Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Preventing Genocide = A Just War

Of the many rationales criticizing our intervention in Libya, none adequately addresses the task at hand, to prevent Khaddafi from committing wholesale slaughter of his people. Given the urgency of a looming humanitarian crisis, the tribal roots of the conflict or whether the uprising against the dictator fits the definition of a civil war take a back seat to the reality on the ground: Colonel Khaddafi has all the heavy guns while his opponents have brought a knife to this fight. Rep. Anthony Weiner is one street smart liberal who said, sensibly, that where we have a chance to do some good, we should, understands this isn't a fair fight.

Some of those opposing intervention are quick to call it a war, i.e., war is the organized killing of people. To which the pregnant question is left unanswered: What then is genocide? Why not ask Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian Lt. General who begged the international community to intervene in Rwanda because the UN failed to give him the resources to stop the genocide, and the international community stood by and let it happen. International law has evolved since Rwanda. The treaty establishing the International Criminal Court defines genocide as:
[A]ny of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
– Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article II
UN Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted in 2006, "reaffirms the provisions of paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document regarding the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity". The resolution committed the Council to action to protect civilians in armed conflict.

Weirdly, one progressive staunchly opposed to this action, wondered about Hillary's purported "emotional" response — interesting how Mr. I-don't-want-to-say-anything-sexist implies Hillary's decision was based on emotion. And how could we not notice that some in the Idiot Punditocracy have framed the internal debate in the Obama administration about the merits of intervention in Libya as a "girls (Hillary and Susan Rice) against the boys" in which the "emotional" girls prevailed. How's that for sexism, hmm?

How war is defined versus, e.g., a "police action" or a "humanitarian" intervention is open to interpretation. Our own recent history against Khaddafi reflects that ambiguity. In 1986 after a series of skirmishes with Libya over its territorial claims to the Gulf of Sidra and a wave of terrorist attacks in Europe culminating in the bombing of a German disco, President Reagan ordered an air raid on Libya. The disco bombing didn't claim many victims, but pointed directly to Libyan operatives. That was enough for the U.S. to strike at Libya. Khaddafi narrowly escaped death when his tent was not hit. Was that an "act of war" or a preemptive shot across the bow to warn Khaddafi his terrorist activities would not be tolerated?

Two years later, when it was equally clear that Libyan operatives were responsible for the bombing of Pan An 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, there was no military action against Khaddafi for reasons best known to Britain and the U.S. Instead an economic sanctions regime was imposed. So much for the wingnut claim by crazed Teabagger Rep. Allen West that after Reagan bombed Khaddafi "he didn't say a word for the next 30 years":
"You know, back two or three weeks ago, we could have taken care of this situation if we had done the exact same thing that Ronald Reagan did back in the early 80's to Muammar Gaddafi, when he dropped the bomb in his back yard. Muammar Gaddafi didn't say a word for the next 30 years."
(What a pathetic imbecile.)

Evidently, Lockerbie escaped Westie's selective memory, not to speak of Khaddafi flipping Reaganauts the Bird by staging a hero's welcome for the Lockerbie bomber's triumphant homecoming. Outrageously, a Scottish court had ordered the terrorist's early release from prison on humanitarian grounds. Apparently he had days to live from terminal cancer which magically entered remission upon his return to Libya. In the current situation, imposing another economic sanction (I'm sure West would approve, since that's what his hero, Ronnie the Wimp, chose to do) is not a viable option in the face of  a credible and imminent threat of genocide perpetrated by Khaddafi against his people.

War is hell. But not all war is the same; not all war is preventable; and not all war is unjust. Military intervention to prevent genocide, it seems to me, is the very embodiment of a just war.

On a point of personal privilege, I used the intransigent wingnut verb "dithering" to describe President Obama's seeming hesitancy to act as Khaddafi threatened to hunt his enemies down to "the last drop of blood." The President had said earlier that Khaddafi "must go" and we were "tightening the noose" around him. At that writing, he had not made his decision public —the presumption was that the President would choose not to act. But in concert with Hillary, President Obama patiently and deliberately worked behind the scenes to line up international support from European allies and the Arab League. UN Ambassador Rice proved to be outstanding in securing the 10 Security Council votes and the necessary abstentions from Russia, China, Brazil and others that gave international legitimacy to this action. No cowboy diplomacy here.

As it turns out, the President had very good reasons to be patient before taking the plunge. Patience and deliberation are among his finest qualities as a leader, particularly in the foreign policy arena. Predictably, Sarah Palin took the opportunity on a trip to India to lob another cheap shot at the President (get in line, Republicans): After she said Americans have a "tradition" of not criticizing the President's foreign policy on "foreign soil"... in the very next sentence Palin criticized Obama for "dithering." Sarah Palin is an embarassment to the United States as our "any dumbass idiot can be a heartbeat away from the presidency" embassador — particularly in light of this Newsweek story.

In the last analysis, President Obama did the right thing and deserves our full support.  However this military intervention in Libya turns out — plenty of fodder for Rachel's "master narrative"— it can never be said that we stood idly by and did nothing as Khaddafi systematically slaughtered innocent civilians. Instead we had the means and the will to stop the genocide. And so we took preventive military action. That's a pretty good standard to get behind.

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