Sometimes revolutions succeed, and sometimes revolutions fail. Whether they do or not, NATO should stay out. Case in point: Libya.
On Thursday, NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels, and they’re supposed to discuss how, whether and why to intervene in Libya. Let’s hope they mind their own business.
At this stage, it’s unclear if either NATO or the United States has any options at all. Within NATO, some countries—Germany and Turkey, notably—are opposed to such foolishness as no-fly zones. Great Britain and France, perhaps feeling the pains of colonies lost, are reportedly writing a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize some sort of no-fly zone, but because Russia and China are strongly opposed, it’s likely to go nowhere.
Both the United States and NATO would love to have support from the Arab League and the African Union, but that’s problematic too, thankfully, since some member states, such as Syria and Algeria, don’t want to encourage international interventionism. So far, the most militant declarations have come from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the association of Arab Gulf kleptocracies, largely controlled by Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, needless to say, are no friends of Muammar Qaddafi, who at least once organized an effort to assassinate the Saudi crown prince. So Saudi Arabia is at once threatening intervention to topple one leader, Qaddafi, while at the same time hinting that it might invade Bahrain to prop up another leader.
What, exactly, is it about Libya that requires US or NATO intervention? Despite casual rhetoric, there is no concrete evidence yet that “slaughtering“ or “butchering” of Libyans is underway—to use the New York Times’s words, from its editorial today. (The Times wants an arms embargo, and it wants the United States to provide intelligence on Libyan troop movements to the rebels, along with electronic jamming of Qaddafi’s communciations, both acts of war.) There is nothing remotely approaching “genocide,” though The Nation published a piece by a liberal interventionist yesterday, Carne Ross, citing “the admirable folks at the Genocide Intervention Network” as partisans for yet another sweeping economic embargo against Libya, on top of various measures against Iran, Sudan, pre-2003 Iraq, Gaza and so on. Last time I checked a head of state—even a somewhat odious one—has the right to use military force to suppress an armed rebellion. None of that means that an oppressed population doesn’t have the right to rise up in revolt against an unjust regime, but for any sort of international intevention to be justified, the level of violence has to be so extreme that something close to genocide is occurring. And even then, only the UN can authorize action.
No one knows what the outcome of the Libyan uprising will be. (In fact, no one knows who’s leading it, if anyone.) Qaddafi might prevail, given his overwhelming military advantage. He might consolidate power in western Libya, with the rebels building an autonomous state in eastern Libya, leading to a prolonged stalemate, a Kurdistan-style semi-independence, a Bangladesh-like break or something else. It’s possible that the Benghazi rebels might appeal to Egypt for protection, and Cairo could step in as protector of the new state of Cyrenaica. It’s even possible that Qaddafi might abdicate, especially if his military units continue to defect to the rebels.
George Will, a conservative skeptic on Afghanistan and a critic of interventionism-by-reflex, whether from Susan Rice–like liberals or Elliott Abrams–like neoconservatives, articulates a dozen reasons why any kind of intervention in Libya might be a bad idea, but his first reason is the best one: “The world would be better without Qaddafi. But is that a vital US national interest? If it is, when did it become so? A month ago, no one thought it was.” Precisely.
As for the Benghazi government-in-the-wings that is emerging, who cares whether they want a no-fly zone or not? Who cares if they demand “surgical strikes” against Qaddafi? For the most part, the Libyan rebels seem to agree that foreign intervention in Libya is a bad thing. On CNN, the consensus from the rebels was that if US or NATO forces were to arrive in Libya, the rebels would drop their revolt and make common cause with Qaddafi against the outsiders. However, as Robert Gates has forthrightly declared, a no-fly zone would involve military action, including bomb and missile attacks to destroy Libyan air defense systems, radar installations, and the like, and then it involves enforcement, i.e., shooting down Libyan air force planes and helicopters. (Some, such as John Kerry, inexplicably call for the United States to pre-emptively bomb Libyan runways to prevent fighters from taking off.)
Others, such as Carne Ross in The Nation, propose aggressive measures. He suggests: “Electronic jamming of all regime communications; interference with Internet communications, Stuxnet-like attacks on regime IT infrastructure. I hope that US etc. are already trying to do this. If not, they should be.” Note to Ross: Each one of those measures is an act of war.
Arming the rebels, too, is a terrible idea. It’s one thing to provide humanitarian aid to the rebels in, say, Benghazi, and apparently Italy has already started doing so. That, too, is risky, since Qaddafi might try to halt such supplies, triggering war. But arming the rebels, as some hawks (and more than a few liberals) have proposed? Since when is it proper for the United States or NATO to choose sides in a civil war and then arm one side? In addition, if the United Nations were to pass a resolution banning arms sales to Libya, that resolution would also bar arms aid to the rebels, too, since they are in Libya! As P.J. Crowley, the spokesman for the State Department, said yesterday: “If the UN Security Council resolution passed on Libya, there is an arms embargo that affects Libya, which means it’s a violation for any country to provide arms to anyone in Libya.”
“People are dying. The facts are very clear,” says John McCain, once again proving that he’s never met a country he didn’t want to bomb. But, by McCain’s logic, it’s time for the world to impose a no-fly zone in Afghanistan against the United States, since “people are dying.”