Further Thoughts on Libya
Over the course of the day, I’ve been keeping an eye on reactions to the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya and now to President Obama’s short update on the situation.
And I have to admit that the reactions aren’t at all what I expected. In particular, I’ve been surprised to see that people are saddened or horrified that the U.S. would get involved in the unfolding situation in Libya. Most commonly, people have lamented that, in this, Obama shows himself to be just like George W. Bush in his willingness to bomb another country in the Middle East in the name of human rights and democracy.
But I have to wonder: if there was ever a justification for intervention, wouldn’t it have to be the violent suppression of pro-democracy forces by an authoritarian dictator who unequivocally states that he is hell-bent on retaining power by any means necessary?
If the international community — and the United States in particular — were to remain on the sidelines while the Libyan government cracked down on people who were demanded their basic human rights, it’s difficult to imagine that we could continue to put any stock in the notion of intervention on behalf of so-called universal human rights. Because, of course, to remain on the sidelines in such a case as this one would be to admit, in effect, that human rights are particular rather than universal, and that — quite clearly — they belong to Westerners and not to people in the Middle East (no matter how much those people might be taken by the idea of those rights).
To intervene, on the other hand, is to state the opposite, especially when the intervention occurs in the context of the violent repression of pro-democratic sentiment; it is to say, in a loud and clear voice, that the international community affirms these universal rights and that countries like the United States — which has always claimed to be a model for others when it comes to human rights and the rule of law — will defend the rights of the people against an illegitimate government that seeks to repress and murder them. If the people were not interested in our intervention, if they were not entrenched in a battle to oust a brutal dictatorial regime, then I would have no argument; it would be clear that our intervention likely served some interest of ours and had little to do with them.
But that seems very much not to be the case now with regard to Libya — and I might also add Yemen and Bahrain too. But perhaps we’ll get to those countries shortly. And, if the international community does turn its attention to them, I’ll republish this post rather than shedding any tears for those governments.
Frankly, if we elected to do nothing — to wait and see, to let things play out — we’re still making a choice. And that choice is that the government of Libya should remain unchanged. But then we would have failed to learn the lesson of Rwanda: a government cannot maintain that it is sovereign when it does not speak for its people and when it sets out to harm them. At such a time, it is incumbent upon the international community to stand with the people against an illegitimate regime, rather than to stand on the sidelines and allow that regime to use all of its resources to crush its citizens.