Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Libyan Intervention

So, I've been doing a fair bit of reading about the No Fly Zone and the limited projection of American military power in support of the uprising in Libya.  Unsurprisingly for the blogosphere, people have pretty strong opinions.  To say there's been some Monday morning quarterbacking would be an understatement.

For what it's worth, the most worthwhile exploration of it I've read is here.

As for my own part, first off, I think that it doesn't matter that much what anyone's opinion is as to whether or not we should have, because, well, we did, and until someone invents a time machine, we live in the world we do, and things can be done, but rarely undone.  That said, you can support or not support our intervention, on many different grounds, most of which seem to fall into the rubric of moral or practical.

Both sides have some compelling arguments.  And I do not wish to discount them.  One of the things about modern discourse I find just absolutely maddening is that when many people take a side, they are unable or unwilling to grant any legitimacy whatsoever to the other side's position or arguments, and denigrate and discount them (or, often as not, the people who make them), which trivializes and nastifies the debate without doing anything to serve the truth.  To my mind, it's not a question of who's right and who's wrong, since both sides are often both:  it's a question of who's more right and less wrong, and what will the outcome likely be if a particular policy or course of action is undertaken.  It's about weighing the arguments against each other, and finding where the balance of truth lies.

In my own explorations of the issue of the Libyan Intervention, I've done my level best to do so, and where I've come down is this:

I support the intervention, at least so far.

Now, I could spend enough paragraphs to make your eyes glaze over and your mind start singing Hansen tunes rehashing the various arguments and weighing in on them from the position of my own personal moral calculus, but neither of us really wants me to do that, I don't think.  Suffice to say I've gone back and forth, momentarily swayed by the words of many an earnest partisan of pro or con, right up until I read the above linked post (by new favorite blogger zunguzungu).

Put simply, if we hadn't intervened, there'd be a whole lot more dead Libyans right now than there are. 

When the UNSC resolution was passed down, Ghaddafi's forces were poised outside the town of Benghazi, where the revolution's main battle force, such as they were and are, were holed up.  These were regular people, armed with assault rifles and whatever other munitions they'd managed to seize, most with no military training.  Ghaddafi's forces, on the other hand, had fighter jets and helicopter gunships and tanks.  Serious military hardware.  Had they been allowed to attack, it would have been a absolute slaughter, not only of the revolution's army, but of the people of Benghazi.  Some estimates have up to 100,000 people killed, just in that engagement.

100,000 people.

And here's the thing.  Knowing it was going to happen, and having the forces in place to intervene, had we decided not to, we would have been morally complicit in those deaths.  Not as much as Ghaddafi and his army, certainly.  But we would have, because we could have stopped it but didn't.  We would also have been on the hook for the crackdowns that would have followed.  No dictator ever has responded to an uprising by liberalizing his regime's practices.  It's not how that game gets played.

On the side of non-intervention, the question of Iraq has arisen many times.  And indeed it applies.  Just not how it's been meant.  It's not Iraq in 2003 we'd have been looking at, but Iraq in 1991, after Operation Desert Storm, when the Shia, encouraged by us, staged an armed uprising against Saddam Hussein, which was put down in true dictatorial style, with indiscriminate projection of military-grade force into crowds of civilians and random executions in the streets on the principle of collective responsibility.

Now understand, my support is provisional.  That we have stood down from leading the operation and are taking on more of a support role is encourging to me, because a) we don't need to be seen leading another operation against an Arab regime, no matter how odious (and if you think Ghaddafi isn't odious, well, I'll just suggest you consider his material and spiritual support of guys like Charles Taylor), and b) because our economy and our military are just stretched too damn thin.  The second we talk about putting boots on the ground, I'm against it, for the above-stated reasons and others I won't enumerate at present.

But in this particular case, where we were able to step in and level the playing field, giving the popular uprising a chance to fight and win their own revolution, using our air and sea capabilities without committing to a ground invasion or (heaven help us) nation-building, I'm for it, even given the inevitable negative externalities that will undoubtedly manifest. 

Given the opportunity to save 100,000 lives, and to allow a people the chance to win their freedom, I think it's worth the price I think we're likely to pay.  Your mileage may vary.

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