February 22, 2011
Foreign Intervention, Maybe, Maybe Not: Reservations on Marc Lynch's Call For Libya Help
Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark, calls for sorta kinda foreign NATOidal interventionish actiony-like things in Libya, which he compares to Rwanda and others. I sorta kinda both agree and disagree, what with being near ideologically non-interventiony, but kind of ambivalently sympathetic and ok with loopholes to sort of allow it, but maybe not really. Hope that's muddy enough for you.
I have fundamental reservations about this one, mostly because I want shrinking empires and indigenous empowerment and problem-solving, which in the long run saves lives and encourages real development with consequent survival and prosperity and dignity. (Yes, I was not very supportive of US involvement in Yugoslavia though I sided against the Serbs and didn't get too upset about the intervention when it happened, though we overlook the US role in the almost-as-bad Krajina Serb displacement.)
The appropriate comparison is Bosnia or Kosovo, or even Rwanda where a massacre is unfolding on live television and the world is challenged to act. It is time for the United States, NATO, the United Nations and the Arab League to act forcefully to try to prevent the already bloody situation from degenerating into something much worse.
Maybe, though the ideal situation is for it to let it resolve internally. Unlike the aforementioned situations this isn’t a case of armed sizeable populations against smaller or lesser armed populations, and/or groups acting across political frontiers, this is an embattled visibly shrinking, if vicious, regime against an increasingly armed populace.
Legally, if foreign intervention is warranted, the best thing to happen is for ex-Qaddhafi diplomats to formally request one, acting as representatives of a new government they can impute. Through the Arab League possibly and then to the UN and the UN can deputize NATO. Temporarily. Limited. And only if necessary. And then barely.
The key to these revolutions is they have to be and feel internally generated and sustained and not another Iraq.
If there must be intervention: Egypt has an air force, you know. American-made and paid and a special favorite of the old dictator. Put it to use.
By acting, I mean a response sufficiently forceful and direct to deter or prevent the Libyan regime from using its military resources to butcher its opponents.
That means bombing, in plain English. Possibly lots of it.
. Making that credible could mean the declaration and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, presumably by NATO, to prevent the use of military aircraft against the protestors. It could also mean a clear declaration that members of the regime and military will be held individually responsible for any future deaths.
That means dog-fighting as well as bombing. Possibly ground fighting and setting up a boots-on-the-ground occupation. Or a long term sanctions-set if unsuccessful.
. . . it might also send a powerful warning to other Arab leaders who might contemplate following suit against their own protest movements.
Actually, and with brutal irony, contemplating following suit is what gets these people overthrown as the security forces and state establishment tend to balk when ordered and the populations tend to arise in anger.
And intervening via NATO does send a message that Europeans and Americans still decide the limits of what Arabs can do among themselves. That encourages dictators and discourages popular empowerment. Let’s not “neoconize” these revolts.
I don't have any illusions that the outside world can control what happens in Libya, if the regime really wants to try to hold power by force.
Actually, you kind of do believe they can control stuff, re-read the previous paragraphs. And probably you’re right that they can affect the situation, though not control all of it.
I don't call for a direct military intervention.
Actually, that’s exactly what you are doing.
And I am keenly, painfully aware of all that could go wrong with even the kinds of responses I am recommending.
Not so sure about that, either, or you might hesitate more. Interventions suck even when they are done by Serious Sympathetic Internationalists, and not just by George Bush. It’s the act, as well as the actors.
But right now those fears are outweighed by the urgent imperative of trying to prevent the already bloody situation from getting much, much worse.
Foreign firepower in the middle of a melee, without clear understanding of limits or even who is on who’s side can turn much much worse into much much much much much worse.
This is not a peaceful democracy protest movement which the United States can best help by pressuring allied regimes from above, pushing for long-term and meaningful reform, and persuading the military to refrain from violence. . . .
None of the others were totally peaceful and they decided mostly without the US.
It's gone well beyond that already, and this time I find myself on the side of those demanding more forceful action before it's too late. The steady stream of highly public defections from the regime suggest that rapid change is possible, yesterday's speech by Saif al-Islam Qaddafi and today's events suggest that so is terrible violence.
