Monday, April 25, 2011

Why the Libya intervention will end up as a messy stalemate, at best

In my latest piece for Pajamas Media I suggest that the intervention in Libya is bound to settle into a messy stalemate due to the conflicting aims of the various 'coalition' (I use the term loosely) members. While the participation of the United States is based largely on the aching need of liberals to 'do something' when bad stuff happens – at least when the bad stuff is being shown on TV – France and the UK appear to be motivated as much by the need to divert attention from economic problems and home and to shore up business interests as by concern over attacks on civilians. To varying degrees all the participants lack both the moral authority to intervene, and the resolve to see the operation through to a conclusion – and of course no one has any idea of what a conclusion might look like.
None of the above is to say that the U.S. and its allies should never intervene in national conflicts where civilian lives are at risk; no-one wants to see women and children being shelled. But we should only do so as a last resort, where action can be taken quickly and effectively, without the risk of being drawn into a civil war, and where we know the people we’re helping into power are the good guys (remember all the media excitement about those Tweeters and Facebookers in Cairo? Looks like that might not turn out so well). And we certainly shouldn’t act as a knee-jerk response to upsetting television pictures. If we can take out a Gaddafi or Assad regime with a few well-aimed missiles, and then offer support to factions who won’t lynch Western aid workers, all well and good. And if that sounds like a set of conditions so strict they’ll rarely be fulfilled, maybe that’s no bad thing.
And any such action should be embarked upon with as little regard for the UN and other transnational talking shops as possible. The fact that so many stars have to be aligned before anything can be done makes a mockery of so-called principles such as the “Responsibility to Protect.” If there’s a guiding principle for humanitarian intervention these days, it’s the Responsibility to Protect, as long as Russia and China don’t object and there’s something in it for France. Unfortunately as mentioned above, the Obama administration is compromised in this respect by its rejection of all things Bush, which means fudges and half-measures will be the order of the day until late January 2013 at the earliest.

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