Tuesday, August 23, 2011

America And Genocide: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

FIRST, THE GOOD: The people of Libya stand poised to secure their freedom from the dictator who held his country in chains for forty years. As one jubilant Libyan man on the streets of Tripoli said: “My life begins today. FREEDOM.”

When this uprising began and Colonel Khaddafi threatened a blood bath against his people as the world stood idly by, I posted these words on March 17:
Meanwhile, In Libya …

A genocide looms as Khaddafi's forces rally and President Obama dithers.
The very next day, President Obama, who had rallied NATO — principally Britain and France — to this cause, announced America’s humanitarian intervention. I posted this:
The Obama Doctrine

President Obama established today what is possibly the only legitimate use of UN-sanctioned military force: Intervening in an internecine conflict to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in which largely defenseless civilians are slaughtered by a dictatorial or rogue state authority. The international community, as represented by the UN and led by the United States, has a MORAL RESPONSIBILITY to use all necessary power to prevent atrocities against civilians. PERIOD.

This is the 21st century, and we, as civilized people, should not tolerate a horrific repeat of the atrocities that happened in Bosnia, Rwanda, and northern Kurdish Iraq. Military intervention on humanitarian grounds rests on a solid legal and moral foundation of international law dating back to the Nuremberg Trials.
I think I made a pretty good call. Most importantly, President Obama made the absolute right call, in every respect. There was a lot of hand-wringing and a split among progressives about this military intervention. Some of my progressive friends blew a gasket, arguing we were now engaged in three wars simultaneously, while the right wing suddenly discovered long neglected constitutional prerogatives and thundered that the President should have sought Congress’s approval before acting.

Unlike Bush’s adventurism in Iraq, time was of the essence. President Obama had to act swiftly to avert an imminent slaughter of civilians in Libya. Some of the rationalizations offered by my friends on the left were, frankly, stunning in their insensate absurdity. Conversely, we should recognize it’s always essential to question military intervention. Understood. We simply had a difference of opinion. President Obama acted correctly. And those of us who supported him were right.

The President’s decision-making was flawless. His diagnosis of the Libyan uprising and its dynamics in the larger context of the Arab Spring was less tortured than that of his critics, probably because it hinged on saving lives. It was a no-brainer. Mr. Obama went with his gut, overruling Bob Gates and the Pentagon’s misgivings (which, ironically, paralleled progressive concerns) of a quagmire and mission creep. Justice and freedom broke out in Libya as a result.

President Obama did what presidents do best in such situations, which was to consult with his allies and decide on a plan of action: The U.S. would carry out the initial sorties (no ground troops were committed) and then hand over major military responsibilities to our European allies, Britain and France, acting under NATO’s operational umbrella. The Pentagon and certain progressives were skeptical; Dennis Kucinich made silly noises about impeaching President Obama … but it worked. It was a sound plan. Most significantly, it established a number of important precedents for future military interventions:
  • First, President Obama successfully established the framework for a UN-sanctioned doctrine of military intervention in humanitarian crises, which he should proudly own as the Obama Doctrine. Credit where credit is due. Never again will the international community stand idly by, helplessly, in the face of genocide as occurred in Rwanda, Bosnia, or Kurdish Iraq.
  • Second, by encouraging our NATO allies to take a more proactive role in military interventions that occur in their backyard so to speak, especially of a humanitarian character, President Obama laid the groundwork for our departure from the solo cowboy interventionism of the Bush years. We’ll never get a handle on reducing the Pentagon budget unless we encourage our allies to take the point in certain situations and build up their own military capabilities.
The notion that our European allies aren’t fully capable militarily is nonsense; it’s a red herring intended to perpetuate a false dependency and keep our domestic war machine — Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex — at full capacity. The truth is, we cannot bankroll foreign wars with borrowed Chinese money and leave the Pentagon’s budget inviolate as Republicans aim to destroy Medicare and Social Security. Something’s got to give, and it should be our bloated Pentagon budget.
  • Finally, by keeping our “footprint” in the Libyan uprising small, the President avoided the negative blowback of possible U.S. casualties and the inevitable blame game for so-called “collateral damage” — innocent civilian casualties of the fog of war. He demonstrated confidence in the French and the British — derided by Republican politicians — and was fully rewarded by our allies for taking the political heat. Not to belabor the point, given post-colonialist sensitivities, but the French and Brits can do military interventions as well as anyone. They've got a couple centuries of history on us.
In the last analysis, President Obama realized this Libyan conflict was one that should be owned by the Libyan people. NATO and the U.S. would offer logistical support and air cover to level the playing field and avoid atrocities by Khaddafi’s military. But ultimately, it was important that this conflict, and victory over the dictator, be the Libyan people’s win. This is a very significant foreign policy win for President Obama, as well. It's one for the history books as a lasting positive legacy of his presidency.

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