Foreign intervention should be the last resort. If the Libyan people want a free state, they’ll do probably be able to do it themselves. Of course if neighboring newly freer Arabs want to help, I’m sure no-fly zones and fraternal assistance is warranted. (Hint, hint).
I've been stunned by what Libyans inside the country and outside have been willing to say on the air about the regime --- prominent Libyan diplomats declaring Qaddafi to by a tyrant, major tribal leaders calling for his overthrow, Yusuf al-Qaradawi calling on the air for someone to shoot Qaddafi, and more. The Arab world's attention is focused on Libya now, after several days of a fragmented news agenda divided among Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt and more.
Sounds actually like maybe they can handle it on their own.
Voice after voice, Libyans and other Arabs alike, denounce the silence of the international community and call for action.
There’s been no international silence; everyone’s been loud and clear. Calling for action? Maybe. But it’s time to let people solve their own problems as much as possible. (Though again I wouldn’t object if the Egyptian air force acted especially on request from Libyan diplomats.)
Qaddafi has few friends, and Qatar has called for an urgent Arab League meeting to deal with the crisis.
The Arab League has more legitimate authority to intervene, so ideally if there must be intervention, it should be something like the Egyptian air force. Not the US. Though as Lynch notes, a body that is effectively a trade union for Arab dictators might not act.
While history doesn't suggest we can expect all that much from that club, their public support for international action could go a long way towards overcoming any suggestion that this is an imperialist venture.
Agreed there. But certainly by Marc Lynch conceding it might look like an imperialist venture he concedes he is calling for something that could include direct NATO-type foreign military intervention, if not invasion. And then of course, the inevitable need for occupation, transitional regimes, humanitarian assistance, stability maintenance, democracy nurturing assistance, force protection of diplomats and aid workers, protection against tribal violence, writing a new constitution, purple fingers, liberating veiled women, blah blah yadda yadda, etc.
And I am keenly, painfully aware of all that could go wrong with even the kinds of responses I am recommending.
I hope so. The above is a short list.
The great temptation of Rescue Heroism, or We Must Do Something To Save Lives are righteous vices and, admittedly, sometimes just righteous. We shall see. Though it does appear that the regime is collapsing without help from without.
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I know less the Egyptian side, but from a Tunisian perspective, there is some support for intervention. How much? No idea. The problem is the current Tunisian government 1) has no legitimacy whatsoever, so they will be contested either way 2)is extremely weak and incompetent.
Even from a strict Tunisian point of view (putting aside Arab feelings of solidarity), it is in the country's interest to ensure the fall of Qadafi. He's been widely accused of, at least partly, supporting the militia criminal activity in Tunisia to ensure failure of the democratic transition. Also, Leila, last week, was threatening from Tripoli to burn Tunisia if the country didn't release its held family members. Something to take seriously given the means she has at her disposal.
Also, Tunisia does have a casus beli with at least one Tunisian citizen killed in the current violence in Libya.
Had the government more legitimacy, were it less weak and incompentent, it definitely should provide logistical and military support to the eastern Lybians to take over parts which are loyal to Qaddafi. It would be very well received by both a majority of Libyans (who've been calling other Arabs for help on a regular basis) and of those Tunisians who are demanding action, and pretexts could be found to sell to the many of those who'd be reluctant among Tunisians.
Seems like it could be an opportunity for an enterprising Tunisian political leader or a general to intervene, with or without formal government sanction. But is there an ability? I'd been wondering for a while why there hadn't been any overt Egyptian move, personally. Admittedly, though, it would seem a strange for the Egyptian military junta to help overthrow another Arab authoritarian regime (no, I don't for a minute believe that the Egyptian military is sincere in wanting to set up a democratic government), but it wouldn't be the first time. (even if the Egyptian intervention in Yemen did not necessarily go well)
Posted by: kao_hsien_chih at February 22, 2011 05:35 PM
Well, I think intervention is a very bad idea at this stage.
Primo, there is no clarity on who is doing what.
Second, it is not clear that it is "needed"given the armed forces seem to be going over to the opposition.
