Five weeks ago, I wrote in this space that the U.S. should stay on the sidelines as the crisis in Libya unfolded. President Obama has gone in anyway with missiles blazing, but I don’t see any reason to change my advice.
It can be very satisfying to watch an armed conflict from the far side of the globe and feel one has helped to even the odds if not boost the underdog to victory with massive firepower. It’s a little like seeing a slice of an ongoing Xbox game every night on the evening news. We’re safe and comfy in our homes, nobody’s brother or father or son is being sent off to die (we’ve seen how well that’s worked in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, so Obama has assured he won’t be doing that this time), and so far, we haven’t had to look at any gruesome photos of dead ragheads.
I haven’t seen any polls of the American public’s attitude toward our involvement in Libya, but I’m guessing it’s mostly indifferent to apathetic. The average American probably doesn’t know enough about Libya to have a strong opinion. I suspect the basic response would be “yah, Gadhafi looks like a real nutcase and a meanie, so it’s probably good that we’re shutting him down.” (It’s been interesting to watch the Obama-hating commentators respond to this latest crisis: Bill O’Reilly is all for sending in troops with guns blazing to save lives, while Glenn Beck is urging caution and wondering whether it’s a good idea to meddle in Libya, and Rush Limbaugh is decrying our knee –jerk dash to protect Europe’s oil—apparently to make sure they don’t run the risk of actually approving something the President has done.)
The problem (for the average American) is: We’re NOT shutting Gadhafi down. Just as the first President Bush did in the 1991 Persian Gulf War with regard to Saddam Hussein, we’ve joined in airstrikes to stop oppression but will not remove the oppressor from power. In this particular, Obama’s chosen the correct course, and most of our international partners (especially the five who abstained from voting for the UN resolution that approved the no-fly zone—Russia, China, Germany, India, and Brazil) don’t wish to set a precedent for invading a foreign country for the express purpose of toppling its government, however illegitimate or oppressive. Ultimately, that’s a justification for meddling in any nation’s affairs and even terrorism.
But going in at all was a mistake on our part, I would contend—for two reasons. First, it sets us up once again as traffic cop to the world, and if anything goes wrong (and trust me: most likely it will), we will be blamed as a bully, especially by the Arab and Muslim nations who have so far remained quiet, and in one or two cases actually supported action against Gadhafi. (The Arab League approved of the no-fly zone, and news reports say the tiny Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar has contributed planes to enforce it as well as recognized the rebels as “the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people”—something not even Obama is willing to do. If we had hung back, perhaps more Arab and Muslim nations would have rushed in to assist the French who were so eager to get in there. They would have their own reasons, probably having to do with oil—who has it, and to whom it will get sold.)
The second and bigger reason is that if the rebel forces prevail, we probably don’t know who would rule in Gadhafi’s stead or how. The CIA has candidates and theories, I suppose, but in the past Gadhafi was one of our allies, as were the Mujahideen, some of whom would later become the Taliban, in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The U.S. sold military weapons to both—armaments they later used to oppress and kill their own people. As for “armed humanitarian missions,” consider the CIA’s and U.S. military’s (and therefore our, as in all Americans’) past record:
· Nearly 60 years later, Korea remains a divided nation, after a war that killed 33,000 Americans and roughly a million Koreans, with a succession of tyrants starving and bankrupting their citizens to the north of the 36th parallel. It is as if we, as Britain, had intervened in the American Civil War, such that the South fought Lincoln to a standstill, and thereby earned separate nation status, with slavery and capital punishment, well into the 20th century.
· Vietnam is now our peaceful trading partner, after nearly 60,000 Americans and 1.5 million Vietnamese were killed in battle 40-50 years ago
· In Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans and locals continue to die violently every day, with no stable native government in sight for either nation
· On a much less vivid level, one could trace economic and sociological fallout from all these wars back home: boom fortunes for a few (contractors and weapons manufacturers), recessions and depressions for the rest of us, a legacy among veterans of divorce, spousal abuse, random violence committed by sufferers of PTSD, etc.
We haven’t saved anyone. Our muscle hasn’t created new, benevolent, democratic governments for any people anywhere in the world where they weren’t already prepared to take power and rule themselves without help. Armed assistance and incursions only prolongs death and violence, and perhaps even magnifies it over time; it clearly doesn’t end it.
So why do we keep doing it? In this case, the answer is probably oil. To keep proving Obama wrong, even Limbaugh is willing to admit that.