The Wrong Intervention - Michael Walzer
Source Dave Anderson
Date 11/03/21/14:43
The Wrong Intervention
Michael Walzer

THERE ARE so many things wrong with the Libyan intervention that it is
hard to know where to begin. So, a few big things, in no particular

First, it is radically unclear what the purpose of the intervention
is—there is no endgame, as a U.S. official told reporters. Is the goal
to rescue a failed rebellion, turn things around, use Western armies
to do what the rebels couldn’t do themselves: overthrow Qaddafi? Or is
it just to keep the fighting going for as long as possible, in the
hope that the rebellion will catch fire, and Libyans will get rid of
the Qaddafi regime by themselves? Or is it just to achieve a
cease-fire, which would leave Qaddafi in control of most of the
country and probably more than willing to bide his time? The size of
the opening attack points toward the first of these, but success there
would probably require soldiers on the ground, which no one in France,
Britain, or the United States really wants. The second is the most
likely goal, though it would extend, not stop, the bloodshed.

Second, the attacks don’t have what we should have insisted on from
the very beginning—significant Arab support. Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates have promised military forces, but they represent roughly 1
percent of the Arab people. There is no support coming from either
Tunisia or Egypt, Libya’s immediate neighbors. The Tunisian army is
small, but the Egyptian army isn’t small, and they have an air force,
too. The United States has spent billions of dollars on the Egyptian
military, and it is astonishing that Egypt is not willing to make any
contribution to the intervention. That is a very bad sign, for the
attacks will undoubtedly kill civilians, and these will be innocent
men, women, and children, Arab and Muslim, killed (again) by the
French, the British, and the Americans. Russia and China, who opposed
the intervention, abstained on the final Security Council vote,
perhaps because they can’t imagine an outcome that better suits their
interests in the Middle East and Africa.

Third, opposition in the Security Council didn’t stop with Russia and
China. India, Brazil, and Germany also opposed the intervention, and
then abstained. The African Union refused to send a representative to
the meeting called by President Sarkozy in Paris to consolidate
support for military action. The Arab League called for the creation
of a no-fly zone, but some of its leaders are already criticizing the
attacks required to make it work. And, again, no major Arab state is
participating. It is an old pattern that we thought was finished after
the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia—where Arab states (and other states
too) don’t take responsibility for doing what they want done…by
someone else.

None of this would matter if this were a humanitarian intervention to
stop a massacre. But that is not what is happening in Libya today.
There would have been a cruel repression after a Qaddafi victory, and
it would have been necessary to help rebels and dissidents escape and
to make sure that they had a place to go. Watching the repression
wouldn’t be easy (though we seem to be having no difficulty doing that
in Bahrain and Yemen). But the overthrow of tyrants and the
establishment of democracy have to be local work, and in this case,
sadly, the locals couldn’t do it. Foreigners can provide all sorts of
help—moral, political, diplomatic, and even material. Maybe neighbors,
who share ethnicity and religion with the Libyan people, could do
more. But a military attack of the sort now in progress is defensible
only in the most extreme cases. Rwanda and Darfur, where we didn’t
intervene, would have qualified. Libya doesn’t.

Michael Walzer is the co-editor of Dissent.

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