Reassessing Libya Intervention


KIM LAWTON, managing editor and guest anchor: There were also rising concerns about the situation in Libya. NATO stepped up its airstrikes while alliance leaders called for more support in the effort to protect civilians. Meanwhile, a UN human rights panel said Moamar Gaddafi’s forces have committed crimes against humanity. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with regional leaders to discuss future strategies, but the Obama administration is coming under increasing pressure. Last week, the House of Representatives approved a measure giving the president until June 17 to provide detailed justification for why the US got involved in Libya and why it should continue. An even tougher measure is being taken up in the Senate.

Joining me now is Gerard Powers, director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Jerry, we’re hearing a lot about political and financial questions about the situation in Libya. What are some of the moral and ethical questions that should also be considered right now?

post01-reassessinglibyaGERARD POWERS (University of Notre Dame): Thanks for having me, Kim. I think there are three broad questions. One is, were we morally justified in going in in the first place? The second is are the means that we are using morally justified, or are we proving through the means we are using that humanitarian invention, as some allede, is really just an oxymoron? And three, I think we have to think about what an ethics of exit means in Libya.

LAWTON: Well, let’s unpack all of that. Were we justified in going in? The president said it was to protect civilians.

POWERS: I think humanitarian intervention in extraordinary cases to protect the civilian population is justified, and not only that, there’s a duty in some cases to do that. My concern is that that objective seems to be subsumed by other objectives. We are focusing on regime change, not just protecting the Libyan civilians, and that will likely prolong the war and actually increases the risk to the very civilians we’re purportedly there to protect.

LAWTON: And how does that change the moral calculus? If the mission or the purpose seems to be changing, does that then effect how we look at it from a moral perspective?

POWERS: I think it does, absolutely. The only way you can keep humanitarian intervention from becoming a guise for the great powers like the United States to intervene for self-interested reasons under the guise of humanitarian intervention is to have strict criteria, and one of those is to make sure that you limit your objectives to the original humanitarian objectives. In this case, I’m concerned that not only are our objectives expanding, but the means that we are using are not appropriate to meeting those objectives, because we are pursuing a zero-casualty war, at least zero casualties on our side, by an exclusively air campaign, and that raises serious questions about can we really achieve our legitimate humanitarian objectives through bombers, cruise missiles, drones, and now attack helicopters.

LAWTON: Well, what, given the obligations, you know, what are the obligations, given what we’ve done? Are you talking about boots on the ground?

POWERS: I think we should be pursuing not the almost exclusively military strategy that we are now pursuing, but we need to pursue a political strategy. We need to go beyond the current position of the United States and NATO, which is that we will not negotiate until, even on a cease-fire, until the Gaddafi regime steps down, and that’s not a serious political, not a serious political strategy. Secondly, we need to be much more serious about the consequences of being successful. What comes after Gaddafi? Are we going to be in another nation-building situation like Iraq and Afghanistan? And are we really prepared to assume the heavy moral responsibilities that come with that?

LAWTON: Alright. Well, obviously a lot of very complicated questions. We will be watching and debating.


LAWTON: Thank you so much, Jerry Powers.

POWERS: Thanks very much for having me.

  • E.Patrick Mosman

    There are many regimes that are suppressing, mistreating and killing their civilian population who need protection even more than the civilians of Libya and yet there is no moral outrage or calls for military intervention by the free world powers for humanitarian reasons. What was the overwhelming moral imperative to save the Libyan citizens but not the citizens of Sudan, the Ivory Coast, Iran, Syria who are being arrested or killed daily? Who makes the call and what are the criteria that will turn humanitarian concern into moral justification for military intervention? Selective use of the moral imperative to protect citizens of one country but not those of all oppressive countries may be immoral in and of itself.
    Further the idea that outside parties have a moral right or duty to intervene in an armed uprising by unknown forces against even a dictator that they have recognized and dealt with in the political and business worlds on humanitarian grounds is the slippery slope to instigate uprisings and then intervene to overthrow any government.
    Calling for negotiations at this stage is a non-starter as Gaddafi has already been accused of war crimes, branded a war criminal and subject to arrest and trial in the Hague. He also sees how the Egyptians are treating Mubarak. He has no reason to leave.

  • doug

    1. Before the uprising in Libya the United States did not receive (buy) one drop of oil from Libya.
    2. Syria, where many more civilians are being killed by Assad’s military than have been killed in Libya is not an oil producer to any significant degree. The U.S. is not there.
    3.. The first entiites protected by U.S. military forces upon the invasion of Iraq in 2003 were the Iraqi oil fields.
    4. The world now knows of the immense mineral wealth in Afghan earth.
    5. Another country on the U.S.’s admitted “wish list” is Iran. One of the worlds largest oil producers.
    The list goes on…..