Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Libyan Intervention

So, we're bombing Libya. Cue rapturous applause from neo-conservative types and wails of disgust from our peacenik brethren. I can't manage either emotion. There's nothing to celebrate here, but equally it had become pretty difficult for the Western world to stand by idly as Gaddafi continues to cling to power using some of the most brute force.

Which is the point, really. There seems to be a tendency among many to want to see issues in international relations in black and white terms - or rather making immediate and sweeping assumptions about whether any interventions are right or wrong. The reality is a little more complicated that.

Basically, as far as I can see, we had three options. Standing by and doing nothing would ensure that the coalition kills no-one. At least not directly. At best, this option would leave us with blood on our hands indirectly. At worst we would, once again, be turning a blind eye as an evil dictator kills his way to further power.

The second option - limited intervention - is the one we've gone for. And I have no doubt whatsoever that it is only a matter of (very limited) time before we start seeing reports about collateral damage - of innocents slayed by our armed forces. Then we drift into the difficult calculations about military interventions - would more people have died had we not intervened, or are our actions creating carnage that otherwise wouldn't exist?

This is even more pronounced in the third option - a direct onslaught, including ground forces, against the Gaddafi regime. We may yet end up in this situation; for what it's worth, I really hope that we don't. But with this option you can be pretty much guaranteed that Gaddafi will fall (the US army could destroy his forces on their own without too much fuss) but again there's the question of carnage. How many will have to die - on both sides, and among the civilians - for regime change to occur in Libya?

And there's a further problem with options 2 and 3. They leave us open to the charge of hypocrisy. We are fighting to protect rebels in Libya. What about rebellions in other parts of the world? What about dealing with other abhorrent dictators? Why aren't we doing something about, say, North Korea? You could argue that there is no credible indigenous resistance in North Korea, but then again that is hardly surprising given North Korea is a brutal totalitarian state. The reality is that we cannot afford to fight every regime across the world with whom we do not agree. But then how do we prioritise them? Why is the life of a North Korean less of a priority that the life of a Libyan? Again, we can argue that change is happening in Libya; we're just giving those forces of change a push. But the charge of hypocrisy can still be leveled. After all, Iraq in 2003 was hardly in the grip of a rebellion, was it? But when there was an uprising there after the first Gulf War, it was 'turn a blind eye' time again.

International relations is a messy arena, and an ethical foreign policy is in practice impossible. But what we can do is, whatever actions we take, make sure we consider the outcomes. So we're carrying out air operations in Libya. What's our endgame here? To enforce a no-fly zone? To just protect the existing rebel strongholds? Or are we actually going for the toppling of Gaddafi? And if that's the plan, who or what is going to replace him? Such questions appear to be obvious, but if we look back on the invasion of Iraq back in 2003, they were either not asked or not credibly answered.

It is impossible to know right now whether the intervention in Libya will ultimately prove to have been the right thing to do. If you think you know already, one way or another, then you're probably being naive. We won't know whether this was the right thing to do or not until it's all over, when the blood has been shed and the history books are being written.

Labels: , , , ,


At 7:21 pm , Blogger TonyF said...

Excellent post. The problem with N Korea, is the nuclear one. Gaddafi may be mad as a box of frogs, and well capable of indiscriminate slaughter, even of his own side if he thinks it will keep him in power. Kim Jong-il on the other hand would do all that Gaddafi would do, and add to that Radioactivity. Probably not as a bucket of sunshine, but as a dirty weapon.

At 7:23 pm , Blogger Turbolax the Barbarian said...

Hello Appalling,
Great stuff as usual.You are high on my list of top blog links.
I am



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home