happened if you had chosen differently. (And given the record we have in predicting the future – which is what alternate history is doing – the probability that your imagined alternate history is the one that really would have happened is very small indeed.)

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Chris Bertram 01.28.12 at 4:23 pm

Watson: that was, in fact, the sum total of your post at #119 regarding the point in question. You appear to think that “inadequate” is synonymous with “no one did anything” – it isn’t.

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Kaveh 01.28.12 at 4:42 pm

vimothy @144 I’m not even convinced that people really support such a thing with respect to civil wars. E.g., I suspect that, had the US not intervened in Egypt, but rather turned a blind eye as Mubarak crushed the rebellion, few would be trumpeting the results as the consequence of wise policy.

Surely you don’t mean to characterize massively funding the Egyptian military (2nd largest recipient of US foreign aid) as “not intervening”?

js @141 While I don’t disagree that the motives, methods, etc., of “liberal interventionists” are different from those of hard core neo-cons, I distrust them both equally. (The methods, more than the motives.) And again, I base this on the track record.

But aren’t the outcomes (at least so far) in Libya and Iraq vastly different? So I’m not sure the track records are really so similar. Still, it’s obviously true that, whatever the wisdom of the NATO attacks on Qaddafi turned into war to overthrow him (as opposed to letting a stalemate continue–I’m not sure how this would be better), the characterization of their approach as throwing high explosives at the problem and walking away is exactly right.

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Stephen 01.28.12 at 6:04 pm

Watson Ladd @ 150
As Peter T@136 said, go read The Myth of Rescue.

You will discover that (1) most of the Jews in Germany, 1933, had got out to what they thought were safe countries by 1939 (2) some of these, France and the Netherlands particularly, turned out not to be safe at all (3) once France,the Netherlands, Poland etc had been overrun by German armies there was sweet damn all that democratic countries outside German control could do about admitting Jewish refugees from those countries, unless they first defeated the German armies, a non-trivial problem.

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Stephen 01.28.12 at 6:09 pm

Tom Bach@148

Go back a bit and you could include death of the great Oliver Cromwell, succession by his inadequate son, restoration of Charles II and (if we can believe Pepys) half of England being drunk for weeks, if only to prove they were no Puritans, and so at least temporarily happy.

Long term, no, of course not, but lasting happiness is not in nature.

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Stephen 01.28.12 at 6:21 pm

Watson Ladd@150
You wrote “1789: the deposal of the dictator in favor of an actual democracy. Once people have accepted bourgeois legitimation norms, there is no turning back. The question then is why supporting such efforts becomes controversial: some people have even tried to special plead the American and French revolutions.”

Well, one might point out that

1) Supposing that 1789 saw a dictator deposed in favour of a democracy is, um, non-obvious: a far more gradual process, beginning with a transition from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy?

2) If you believe there was no turning back, you may not have heard of the First Empire, the Bourbon restoration, the Second Empire …

3) Some people have doubts about the French Revolution on account of the rather, shall we say undemocratic, number of innocent people who ended up hanged, shot, drowned, beheaded and so on because of the Revolution, by revolutionaries. Your view may of course differ.

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Andrew F. 01.28.12 at 9:43 pm

A best guess for the outcome of non-intervention would be an extended period of Gaddafi rule, following a very bloody crackdown. During that extended period, a continued lack of security, both perceived and actual, for the regime would result in an increased reliance on particularly brutal suppression measures.

And ultimately, years from now, Libya would likely find itself where it is today.

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