We have no clue how to deal with this, and we have even less inclination to try to deal with it. Maybe I just have a different definition of humanitarianism, but creating a country of disparate and hostile militias who have no intention of laying down their arms in a country with vast oil-wealth is not necessarily the humanitarian thing to do. Perhaps the smartest thing that Obama did was to make sure that we have almost no responsibility for the outcome of the revolution in Libya. We got permission to protect civilians and used it as a pretext to effect regime change, but we’re not invested in any particular power-sharing arrangement. That’s good, because we have no idea who we want to be winners or losers. Except, you know how this works. We will figure out who will give the most lucrative oil contracts to the West, and we will support them. There is really no end in sight for the Libyan Civil War.
By way of disclosure, I spent a good part of my high school years partying in Richard Falk’s home because he was always traveling. But I still think he’s worth reading on Libya.
Looking at the Libya experience from an international perspective raises several more concerns. The appraisal of NATO’s intervention will be mainly shaped by whether Libya emerges as a stable, democratic and equitable nation. This will not be knowable for years, but some aspects of the Libya intervention already make it a troubling precedent. The UN Security Council, which authorized the use of force under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, was either duped or complacent, possibly both. The authorizing resolution was framed by establishing a no-fly zone, with the justification for force at the time focused on protecting the threatened population of Benghazi. Yet this limited mandate was disregarded almost from the outset. NATO forces were obviously far less committed to their assigned protective role than to ensuring that the balance of forces be tipped in the direction of the insurrection. If this intention had been clear at the outset, it’s almost certain Russia and China would have vetoed the UN resolution. During the debate these two countries expressed misgivings about encroaching on Libya’s sovereignty, and they were joined by India, Brazil and Germany as abstaining Security Council members.
It is extremely disturbing that a restricted UN mandate was ignored and that the Security Council did not reconsider the original mandate or censure NATO for unilaterally expanding the scope and nature of its military role. By ignoring the UN’s limits, NATO may have destroyed the prospects for future legitimate uses of the principle of responsibility to protect.
Personally, I think it was impossible to fulfill the mission to protect without removing Gaddafi, but that doesn’t mean that no damage was done through the deceit that regime change was not the policy.
The real problem is a lack of peace and stability. It could emerge and I certainly hope it does. But it isn’t humanitarian to arm-up a country for a never-ending civil war. At best, under these kinds of circumstances, it’s a desperate gamble. It’s a gamble I was unwilling to endorse considering how peripheral it was to U.S. interests. But it’s a gamble that I hope pays off.