Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: with broad political support, a president attacks an Arab country, citing a “humanitarian” goal. Detractors are heartless, implicitly supporting a dictator. In a surprisingly short amount of time, we declare the mission accomplished. Soon afterwards, however, our coalition rapidly falls apart, it becomes apparent that we have no exit strategy in place, and our objectives are redefined to fit the role we find ourselves in.
Yes, yes – Libya is not Iraq. Indeed, there are many differences between the two. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t compare them. Our political-cultural fixation on violent death (compare the news coverage to a shooting in Syria to that of the three thousand deaths of starvation that will happen today) and the unmatched feeling of efficacy that comes from seeing bombs dropped has raised hopes among even American liberals that we have finally found the Good War, that our reputation can finally be salvaged after the debacle of Iraq. Even the News’ own Rory Marsh has praised France’s “brashness and determination” in their execution of “humanitarian principles” over Libya.
Let’s be honest, though: this isn’t humanitarianism. This is opportunism. A weakened dictator has carried out an indisputably evil act. The difference, though, between Bahraini protesters being shotgunned and Yemenis being sniped by their own governments is that they have something to actively offer us, whereas Qaddafi merely stands in the way of what we want. Though individual Americans may support the intervention in Libya for genuinely humanitarian reasons, that’s not why our government is doing it. As columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote, “This is the same government that enthusiastically supports and props up regimes around the world that do exactly that, and that have done exactly that for decades.” That’s why we bomb Qaddafi, and why we issue a sternly-worded YouTube video to address the crisis in the Ivory Coast.
Everything I have mentioned in my the first paragraph has already happened in Libya. Over the token whines of Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, and pathetic political opportunists like Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama seized upon U.N. Resolution 1973 to end the civilian massacres taking places by Qaddafi’s mercenaries. Editors at several media outlets, including the New Republic, have painted the Libyan war as a dichotomy of compassion for the protesters or utter apathy for their plight. According to a British official, “the first phase of the operation has been successful;” however, we’ve never been told how many phases there will be. The Arab League, originally designated as one of the primary enforcers of the no-fly zone, but in fact only one of whose members has flown any missions, has already condemned Western airstrikes for endangering the civilians they purport to save. There is not presently nor was there ever a designated end to the conflict—are we going to bomb to a cease-fire line, or simply act as tactical air support for the rebels all the way to Tripoli? Finally, in a classic case of mission creep, a senior American diplomat has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal as reporting that we are considering arming the rebels of whose leadership and ideology we know absolutely nothing—a description also applicable to the Taliban in the 1980s.
What could possibly go wrong?