Friday, April 15, 2011

Saving Tens Of Thousands

Barack Obama has joined with Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy in an op-ed piece published in all three nations which I read as a combination of self justification and threat making. It certainly debunks the claim that The United States entered into its third concurrent Middle Eastern military conflict for the sole purpose of protecting noncombatant life.

They begin by claiming that the three nations which they lead “halted the advance of Qaddafi’s forces and prevented the bloodbath that he had promised to inflict upon the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi.” Emphasis mine. Notice that loss of the “broad coalition” of which the US was once the leader, now it is three nations responding and preventing a madman from carrying out threats.

They go into even more colorful rhetoric as to the nobility of the enterprise,

Tens of thousands of lives have been protected. But the people of Libya are still suffering terrible horrors at Qaddafi’s hands each and every day. His rockets and shells rained down on defenseless civilians in Ajdabiya. The city of Misurata is enduring a medieval siege, as Qaddafi tries to strangle its population into submission. The evidence of disappearances and abuses grows daily.

Again, the emphasis is mine, and I don’t think that any of the three of them actually believe that tanks and rockets existed in medieval times, but after using such colorful language as “[t]ens of thousands of lives,” people “suffering terrible horrors” which are unnamed, and talking about “rockets and shells rain[ing] down on defenseless civilians” it’s hard not to get carried away. While there is “evidence” of these things in the form of reports from the rebels, actual proof of any of them is in very short supply.

I said from the beginning that intervention based on prevention of mass slaughter was dubious because all we had was the ranting of a madman, and even the actual content of his threat was unclear. Daniel Larison was of similar mind and still is, as he states in an article yesterday.

Likewise, armed, preventive humanitarian interventions can’t be justified on their advocates’ terms if “all we have” is evidence of past behavior and stated threats.

This is especially true when past behavior in this case includes putting down two rebellions in Benghazi without massacring the population, and apparently recapturing towns held by rebels without massacring the population this time as well. The February 17 movement derived its name from the date of the 2006 rebellion that Gaddafi put down, and one of the would-be military leaders of the rebels is Gen. Heftar, who led the failed 1996 rebellion against Gaddafi before fleeing to the U.S. The 2011 uprising was broader and more significant than either of these, but what exactly about Gaddafi’s behavior in putting down these earlier rebellions would lead us to believe that he was going to massacre civilians?

Nonetheless, at this point we are claiming that “Tens of thousands of lives have been protected,” writing history based on what our expectations were beforehand, no matter how misguided those expectations may have been.

Nor do we let past misjudgment dissuade us from future error.

Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power.

Put that into actual, non-doublespeak, language and what it says is that the UN mandate does not authorize regime change but we are damned well going to engage in it anyway.

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