Libya and the American Interest

[updated]

It appears Muammar Gaddafi has called a ceasefire following the announcement of a UN no-fly zone:

Libyan Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa said the regime would halt all military operations immediately, as Britain and France deployed fighter jets to bases in readiness to strike Gaddafi troops attacking rebel positions.

“Libya has decided an immediate ceasefire and an immediate halt to all military operations,” Mr Kussa told a press conference in Tripoli.

He said because Libya was a member of the UN it was “obliged to accept the UN Security Council’s resolutions”.

The backdown came after Gaddafi said in an interview aired on Portuguese state television that the Security Council had “no mandate” for such a resolution, “which we absolutely do not recognise”.

According to The Guardian, however, Libyan forces are still attacking rebel locations.

So, I admit to seeing the appeal of intervention in Libya. Nor do I buy lines like this from Greg Scoblete:

When the Bush administration wanted to wage a war of choice against Iraq, it at least spent several months building a public case. The Bush administration had to resort to some wild rhetoric about the possibility of the United States getting nuked, but at least it was making a case built (however absurdly) on American security interests. What has the Obama administration said? What interests are at stake? Why is American security at risk if we do nothing?

The Bush administration wanted to invade Iraq. There was no immediate humanitarian crisis like the one facing Libya. The whole point of intervention now is to stop a massive slaughter of citizens in Libya. Bush needed to make a case for Iraq because there was relative stability in that country when we invaded.

This doesn’t make the no-fly-zone (and whatever else we may use in Libya) the correct course of action. However appealing the idea of British and French fighter jets swooping down out of the sky to rescue the besieged rebels may be, we need to assess the risk – and the risk is enormous.

Nobody wants to see Gaddafi win this fight, especially since it will mean the murder of thousands of his own citizens, but we really don’t know what this will mean for America, in blood or treasure, in terms of years or depth of involvement. Even if Obama didn’t bother to make the elaborate case Bush made for Iraq, the more important factor is that we didn’t take the time to ask all the right questions about our involvement in Libya.

The case, I would suggest, is fairly obvious – this is a humanitarian intervention to stop an ongoing conflict. Justifying that this is our responsibility is another question altogether, and nobody has appropriately made that case.

P.S. Reports have Yemeni officials firing on protestors as well. And of course, there is the Saudi/Bahraini assault on protestors in Bahrain, where they have demolished Pearl Monument. Conflicts exist all across the globe – the Ivory Coast, for instance – and we cannot intervene in all of them. That is why – however sympathetic the cause may be – we need to always evaluate the American interest when it comes to committing American troops. Yes, the continued dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi is a problem for America and the West – but not a problem that requires military involvement.

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5 thoughts on “Libya and the American Interest

  1. The cease fire is an interesting move by Gaddafi (is there some generally-accepted way to spell his name?) because it leaves the rebels in control of Benghazi for the time being and deprives western military interests of an opportunity to strike. Now, if we send our planes in, it’s debatably an act of aggressive war against Libya — although the UN resolution provides at least a tissue of moral authority. So any action we take now is going to be ambiguous. It leaves Gaddafi with the political initiative.

    The overall command structure of whatever multinational force is going to take up the challenge of enforcing the UN resolution does not appear to be well-worked out yet. That needs to get established and that command structure needs to figure out a realistic way to politically resolve the civil war.

    Perhaps Gaddafi and the rebels accept some sort of a power-sharing relationship in exchange for mutual amnesty. I haven’t really thought it through yet, but in that sense I’m no worse than anyone else in the actual US, UN or NATO political or military command structures.

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    • Alas that this site doesn’t support Arabic charsets. The first letter of his name is Qaf, which has no Romance language equivalent and is pronounced differently around the Arabic-speaking world. The next two letter are Dhal, then Fa the final letter is Ya. It is not an Arabic name, it’s Berber, from his tribe, the Qaddadfa.

      Berber certainly isn’t Arabic, it’s what the linguists call Afroasiatic. The Tifinagh orthography reflects sounds in their language the Arabic script never could. It was a common problem throughout the lands where the Qu’ran became the basis for Arabic orthography: many letters weren’t used at all and others had to be re-used. Persian starting inventing letters, The Ottomans invented their own bizarre language, Court Turkish. Anyway, Berber was a particularly bad fit and the Qaddadfa and the rest of the Berbers had to make do.

      I spell it Qadafy, since the doubled dhal makes no difference in pronunciation. CIA spells it Qadhafi, that might make a bit better, but they don’t double the dhal either, and in Berber there are several sounds including a fricative yad, I wouldn’t put the dh in there.

      As for power sharing, there won’t be any. The rebels used terrible semiotics: the flag they chose was that of King Idris, much-hated by the Berber tribes, a Sufi (not a proper Sunni) and widely seen as a puppet of the UK and the US. Whoever comes to power will govern from the coast. The inland Berbers will not back this new regime.

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  2. Alas that this site doesn’t support Arabic charsets. The first letter of his name is Qaf, which has no Romance language equivalent and is pronounced differently around the Arabic-speaking world. The next two letter are Dhal, then Fa the final letter is Ya. It is not an Arabic name, it’s Berber, from his tribe, the Qaddadfa.

    Berber certainly isn’t Arabic, it’s what the linguists call Afroasiatic. The Tifinagh orthography reflects sounds in their language the Arabic script never could. It was a common problem throughout the lands where the Qu’ran became the basis for Arabic orthography: many letters weren’t used at all and others had to be re-used. Persian starting inventing letters, The Ottomans invented their own bizarre language, Court Turkish. Anyway, Berber was a particularly bad fit and the Qaddadfa and the rest of the Berbers had to make do.

    I spell it Qadafy, since the doubled dhal makes no difference in pronunciation. CIA spells it Qadhafi, that might make a bit better, but they don’t double the dhal either, and in Berber there are several sounds including a fricative yad, I wouldn’t put the dh in there.

    As for power sharing, there won’t be any. The rebels used terrible semiotics: the flag they chose was that of King Idris, much-hated by the Berber tribes, a Sufi (not a proper Sunni) and widely seen as a puppet of the UK and the US. Whoever comes to power will govern from the coast. The inland Berbers will not back this new regime.

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  3. Berber certainly isn’t Arabic, it’s what the linguists call Afroasiatic.

    Arabic is also Afroasiatic, of course. The Semitic languages (which include Arabic and Hebrew) form one subdivision of the Afroasiatic ones; the Berber languages form another.

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