Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why U.S. Intervention in Libya Was Unnecessary

I was going to respond directly to Obama's speech, but it is so long that I thought I'd focus instead on someone who agrees with the president: Marc Lynch at He has a post up called, "Why Obama Had to Act in Libya."
had the international community not acted when it did, thousands would have been slaughtered as the world watched.
First of all, it is always useful to point out that there never has been, and still isn't an "international community." And this mythical beast did not intervene in Libya. The U.S., Britain, and France did, along with some token support. There are major powers such as China who opposed intervention.

Second, I'm skeptical of the worst case scenario of mass slaughter in Benghazi. Lynch is merely repeating an assertion without much evidence behind it.
The effects of that decision would have been felt across the Middle East, where America would have been deemed to have abandoned the people struggling for freedom in the Arab world.
America is going to be blamed by those who want to blame it for something, regardless of what we do. And it is far from clear exactly what Libyan rebels are fighting for other than getting rid of Gaddafi.
And it would have quite simply been wrong.
Another unfounded assumption. Libya is in no way our responsibility. There would have been nothing wrong with recognizing that and choosing not to intervene in its civil war.
My conversations with administration officials, including but not limited to the one recounted by the indefatigable Laura Rozen, convinced me that they believed that a failure to act when and how they did would have led to a horrific slaughter in Benghazi and then across Libya.
Lynch is easily taken in by administration propaganda. Obviously administration officials are going to stress the absolute worst-case to justify intervention.
There was no mad rush to war, and certainly no master plan to invade Libya to grab its oil.
The only people that think there was are the usual anti-American types. That charge is so ridiculous it isn't even worth a response.
The administration resisted intervening militarily until they had no choice
Of course it had a choice. It chose to intervene in a civil war where no clear American interests were at stake. It there were, why was it so difficult to define them? Why did the president wait so long to even offer up a muddled rationale in his speech last night?
And my conversations with Arab activists and intellectuals, and my monitoring of Arab media and internet traffic, have convinced me that the intervention was both important and desirable.
What Arab activists and intellectuals think should be one of the very last considerations as to why we should commit U.S. forces to intervene in someone's civil war.
The administration understood, better than their critics, that Libya had become a litmus test for American credibility and intentions, with an Arab public riveted to al-Jazeera.
Oh please. Does Lynch really think the U.S. is going to get some sort of credit for its actions in Libya?
This administration is all too aware of the dangers of mission creep, escalation, and the ticking clock on Arab and international support which so many of us have warned against. They don't want another Iraq, as Obama made clear.... even if it is not obvious that they can avoid one.
Don't make me laugh. This administration is clueless and oblivious. They can't even articulate a cohesive message or offer any sort of effective leadership. Why should we believe a foreign policy incompetent like Obama has the slightest idea about the unintended consequences of his actions?
Thanks to al-Jazeera's intense focus on Libya, literally the whole Arab world was watching, dictators and publics alike. Not acting would have been a powerful action which would have haunted America's standing in the region for a decade.
Not acting would have sent a much needed message the U.S. doesn't intervene in areas when its national interests are not at stake. Lynch has a ridiculously naive and misplaced faith in rationality of the Arab world. Again, we aren't going to get any more support because of this action.
many of the same people now denouncing the intervention would have been up in arms at America's indifference to Arab life -- it is all too easy to imagine denunciations such as "the dream of the Cairo speech died in the streets of Benghazi as Barack Obama proved that he does not care about Muslim lives."
Thanks for making my point. The same people saying one thing anti-American, would be saying something else anti-American. Our intervention or lack thereof just changes the focus of their anti-Americanism, not the substance.

The rest of the article partially undermines his own argument. These lines stand out.
The administration hasn't done a great job communicating its position, particularly on the question of whether or not Qaddafi's departure is the goal (I personally think it has to be). While I hope that today's London meeting will produce more clarity on a political path forward, I haven't seen much to suggest one yet.
Yeah, those are some big understatements.

The bottom line is that no one has put forth a convincing argument for why intervening in Libya was necessary for U.S. interests. In my opinion, the weakness of Lynch's arguments, which are based largely on exaggerating the effects of non-intervention, and wishful thinking about its supposedly positive effect on the Arab world, reinforce the case that U.S. involvement was not necessary. This action is a example of typical liberal "do-gooder" policy. It's rooted primarily in emotionalism and the idea that we have to "do something," even if that something isn't well-thought out, sets bad precedents, and risks all sorts of unintended consequences.


  1. I think you have some good points in this article, but the naive way you confound do-gooding with liberalism muddies things.
    The intervention in Libya isn't really a liberal intervention (there's no overt progressive agenda, but rather an attempt to prevent civilian deaths). Compare this with the rhetoric surrounding the second Iraq intervention ("bringing democracy", etc), and I think most people will agree that a liberal intervention is not just perpetrated by those on the left (in fact, many on the left were strident opposers of the Iraq intervention.)

    Note that I'm not making value judgments about either intervention here, just observing the differing motivators.

  2. come see the last!

    in your room where time stands still...

  3. "I think you have some good points in this article, but the naive way you confound do-gooding with liberalism muddies things."

    There's nothing naive about it. Maybe it wasn't clear, but I'm refering to a specific strain of liberalism -- the strain that thinks using the military is fine as long as there is some sort of supposed humanitarian justification.

    "The intervention in Libya isn't really a liberal intervention"

    I disagree. It's a classic liberal interventionist foreign policy action. That's why liberal interventionists support it.

    "(there's no overt progressive agenda, but rather an attempt to prevent civilian deaths)"

    Intervening supposedly to prevent civilian deaths is exactly the type of motive that makes it example of liberal interventionism. Preventing the deaths of Libyans has nothing to do with U.S. national interests. It's a feel-good, do-gooder action of the type that liberals tend to support.

    "I think most people will agree that a liberal intervention is not just perpetrated by those on the left (in fact, many on the left were strident opposers of the Iraq intervention.)"

    You are conflating liberal interventionism with conservative "freedom agenda" democracy promotion. They are sometimes allied, but they aren't the same.

    Btw, I know there are plenty on the left who oppose the Libyan intervention. Liberal interventionism tends to be found among mainstream liberals, rather than the left-wing base of the Democratic party

  4. Obama's handling of this operation would be hilarious if it weren't so clumsily handled.

    When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff enunciates that there isn't a clear mission goal, let alone a definition of success, when the Secretary of Defence blurts that the U.S. has no national interest being in Libya (and is quickly silenced by Hillary Clinton), and the commanders on the ground reveal that Terrorists who fought against us in Iraq are among the Rebel leadership, you KNOW that intelligence was either disregarded or (more likely), not gathered at all.

    To cap it all: Obama sticks his nose in the air, exuding moral superiority over Bush. This too, would be hilarious if it weren't so ridiculously hypocritical. Under Saddam, over a million people were killed in the war with Iran, let alone the murder of the Marsh Arabs, Iraqi Shiites and Kurds.

    Not to mention that Bush had a coalition of 35 supporting countries; contrasted with Obama's 11, and the (what seem to be) clear connection to preserving oil contracts for Europe.

    Honestly, even as a Canadian, I will be extremely frustrated if Americans don't wake up and kick this President's ass right out to the White House Lawn.

  5. Yes, the hypocrisy, arrogance and incompetence of Obama is pretty staggering.