The Dean of Liberal Interventionism on Libya

Prof. Anne-Marie Slaughter

Anne-Marie Slaughter, recently head of the State Department’s policy planning staff and now having retreated to her post as the dean of the liberal interventionists at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, laments that her former boss’s boss is “fiddling while Libya burns.” Slaughter thinks the United States should implement a no-fly zone over Libya, with the UN’s blessing if we can, or with a coalition of the willing if we must. She takes up five arguments made by skeptics and claims they are all wanting. I want to take up a few of them below.

First, in making the case that intervention is in America’s interest, she writes that “we have a chance to support a real new beginning in the Muslim world—a new beginning of accountable governments that can provide services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease support for terrorist groups and violent extremism.”

What does Slaughter know about the Libyan opposition that the rest of us don’t? On what basis is she judging that were they to prevail, they would necessarily institute accountable government that provides services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease their support for terrorist groups and violent extremism?

Second, she says that a no-fly zone will accomplish America’s objectives in Libya, despite the critics’ skepticism. Interestingly, Slaughter’s former boss Hillary Clinton said the following in testimony to Congress last week:

I want to remind people that, you know, we had a no-fly zone over Iraq.  It did not prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering people on the ground, and it did not get him out of office.  We had a no-fly zone, and then we had 78 days of bombing in Serbia.  It did not get Milosevic out of office.  It did not get him out of Kosovo until we put troops on the ground with our allies.

Finally, Slaughter admits that we have no idea what would follow Qaddafi, insisting that this misconstrues the problem: “the choice is between uncertainty and the certainty that if Colonel Qaddafi wins, regimes across the region will conclude that force is the way to answer protests,” which doesn’t really deal with concerns about what may follow Qaddafi.

Curiously, in the very next paragraph, she warns against arming the rebels, calling them “ragged groups of brave volunteers who barely know how to use the weapons they have.” If these are the people who we’re supposed to help overthrow Qaddafi, who is going to run the Libyan state once he goes? Slaughter’s Gang that Can’t Shoot Straight?

I haven’t written much about Libya because there’s so much that I don’t know about the country and I certainly don’t know what is likely to follow Qaddafi. In particular, though, the focus on a no-fly zone is bizarre. If people think that it is in the national interest to be rid of Muammar Qaddafi, then get rid of him, already. Why start with half-measures? Or is it that openly making the case for forcible regime change in Tripoli would weaken public support for the policy? Or would weaken international support? If either of those is true, what does that tell us about the policy?

Given Washington’s track record with this sort of thing, I think we should terribly skeptical about intervening in the Libyan conflict. If the arguments above are the best the interventionists can do, our policy should remain one of no new wars.

NB: People whose judgment I trust far more than Slaughter, like Bob Pape and Mike Desch, are making separate cases for various types of intervention. I am left with lots of unanswered questions after reading their pieces, but it bears noting that it is not just the normal gaggle of neoconservatives and liberal imperialists agitating for American involvement. Still, “it won’t be as bad as Iraq” is a rather soft case for a new policy.