While this may come back to haunt me soon, let me here go on the record saying I supported at least some kind of military intervention in Libya after the UN resolution authorizing the protection of civilians passed. Ordinarily, I am a sharp critic of needless militarism and war in general, and I remain skeptical of our prolonged efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With regard to the recent swirl of revolts and revolutions in the Middle East that has culminated in the current state of affairs in Libya, I believe this conflict deserves to be separated from the rest.
For several weeks now, President/General Qaddafi has used superior military force to quash pro-democracy rebellions across the entire country, including his own supposed political stronghold of Tripoli. When the UN resolution authorizing protection by foreign states finally passed, it came with the rubber-stamp approval of the notoriously indecisive Arab League and the diplomatic weight given to unanimous decision. With approval from the United Nations, the Arab League, France, Britain, and the Libyan populace itself, this new conflict bears little resemblance to Iraq in 2003.
Some will charge that the current intervention is simply another case of Western imperialism—the United States intervening in an oil-rich nation to preserve its economic interests, engaging in regime change, etc. While that all seems plausible at first glance, the fact remains that there existed a strictly defined impetus for intervening exactly when we did—the advance of General Qaddafi’s forces on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. After a no-fly zone was nominally instated and a ceasefire officially declared by the Libyan government immediately following it, reports began coming in via Al-Jazeera and Twitter that Tripoli-based tanks were advancing toward Benghazi.
With less than a few hours to spare, French forces flew over Libyan airspace and destroyed the first tank, followed soon by British and American aircraft joining the efforts.
Allowing an antidemocratic dictator entrenched for more than 40 years advance militarily on his own people with the intent to crush opposition is not something the international community can sit and watch idly while extolling the virtues of selective isolationism. Sometimes, as brutal and paradoxical as it sounds, force must be used selectively to destroy the potential for even greater destruction.
To be clear, I do not believe in nor do I support a prolonged (more than a few weeks) presence in Libya or a concentrated effort to initiate regime change by toppling the government. We do not need to engage in democracy-building in a nation with little history of it, but we do have a responsibility to protect civilians from a brutal leader. Whatever form of government a future Libya takes is in the hands of its own popular opposition and not the ideas of the West, but we cannot allow its civilians to suffer.
Much will be said on this topic in the coming days, and I can only hope Operation Odyssey Dawn is both effective and short, a small blip on the timetable of US military involvement. It is true we cannot afford a third Middle Eastern war, but we can equally not afford the consequences of inaction.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent the opinions of The Georgetown Progressive as a publication.