I've received a lot of mail about my declared "shades of grey" ambivalence over outside military intervention in the Libyan civil war.
Geoff Powell comments “not in my name” – an honourable cry, which I joined many others in voicing at the time of the Iraq invasion (though with the caveat that, like Salman Rushdie, I could support action to protect the Kurds and Marsh Arabs from genocide).
Pauline Laybourn pointed out to me the deaths inflicted by the initial cruise missile attack on Libyan government air defenses in preparation for air interdiction. Another moral conscience driven point which I take seriously. This aspect comes down to a variant on (yet again...) the Foot's Trolley dilemma: when forced to make a choice between actively killing a smaller number and thereby saving many, or allowing the much larger number to die by our inaction, which should we do? (I say "a variant on Foot's Trolley" because there is an added dimension here ... the few are aggressors against the many, and have thus made a moral choice of their own.)
Zainab Talu takes the opposite tack, upbraiding me for my "moral squeamishness" in not stating clearly (as Julie Heyward does in another comment) that I am in favour of the intervention.
Well ... I am in favour of the intervention to protect the civilian population from massacre. Elsewhere I was more vocal than here in my impatience over delays in that intervention when it looked like protection might come too late. I thoroughly approve of it on basis. That doesn't, however, mean that I have no worries about it. It's very difficult, in practice, to separate humanitarian actions from broader political agendas. Already, there are signs that the industrialised west is tempted to go beyond protection in search of future advantage.
In his March briefing for the Oxford Research Group, Paul Rogers says:
“Although there was substantial support for initial coalition actions against Gaddafi’s forces, especially when they threatened civilians in Benghazi, the Libyan War is now developing into a much wider operation. It also seems likely that the more it becomes a matter of attempted regime termination by NATO forces, the less support there will be across the Arab world. Furthermore, it has been paralleled by suppression of dissent in countries where autocratic regimes have strong support from those very countries now seeking regime termination in Libya, the most notable example being Bahrain. Above all, NATO has now embarked on its second major out-of-area operation since the end of the Cold War following Afghanistan. What began being seen as a narrow but essential humanitarian military intervention seems unlikely to end there, and this may have consequences right across the region and also for the future of NATO.”
I hope we will finally do the right thing without rushing on into the wrong one; but I do fear that we will, yet again, have failed to learn.
- Paul Rogers, Libya, Bahrain and NATO. International Security Monthly Briefing 2011(2011-03).
- Salman Rushdie, A Liberal Argument For Regime Change, in Washington Post. 2002 Washington DC. p. A35.