Third, if executed, it seems to me something that would play into The Guide's agitprop and for Libyan parties without much access to critical news, could easily be played to his benefit. Foreign invasion, recolonisation, or annexation by Egypt (Tunisia is just not serious, even leaving aside Shaheen's critique of the Gov - which I think unfair and unreasonable at this stage).
I don't see any reason why any of you are wondering why the Egyptians are not engaging in foreign adventures in Libya. I mean get bloody serious.
Egypt has major issues at home, and sending the army and air force off on a foreign adventure when it is not particularly clear if they would in fact be welcomed by parties in Libya or how they would distinguish between parties....
This is pure, superficial arm-chair generaling.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 23, 2011 05:49 AM
M-mm. Not unfair.
Illegitimate: not elected, it is contested in about every decision it takes, in its very legitimacy.
Weak: it concedes to the silliest demands by a few vocals in the streets sometimes.
Incompetent: Ounaies, the ex-FM, was a very amusing example of that. Ghannouchi, who hasn't seen the massive theft under his eyes (that is I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt) that the last Tunisian newborn knew about...
Personally I would prefer no intervention especially of any official kind as the meaningfulness of these revolutions depends on the perception and reality of self-empowerment. As Saddam Hussein shows, entrenched dictators can survive all kinds of foreign intervention and sanctions for years.
The original draft of the above post was much harsher on on Marc Lynch but since I/we like him and it is understandable, I toned it down and conceded some alternatives because they may happen anyway. (Despite Egypt's current situation, they might be able to do a no-fly zone thing, not that that is a great idea either). One reason not to intervene is that no one can tell who's who. Or how people might respond --- the defecting pilots might have acted differently faced with foreign aircraft.
No opinion on the Tunisian government's competence and status though I hope to have more data on that in the next weeks.
Posted by: matthew h at February 23, 2011 08:58 AM
Speaking of arm-chair generalling... Always expected the unexpected. Some wild speculation on why Egypt would intervene:
1) Why would the Egyptian junta not want to overthrow another regime? You could have pressure from Egyptians for their military to do something about the massacre of other Arabs. If the junta wanted to keep itself in power, it could gain a lot of credibility by doing the "right thing".
2) Tantawi might not want to do anything, but younger, more eager officers might want to do something, for reasons listed in 1) or plain democratic desires. We know what young officers have done in Egypt before.
3) Oil fields, under the guise of 1). There seems to be little unifying Libya without Gaddafi, so why not invade to save the Lybians and annex the territory anyway? If it doesn't work and somehow Libyans can get their act together, then Egypt can still pull away with its honour intact and still look good.
Considering that Mr. Guide was already in charge of most media and jamming A-J, the fact that Libyans went to the streets and are dying in great numbers tells me that there is very little chance that a NATO intervention would play in Gaddafi's hands. It's too late. For Libyans having lived 40 years under a stable dictatorship, it's quite clear that All Hell Has Broken Loose, and it's not the fault of foreigners (well, white-skinned ones anyway). It's been going on for over a week now, there's no way of masking this anymore.
On the other hand, I don't see a successful NATO humanitarian invasion succeeding anywhere, do I? I don't think it would turn out well. Maaaayyyybe if the Brits were to lead it, having done decently in their occupation of Basra.
Daniel Ortega, wtf?
Posted by: Guybrush Threepwood at February 24, 2011 01:02 AM
I don't think intervention is a "good" or even "wise" idea, but I don't think that necessarily rules one out. There seem to be just enough of potential short term gains (mostly good publicity) for both the Egyptian military (for whom gains might also be politico-economic and/or financial) and their Western friends that they just might intervene, perhaps not unlike the Ethiopians in Somalia or the Egyptians themselves in Yemen (nb. I don't know too much especially about the latter beyond the barest facts, and I might have gotten the analogue totally wrong)
Posted by: kao_hsien_chih at February 24, 2011 12:54 PM
"they" in prev post = Egyptians. I don't see NATO or any other Western powers intervening directly under almost any circumstance.
Posted by: kao_hsien_chih at February 24, 2011 12:58 PM