Tag: Libya

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.

No to No-Fly Zones

My Washington Examiner column this week is on the growing drumbeat for military action in Libya.  That allegedly serious people are proposing, as Defense Secretary Gates puts it, “the use of the US military in another country in the Middle East,” ought to be appalling.  If the last ten years haven’t convinced you that a little prudence and caution might serve us well in foreign policy, what would?

Recently Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the Bobbsey Twins of knee-jerk interventionism, chastised Obama for dragging his feet on the path toward war.  They called for arming the rebels and implementing a no-fly zone, for starters.

“I love the military,” Sen. McCain complained “but they always seem to find reasons why you can’t do something rather than why you can.”  Alas, “can’t is the cancer of happen,” as Charlie Sheen reminded us recently.

Even so, I argue in the column, there are good reasons to resist the call for this supposedly “limited” measure.

Excerpt:

But let’s stipulate that NATO warplanes (mainly U.S. fighters, of course) could deny pro-Gadhafi forces the ability to deploy air power. That would not impede their ability to murder on the ground. What then?

NATO flew more than 100,000 sorties in Operation Deny Flight, the no-fly zone imposed over Bosnia from 1993 to 1995, yet that wasn’t enough to prevent ethnic cleansing or the killing of thousands of Bosnians in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

It did, however, help pave the way for a wider war and a 12-year nation-building mission. In for a penny, in for a pound – intervention tends to have a logic of its own.

This is a good occasion, then, to reflect on a fundamental question: What is the U.S. military for? Humanitarian interventionists on the Left and the Right seem to view it as an all-purpose tool for spreading good throughout the world – something like the “Super Friends” who, in the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth, scanned the monitors at the Hall of Justice for “Trouble Alerts,” swooping off regularly to do battle with evil.

Our Constitution takes a narrower view. It empowers Congress to set up a military establishment for “the common defence … of the United States,” the better to achieve the Preamble’s goal of “secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Armed liberation of oppressed peoples the world over wasn’t part of the original mission.

Funny enough, when he first got to Washington, John McCain occasionally appreciated the virtues of foreign policy restraint.  As Matt Welch recounts in his book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick: “In September 1983, as a freshman congressman and loyal foot soldier of the Reagan revolution, John McCain voted against a successful measure to extend the deployment of US Marines in war-torn Lebanon.”  In a speech on the House floor, McCain argued that “The fundamental question is, what is the United States’ interest in Lebanon?…. The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave.”

Later, Welch writes that, in 1987, when President Reagan reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, offering them “US Navy protection against a threatening Iran, McCain was livid.”  He took to the pages of the Arizona Republic to complain that the move was “a dangerous overreaction in perhaps the most violent and unpredictable region in the world…. American citizens are again be asked to place themselves between warring Middle East factions, with…. no real plan on how to respond if the situation escalates.”

It’s been a long time since Senator McCain made such good sense on foreign policy.

President Obama’s Rhetoric on Libya

The prospect of the United States intervening in Libya is uncertain.  Yesterday, Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen appeared to downplay the possibility of military action, while not clearly taking a position.  But lost in much of the reporting is President Obama’s Executive Order declaring a national emergency, and the accompanying letter to congress, issued last Friday.

Obama claimed that the overall situation constituted “…an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”  Over at The Skeptics, I examine why it is a mistake for the president to lump together national security and humanitarian considerations:

Obama should be ashamed of this language. Muammar Qadhafi is a despicable man without basic decency, but this fuzzy rhetoric is wrong and possibly harmful. Not just a “threat” to U.S. national security, but an “extraordinary” threat? What would constitute a trivial threat or a non-threat, then? And what is the rhetorical purpose of adding the clause “and foreign policy” to the sentence? To fuse the argument about national security threat to one claiming that Muammar Qadhafi’s slaughter of his own citizens might influence our foreign-policy decisions, it seems. But writing in that way leads a casual observer to believe that the president is emphasizing what he believes to be a threat to U.S. national security posed by Libya, which does the English language a disservice. For some reason the phrase “giving the appearance of solidity to pure wind” is coming to mind.

I understand that the same clique of neoconservatives and New Republic people and other liberal imperialists who got us into the Iraq war are urging Obama to act and salivating at the prospect of accusing him of being “weak,” but even they did not use the sort of hyperbolic rhetoric that Obama did in his Executive Order and letter to congress.

 Whole thing here.

Should America ‘Liberate’ Libya?

In 2008, the election of President Barack Obama was widely touted as a repudiation of President George W. Bush’s messianic vision that “Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity—men and women—to reach their full potential.” In the years following America’s failed democratic experiment in Iraq, many Americans began to spurn the Bush era’s presumptuous conviction that “We have the power to make the world we seek.” Liberals in particular roundly rejected the supposed “unyielding belief” that America is called to lead the cause of “rule of law” and “the equal administration of justice” around the world. Such pious declarations are in keeping with Bush’s neo-Wilsonian foreign policy.  Does it surprise you then, that all of the quotes above were made by President Obama in his June 2009 speech at Cairo University?

