I’ve been going through a bit of an identity crisis over what to say about the intervention in Libya. I abhor war and have spent most of my life trying to stop US military interventions, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. I never favor militarist solutions.
Yet I find the current operation partially justified. Already it has saved many civilian lives. As Juan Cole notes, Gaddafi’s tanks and planes killed thousands of Libyans in the weeks before the intervention, and they were poised to slaughter many more before they were stopped last week. The international air strikes have halted the regime’s advances and enabled the opposition to recapture lost ground.
The intervention is supported by the Libyan liberation movement and has multilateral authority and participation, with backing from the Arab League and UN Security Council. It is an unprecedented attempt by the international community to exercise the ‘responsibility to protect.’ So far the use of force has been targeted and has not resulted in many civilian casualties.
Yes, the operation has many dangers and contradictions and poses ethical challenges. There is no end game in sight, and no apparent strategy for ending the hostilities and preventing further bloodshed. The mission is ambiguous and contradictory. Officially the goal is protecting civilians, but President Obama and other leaders have called for regime change. Is one possible without the other? If not, how can a limited air operation and rag tag rebellion remove the dictatorship? What will replace the current regime, and what happens if there is a stalemate and Libya ends up with two contesting regimes?
Many uncertainties lie ahead. The air operation must stay focused on civilian protection and should be limited in scope and duration. I will oppose the mission if it leads to wider loss of life or deeper military involvement. For now, though, count me as one who hopes that the multilateral intervention proves successful and paves the way for Gaddafi’s departure.