Monday, March 28, 2011

Bombing Libya 

The bombing of Libya was controversial even before it began. 
To be sure, there are many questions. What is the precise goal of this military action? Who is in charge? When will the military action end? In the United States there are additional questions about Pres. Obama's initiating this action without consulting with Congress, let alone getting a declaration of war against Libya.

Opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fear that this is one more war for oil, or for political power in the Arab world. The Europeans, in particular the French, pushed hard for this action in Libya. They receive a significant part of their oil supply from that country and have an interest in a Libyan government less eccentric and unreliable than the current one.

We invaded Iraq on the pretense of protecting Iraqis against their authoritarian government. For a while, we even pretended to be fighting in Afghanistan to protect its women. In Libya the situation is different. Here there is an uprising against the reigning dictator, Qaddafi. It is not very clear who these rebels are. Their international spokesperson is a known Libyan technocrat who was associated with one of Qaddafi sons. A significant number of the rebels appear to be university educated. They have some support from some of the Libyan military. If they should win their fight will they indeed create democratic institutions and processes? I don't know whether anybody knows that. There has been very little information about the makeup of these rebellious groups.

On the other hand, there is a question about civilian casualties. The Libyan government a few days ago claimed 64 civilians killed in allied air raids. The top US military commander has claimed no injuries of civilians. Both of those are to be expected; neither is credible. In the meantime NATO warplanes bombed Tripoli among other targets. It seems unlikely that there are not going to be significant civilian casualties.

The problem is clear. The international community ought to try to save innocents from being slaughtered. Remember Ruanda or the victims of the Balkan civil war. But all governments will conveniently claim to protect the innocent, when in fact they are pursuing their very own interests in going to war. The defense of the innocents is always suspect because governments are completely untrustworthy when it comes to their justification for using violence. A plausible defense of the innocents requires a defender whom we have reason to trust. No such defenders exist.

The US and NATO seem to have succeeded in establishing a no-fly zone in Libya. They now simply keep their planes in the air to maintain that zone. Should they continue military action in support of the rebellious forces in eastern Libya? That appears to be what they are, in fact, doing.

This is an agonizing choice for the reasons already stated: we have insufficient information about the parties to this fight. For certain, support for the rebels will take the lives of more innocent bystanders. It will take the lives of young men in the military who are no more committed to Qaddafi's cruelties than anyone else. They just happen to be soldiers. It will wreak destruction of roads and buildings which no country and especially not a poor country like Libya can afford.

On the other side, can we abandon people who are fighting for their freedom? The defenders of this military action portray the alternative to bombing Libya as a “humanitarian disaster.”

The defenders of the Libyan uprising are, alas, as unreliable and untrustworthy as Qaddafi and the troops loyal to him. One's final decision may well rest on whom one trusts less-- the US military machine or the military machine of Qaddafi.