A just cause in Libya
I wrote last week about the ambiguity surrounding the wording of the War Power’s Act and the differing interpretations of its applicability to American involvement in Libya. Since then, numerous pundits, writers, and politicians have, confident in their own understanding of exactly what the term “hostilities” implies, have continued to assail the Obama administration’s position. The debate over Libya culminated in two votes in the House last Friday. A resolution to support America’s role in the conflict (and thus end the argument over the War Powers Act) was defeated 123 to 295. However, a subsequent, largely Republican endorsed bill to restrict funding in the conflict was voted down 238 to 180. The result hardly conveys a sense of conviction on the part of those in Congress, let alone their constituencies.
The administration is largely to blame for the frequently strong opposition to American involvement, opposition which is only tempered by pockets of modest, lukewarm support. It has failed to make a clear case for fundamental justice of the cause in Libya. So, I will.
First, let us think about what is happening in Libya. Inspired by their neighbors in Egypt and Tunisia, thousands of Libyans arose in largely peaceful protest against their autocratic leader. Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, Libyan authorities gunned down protestors in the streets and in their houses without even a pretense of restraint. The response was an armed uprising throughout the country, led not by the fundamentalists or criminals the Libyan government portrayed, but by largely liberal-minded leaders similar in views to many who have emerged throughout the Middle East. The contrast between the two sides, one fighting for their freedom, the other a tyrannical gangster state, could not be clearer.
So what, many have said, it is not our business not matter how noble the goals. It is someone else’s civil war. This quasi-isolationist position suggests that the United States should never be engaged in any conflict that doesn’t directly involve vital American interests. Not only does this position fundamentally contradict the major strain of idealism that has existed in American foreign policy since the Spanish-American War, but also ignores the fact that there are few, if any, truly vital interests around the world that are in need of American leadership or a military presence that spans the globe.
Some argue that American intervention in Libya cannot be justified without American involvement in other areas, like Syria. The tired old argument “if we intervene here, why not everywhere else” neglects the fact that every situation is different in terms of the feasibility, cost, and effectiveness of becoming involved. In Libya, the lines-of-battle were and are fairly clearly defined, the zone-of-conflict extremely accessible to the U.S. Navy, and the cost of involvement very low, with no loss of American lives and, a high-side projected of cost of two billion dollars by the end of the year — about the price of a single B-2 bomber.
Under such conditions, the only case against intervention becomes a “we won’t lift a finger” -type argument by those who bore and bear no personal responsibility for the decision. However, a decision to not intervene is a moral choice as well, and a decision far fewer opponents would likely have made had they been personally responsible for those who those who would have died as a result.
If these arguments are not enough, let’s think about why it is important for this country to depose Qaddafi — not for reasons of self-interest, but for reasons of justice. Almost twenty-three years ago, Libyan intelligence operatives, certainly at the behest of Qaddafi, planted a bomb on Pan Am 103, which subsequently exploded killing all 259 aboard and eleven on the ground in the small town of Lockerbie, Scotland . Many of those who died on board were likely alive for much of the unimaginably terrifying descent into the ground.
The Lockerbie bombing was the second worst terrorist attack in American history, and as a result of the terrible death toll and the recent death of Osama Bin Laden, Qaddafi is the man responsible for more American civilian deaths than any living person. Yet many of the same congressional leaders who authorized trillions of dollars and were willing to accept thousands of American deaths to pursue the global war on terror have shown no interest in aiding the downfall of Qadaffi at far less cost. The jubilation surrounding the death of Bin Laden was not a result of the fact that it was a huge blow for American interests, but that it was a triumph for American justice.
Often these days it feels like President Obama, a handful of “hawkish” Republicans who want to expand U.S. involvement (that’s another story), and I are about the only ones in this country supporting America’s role in Libya. Oh, and the families of the victims of Pan Am 103 who have been, as of late, largely ignored by the media. I assume most of them would like to see Qadaffi hung from a lamppost even more than I do.