Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Saddam-ized Again (Revised)

Good morning, and Kwan Seum Bosal for all human being. That is not a typo, I speak of human being in the broad sense -- today, of its violent side, and the importance of looking deeply into how we engage human violence, whether it is happening in our household or in a nation far away.

It is not quite 2003 all over again. President Obama is doing a much better job of selling "Operation Odyssey Dawn" in Libya than his predecessor did over Iraq. It helps that Obama is not knowingly making false and terrifying claims that our target has nuclear and biological weapons. There is nonetheless some dishonesty going on.

As persuasive as Obama's address to the nation was last night, promising that the United States will play only a supporting role in a NATO-lead operation, and linking our own national security to the outcome of the Libyan civil war, I am struck by two broad dissonances.

The first is the flagrant mission creep, which not even Lawrence O'Donnell and Rachel Maddow were willing to acknowledge in their reports last night. We ostensibly were participating in a clearly-defined United Nations resolution calling for a no-fly zone over Libya and other non-military measures. That was all we were going to do, remember? We were watching a civil war in which one side had fighter jets, and felt a human need to neutralize that advantage so as to avert an outright massacre of civilians.

This broadened immediately to bombing other military targets, not related to air power or anti-aircraft defenses. Instead of a no-fly zone, the mission clearly became regime change, outside the parameters of the U.N. resolution. This is no longer a humanitarian intervention: it is an intervention in a civil war with an interest in the outcome.

Thus, there is some dishonesty on the part of the President in selling this war as a limited humanitarian intervention defined by the United Nations.

The second dissonance is the false choice with which I am presented. The rhetoric suggests that if we do not support this war effort, we are -- at best -- not being sufficiently sensitive to the suffering of the Libyan rebellion and are perhaps even taking the side of the tyrant Ghaddafi. Never mind the strategic risks of what we are doing, which include getting sucked into a ground war in spite of Obama's promises. For all the talk of freedom last night, there is no guarantee that Ghaddafi will fall soon or at all without a major intervention on the ground. Where would a wounded yet entrenched Ghaddafi leave the Libyan people, the region, and the broader "Arab spring" around the world?

Forgive me, but I am not sold, and it is no slight on the Libyan rebellion (led by whom, I know not) or the suffering of civilians there to acknowledge the problems with what we are doing.

Never mind the cost to our nation as we deal with an economic depression and face damaging cuts to education and vital human services because we are told our country is broke. Yet again, perennially, there is money to wage war but no money to educate our young people, stimulate economic demand, or care for our elderly. This skewed priority is itself an act of violence, albeit a slower and quieter one, directed at we ourselves. Will we ever take up the question of why we consistently use our resources to destroy human life instead of nurturing it? There is so much clever-sounding speech about "national interests" and "security," yet I look around inside my own country and see it rotting. Our true national interests and security would appear to lie somewhere other than the war room, but our president and congress are not awake.

May we nourish the hope that our delusions become vivid awakening, our anger turns to great determination, and our greed may be converted into love for our country and a recognition of human being and its gifts. A nation that underwent a quiet revolution of this kind would be the most powerful beacon of all.

Thank you for reading.


Petteri Sulonen said...

All true. As you know, I'm feeling very conflicted about this.

One thing is increasingly bothering me, though: the lack of compelling ethical arguments against intervention. All the ones I've seen have been based on ethical particularism—"it's wrong because we have to take care of ourselves first." If it really is wrong, surely there's a compelling universalist argument out there too? The best arguments against intervention that I've seen have been pragmatic, in particular the observation that interventions rarely have the desired outcomes.

The question I'm struggling with now is this: if it's wrong to intervene in Libya, is it ever right to intervene anywhere? For example, was it right for the UK and the US to intervene against Hitler in Europe? If yes, why was that right, but Libya wrong?

Following this train of thought, incidentally, I'm starting to find the absolute pacifist position more and more compelling. World War II was a gigantic tragedy. Would it have been worse to let Hitler have Europe without a fight, if he wanted it so badly? I'm not sure the knee-jerk answer really is the right one. What do you think?

Joe Gin said...

"We are at war with Eurasia. No, we were never at war with Eurasia, we are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia."

Doublespeak, Newthink—hey guys, it's 1984 again. Let's celebrate. The one advantage is we keep getting younger! Nothing changes!

Chris in LA said...

the leader of the Libyan "rebels" has been living in the USA for 20 years before returning to Libya to fight. He is a suspected CIA asset, having lived within 5 miles of CIA headquarters for those 20 years, with no know means of financial support.


Just thought I's muddy the waters a little further...