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Joshua FoustBack to OpinionJoshua Foust

And now, a war against Libya?

Ground personnel load missiles onto F-16 fighter planes at Skydstrup Air Base in Jutland, Denmark, on Friday, March 18, 2011. The Danish Parliament has asked its Air Force to provide four F-16s to support a no-fly zone over Libya. Photo: AP/Casper Dalhoff

Last night, the U.N. Security Council declared a no-fly zone over Libya, along with an arms embargo. What does this mean?

In its declaration, the Security Council calls for “all necessary measures” to end Moammar Gadhafi’s brutal response to Libya’s rebelling citizens by grounding all Libyan aircraft. It is, in essence, a declaration of war by the international community against Gadhafi.

This does not mean, however, that the international community is in agreement over how it will respond. There is no one country taking the leading on enforcing the no-fly zone. Germany and Russia both abstained from voting on last night’s Security Council resolution, while France has led the way in officially recognizing the rebel government and pushing for intervention in the violence.

Within the U.S., the question of what to do about Libya has revealed a split on foreign policy topics that transcends party lines. On one side is Anne Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official, who has accused the president of prioritizing the wrong values in not intervening on the side of the rebels. Eliot Cohen, who served as Condoleeza Rice’s counselor at the State Department, shares Slaughter’s desire for a military intervention in Libya.

Those who oppose the no-fly zone include a mixture of old hands at the Department of Defense — spearheaded by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen (who believes that it would be an “extraordinarily complex” operation) — and columnists.

It’s important to note the bipartisan split in both camps. Factions from both sides of the aisle are not lining up along party lines, which reveals a primary weakness in how the mainstream media tends to view our political system. Liberals and conservatives have at least one point of agreement: Both want to use American military might to change other countries for the better.

Much of the enthusiasm for the no-fly zone stems from the desire to help rebels that we believe are fighting for democracy, and the desire to see a hated tyrant fall. Neither desire, however, makes for especially coherent policy. Because no nation is taking the lead yet in enforcing the no-fly zone, there is no strategy for implementing it. The Security Council resolution does not include measures for handling changes in the status quo (e.g., What happens if the Libyan government either refuses to abide by the no-fly zone and countries begin a bombardment of Libyan territory, or if Gadhafi pulls back and the rebels surge forward?)

It is the U.N.’s prerogative to take sides in a civil war, especially if that is the ruling of the Security Council. But in the absence of any leadership or strategy, the U.S. is under no obligation to enforce such a decision. The blithe assumption by nearly all parties advocating an intervention in Libya is that American airplanes and American troops will enforce the no-fly zone, even if everyone else wants it more than we do.

There is one other matter here that concerns me. While the world collectively wrings its hands in Libya there are countless other dire crises visiting brutality upon the innocent. Yemeni protesters are being beaten and killed by the American-backed dictator there, yet there are no global calls for intervention. Since 1998, more than 5 million people have died in the Congo’s civil war, and both sides have used the systemic rape of women as an instrument of war. Yet that appalling atrocity — orders of magnitude worse than what Gadhafi has put his people through, worse than the Rwandan Genocide, worse than almost anything since the great communist purges of last century — barely merited a peep from the international community, much less calls for full-fledged military intervention.

It cannot be as simple as the mere invocation of human rights. If that were the case, there are far worse offenders than Gadhafi. North Korea, for example, deliberately starved more than a million of its people to death in the 1990s, and continues to imprison, torture and execute the families of those caught speaking illegally. Why no global calls for intervention to end the senseless brutality of the North Korean people?

Slippery slopes never make valid arguments. But the hypocrisy of caring only about Libya because the media cares about Libya — it is part of a grand narrative of the Arab world throwing off its tyrants — is truly galling. This doesn’t mean the cause of the Libyan rebels is unworthy (although since no one really knows who they are, do we really know if their cause is worthy?); it just makes me wonder what makes Libya so special that American servicemen and servicewomen, who are already overworked and in terrible danger in two other wars, must put themselves at risk in yet another country.

