From the start of our intervention in Libya, critics from across the political spectrum have lambasted American involvement in what is now recognized as a civil war. The blatant hypocrisy of intervening in Libya while doing nothing to address the shotgunning of Bahrainis or the sniping of Yemenis by their own governments hasn’t been missed. Nor has our failure to address the conflict in the Ivory Coast, where the Red Cross reports 800 people were just massacred this week.
Proponents of intervention are on the defensive, following the lead of President Obama. In his March 28 speech, he defended our inconsistent humanitarian intervention, saying that we have a responsibility to intervene “when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are.”
Pro-intervention arguments are perhaps most succinctly summarized in the title of Nicholas Kristof’s April 2 column in the New York Times: “Is it better to save no one?” Kristof’s column claimed we have stopped the rapes of “thousands of Eman al-Obeidys” from happening, referring to the woman who recently burst into a Tripoli hotel to recount to reporters her rape by Qaddafi’s forces. What Kristof et al probably don’t realize is that they are literally parroting an argument of the Bush administration for toppling Saddam in 2003. Kristof admits that “there’s no doubt that we cherry-pick our humanitarian interventions.” But in a sad example of intellectual laziness, he neither questions nor offers any rationale as to why we chose Libya.
David Brooks says the Obama we’re seeing isn’t Obama the litigator, a “cool, hyper-rational calculator,” but “the same sensitive, idealistic man who wrote ‘Dreams From my Father.’”
But this isn’t the Obama we want or need. We don’t need a consensus builder on every single issue; sometimes, we need a strategist. Times like these don’t call for heavy-handed declarations at the first sign of conflict that Qaddafi “has lost all legitimacy and must leave.” They demand a leader who understands the interplay of diplomatic forces among not just the elites, but the citizens of the Middle East.
Our government has not done its due diligence toward our actions in Libya. Despite a 2007 West Point report that showed eastern Libya, including the rebel strongholds of Benghazi and Darna, to be one of the largest contributors of foreign insurgents to Iraq, we very nearly proceeded to arm the rebels, as we did with the Taliban in the 1980s. Just as it seemed we had abandoned such a risky notion, Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain authored an op-ed supporting full-blown regime change in Libya. Some people never learn.
The pro-interventionists’ overarching theme is that to allow Qaddafi’s threatened violence to materialized would have been a blot on the soul of America and the West. But this is nonsense, not to mention hypocritical. We have let dozens of massacres slide before, and are still doing so today elsewhere. We have empowered and supported ruthless dictators, enabling their regimes of terror. Our “interests and values,” as Obama put it, are not merely threatened, but directly assaulted every single day in places like North Korea, Venezuela, the Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan and Russia — even by our own actions, as we topple democrats and empower despots.
At home, millions of Americans are mired in poverty, surviving on food banks. Broke states are cutting Medicaid for those who will die without it. Abroad, thousands of children starve to death every day. Sub-Saharan Africa is facing an AIDS crisis of epic proportions. These are humanitarian interventions that can be solved without Tomahawk missiles and hundreds of expensive sorties that we choose to ignore every single day. Why is it that only violent deaths spur us to action, while deaths of neglect merit no response?
We’ve managed to push the deaths of neglect to the back of our minds to enable us to sleep at night. But Libya is harder for us to ignore. When it comes to intervention, nothing beats the feeling of seeing the bombs fall: David Brooks has never written with such unrestrained glee about the “fabulous” antiretroviral drugs delivered to Africans as he has about the psy-ops and sabotage currently being deployed against Qaddafi loyalists.
Let’s be clear. We’re not intervening for the people of Libya. We’re doing it for ourselves.
Jack Newsham is a freshman in Morse College.