Americans who favor establishing a no-fly zone over Libya hope that such an effort will save lives. What Americans have not learned is exactly what transgressions warrant the use of American force. The primary constitutional function of the U.S. Government is to defend against threats to the national interest. However, because the definition of “interest” has expanded by leaps and bounds, the United States now combats an exhausting proliferation of “threats” even in the absence of discernable enemies. Hence, the proposal of a no-fly zone over Libya is merely the latest iteration of a long-standing grand strategy that implicitly endorses an interventionist foreign policy.

Despite the fact that humanitarian assistance to Libya remains, in principle, morally defensible, the primary question is whether military action is best suited to such a task. As Christopher Coyne, Assistant Professor of Economics at West Virginia University argues, its the “Nirvana Fallacy.”

The Nirvana Fallacy is the false assumption that in the face of weak, failed or illiberal governments, external occupiers can provide a better outcome than what would exist in the absence of those efforts. But what authority does President Obama have to embark upon a mission to change the very structure of societies on the other side of the earth?

As a libertarian, I believe that intangible variables such as values, traditions, and belief systems, go beyond a U.S. policymaker’s ability—and jurisdiction—to control. Yet with worldwide attention now on Libya, it seems that once again the extension of freedom abroad is being subsumed under the mantle of America’s legitimate self-defense. Don’t believe the hype.

As George Kennan, American diplomat and “father of Cold War containment” strategy once said:

“Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before…In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it.”

Kennan continues: “Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.”

Now imagine if a politician wanted to build a bridge and said “I don’t know how much it will cost. I don’t know how many engineers I need. I don’t know how long it will take. And I don’t know whether it’ll even get built or stay up if it is. But give me the money and I’ll build the bridge anyway.” Yet this is exactly what we do when it comes to intervention. Never mind how long a no-fly zone will last, how many soldiers we would commit, or how whether it may precipitate a ground invasion and possibly regime change. We apply more stringent criteria to domestic policy than to proposals to pacify a foreign population.

Like most Americans, I too have a natural desire to see human suffering alleviated.  And so the United States can and should support people’s power and other anti-government movements when possible. But Americans have become confused over what “support” really means. Not backing dictators with billions of dollars would be a start. Another would be, when feasible, resorting to economic sanctions, though they have a poor track record. But we have come to rely too heavily—almost as an option of first resort—of relying on military intervention. Luckily, the shockwave of mass protests sweeping through the Middle East finally gives America the opportunity to support freedom in the Middle East in a non-military way. Accordingly, a foreign-led effort to liberate Libya will implicitly deprive local people of their ability to deal with this political conflict on their own. As British philosopher John Stuart Mill writes in his classic text “A Few Words on Nonintervention,” the subjects of an oppressive ruler must achieve freedom for themselves:

The only test possessing any real value, of a people’s having become fit for popular institutions is that they, or a sufficient portion of them to prevail in the contest, are willing to brave labour and danger for their liberation.

But the evil is, that if they have not sufficient love of liberty to be able to wrest it from merely domestic oppressors, the liberty which is bestowed on them by other hands than their own, will have nothing real, nothing permanent.

Intervention and Its Unintended Consequences

The killing of four Americans by Somali pirates earlier this month has brought the troubled African country into the news once again. With the White House’s response to unrest in the Middle East continuing to evolve, it is instructive to note how the United States has tried and failed multiple times to bring order to Somalia. The policies Washington has pursued and the unintended consequences they have produced should serve as a valuable lesson to any intervention that might be considered in Libya or elsewhere in the region.  Over at The Skeptics, I outline a number of these lessons after briefly examining the history of U.S. intervention in Somalia:

No doubt U.S. leaders had the best of intentions. But their noble attempts to rescue Somalia spawned a number of unintended consequences. Over the past two years, as many as 20 Somali-American men have disappeared from the Minneapolis area. Many fear these men were recruited to fight alongside al-Shabab, or “the youth,” the militant wing of the Islamist Somali government overthrown in 2006. In describing Shirwa Ahmed, a naturalized American of the Somali diaspora who is believed to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide bombing, FBI director Robert Mueller said, “It appears that this individual was radicalized in his hometown in Minnesota.”

…it is well past time for American leaders to thoroughly explore the notion that U.S. policies contribute directly to radicalization. Reigning in the West’s interventionist foreign policy will not eliminate the number of people and organizations that seek to commit terrorist attacks, but will certainly diminish it.

In this respect, terrorism can no longer be attributed to ignorance and poverty—conditions that exist in foreign conflict zones, but in and of themselves do not generate attacks against the West. Viewing poverty and underdevelopment as an underlying cause of extremism makes the mistake of stereotyping terrorists and their grievances.  It also commits the error of ignoring the unintended consequences of past actions and very real dangers right within our borders.

Click here to read the full post.

Pages