People that I know and respect are expressing concern and even opposition to the idea of a coalition of western interests intervening in the Libyan civil war. They make some good points, such as that we’re coming in with military force on an internal conflict. They point out that we risk involving ourselves with a country that is not historically stable. They make analogies to the ill-conceived Iraq invasion and to the Afghan war, which we remain mired in almost ten years after we got involved.
These are all fair enough, but I have to respectfully disagree.
There is a fine distinction to be made in getting involved in a country’s internal affairs. I believed that NATO had to get involved in pushing back the Bosnian Serbs, for instance, but that the American intervention in Kosovo was a mistake. The difference? In Bosnia, we were coming in at the invitation of the legitimately elected government of Bosnia to push back separatist forces that wanted to take apart an internationally recognized country. In Kosovo, we had not recognized that country’s independence, so we were involving ourselves in internal Serbian affairs, in direct opposition to the legitimate (if, at the time, brutal) authority of Serbia. That was a dangerous slippery slope.
In Libya, there is a fair argument that Gaddafi has lost the moral right to govern his people. There was a fair argument, I believe, that the people of Libya were asking for our help. The intervention in Libya was preceded with a care for international legal process that was sadly absent in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. We had the request for help from a credible regional authority (the Arab League), we had clear evidence that atrocities were going on, and we had a properly debated UN resolution. If we believed in the right of the Egyptians to stand up against their government and demand change, then what right had we to deny Libyans that same opportunity?
Yes, it’s beyond hypocritical to offer support to Libyan rebels while ignoring the pleas of Bahrain’s people (where intervention there would pose the sticky situation of coming in conflict with invading Saudi troops), but there just comes a point where you can’t stand idly by. No, the west’s ability to stand on any moral high ground is suspect. Pragmatic politics is, too often, cruel and destructive. But sometimes standing back and doing nothing is as bad, if not worse, than intervening badly.
Today, it is my hope that western intervention will save lives in Libya, and offer some hope for democracy in this troubled nation. Do I expect it to go perfectly? Of course not. But the fact that we’re willing to try is, in my view, a reason to hope for this world.