I hope the Security Council is able to establish a proper system of command and control for the coming war against Gadhafi, just as I hope that someone somewhere is working on plans for how to handle Libya after Gadhafi falls. Hope, unfortunately, is not a strategy, and it seems that those screaming loudest for intervening in a domestic Libyan affair have given it the least amount of thought.

Choosing not to intervene carries unforeseen consequences; in many ways, the international community’s refusal to intervene in Rwanda in 1994 contributed to the Congo’s horrifying decade of conflict. But intervening also carries extreme costs, and burdens all who participate with dependencies and responsibilities few have discussed openly. There is no doubt that foreign military intervention on the side of the Libyan rebels will be a game-changing event, but do we really know if this is making for a better game?



  • Kinmak

    France (perhaps the alliances also), is obviously taking side rather than in pursuit of: 1/ respecting the whole wills of the Libya People nor 2/ facilitating a democratic society with multiple representations.

    Not saying Gadhafi should not be moved, nor saying a dictatorship should not be removed but this move is really is another “Oil” based intrusion, and intervention of an independent state, hypocrisy and self interests were written on wall so clearly .

  • Kinmak

    France (perhaps the alliances also), is obviously taking side rather than in pursuit of: 1/ respecting the whole wills of the Libya People nor 2/ facilitating a democratic society with multiple representations.

    Not saying Gadhafi should not be moved, nor saying a dictatorship should not be removed but this move is really is another “Oil” based intrusion, and intervention of an independent state, hypocrisy and self interests were written on wall so clearly .

  • SriLankan

    As sri lankan i know how tough period in Lybia now. When we had war against terror in our country, many western forces had raised to defeat our soldiers. Even after the war they still try to find a way to stuck our rulers and destroy the democracy in our country. Most of western countries supplied money, weapons and trained the LTTE terrorists. They were the first owners of suicide killers. Still they ask about human rights violations in war, which was last after 30 years.
    But this is the real truth about US and other western countries today. What u think their main economy or business today. NASA?, flour? Electrical and Mechanical equipment production?, vehicles? civil Eng? Comp Eng? No No NO, Their main business are weapon dealing, porno selling with HD with license (today porn stars have more status than real film stars in US), clubs, gold mines and last oil mines. They don’t have talented people, real truth is Indians have conquered the talent in world, China had grabbed all trick in world.
    For example, see the different between 1980′s bollywood movie and 2010 bollywood movie. Today most of background dances are US and Europe guys. Because they are very cheap nowadays. So they know within few years their people has to work in Indian restaurants and companies. So they try to rule world by getting those oil resources to their hands.
    Brothers, Bill Clinton threw tons of flour to sea to keep world flour price stable. Then he went to UN and talked on world food problem. They think they can do anything, but this world is not last forever, they have to suffer it by naturally somehow.
    My country also try to become like india and china soon, but i dont sure these US guys will let it happen, because they will loose our labor. Everyday we hear about some master plans from westerns.
    For Muslim brothers, this is not against Muslims, but it not time to keep ur mouth shut, they killed thousands of brothers and sisters and (Muslims) without any reason. But still there is no human right violation, its a joke guys. They are not joke with Muslims, they do it with innocent people in world. So, we have to fight back in the name of humanity, then we have to support gaddarbi (who ever the ruler, who is bad or worst) to protect their nationality. This is not a time to be sleep, they use tomahawk to wake china and russia. Dont ever think of that, if that happen this is www III.

  • Overseer

    I am in total disagreement with our interference in the politics of another country. Who are we to take a side in what amounts to a civil war. We
    have no idea who the rebels are or what they represent. There are obviously Ghadaffi supporters in Libya and no matter who we support there will be a blood letting when one side (wins)! I believe this is a tribal situation with multiple factions including radical muslims who have been guided and inflamed by the radical muslim clerics in every mosque across the middle east. This appears to me to be the promised Khomeini JIHAD .
    It is just too coincidental that so many of the middle eastern countries are all rebelling and are demanding “democracy” at the same time. Again I believe it is a concerted effort by the muslim clerics in these countries to promote sharia control and sharia law. The U.S. is either being duped by the “call for democracy” or is being led down the garden path by a president who is sympathetic to radical islam!