Defending Obama’s “Moral Case For War” In Libya

Writing at the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart tackles the formidable challenge of trying to impose some logic on President Obama’s case for initiating a war kinetic military action in Libya:

There are plenty of smart objections to America’s Libya intervention. But when President Obama addresses the nation on Monday night, he should rebut the stupidest one: that America shouldn’t wage humanitarian war in Libya because we’re not doing so in Congo, Zimbabwe and every other nasty dictatorship on earth.

* * *

There will always be horrors that outside powers cannot or will not prevent. But the fact that they cannot be stopped everywhere is no reason not to try to stop them somewhere. And showing that they can be stopped somewhere—first in Bosnia and Kosovo, hopefully now in Libya—may make dictators pause to reflect that they could be next. That’s moral progress, which in the ugly, real world is a pretty impressive thing.

In between the bookend quotes above, Beinart essentially argues that the Libyan “operation can be done more cheaply, at less risk to American and European lives, and with a greater chance of success, than in Zimbabwe or Congo,” so it makes sense to intervene there.

The most striking thing about Beinart’s defense of the Obama Administration’s rationale is that he seems to be the only one talking about Zimbabwe or Congo.  I may have missed a few things over the weekend, but it seems that critics of the Administration are asking for a coherent answer to the question of why Obama chose to intervene in Libya instead of Syria and Iran, not Zimbabwe or Congo.

Unlike Zimbabwe or Congo or Libya, Syria and Iran are active state supporters of Islamic terrorists in Lebanon (Hezbollah), the Palestinian territories (Hamas), and Iraq (where Iranian-financed, -trained, and -armed insurgents are killing American soldiers).  Each is known to have nuclear ambitions, and Iran has openly threatened to nuke Israel.  Each also has its own domestic discontents who, in recent months, have been slaughtered by the government for their efforts at reform. 

Yet the Administration made clear months ago that it would not even raise its voice in favor or for the protection of Iranian dissidents, and it is now making clear that Syrian demonstrators — who are being gunned down in the streets by the dozen — will have to get by without any help from the U.S.  The question is, if intervention in Libya was so important, why not Syria and Iran as well?

There may be a really good explanation.  I think the President blew it by not even bothering to speak in favor of Iranian protesters when they were out in the streets, but would be hesitant to support major military intervention there (although I would likely support destabilization efforts and targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities).  And the risk of backing insurgent groups you have no control over and may not turn out to be pro-western secularists is obvious.

But, what is the “moral case” for intervening in Libya, which does not impact our vital interests, while refraining even from aggressive language toward Iran and Syria, which are sworn enemies fighting a proxy war against our friends in Israel and our troops in Iraq?  The moral case for war is strongest where humanitarian concerns coincide with national security interests.  That is not Libya.

Finally, it is ironic that Beinart closes with the comment that “showing [dictators] that they can be stopped somewhere—first in Bosnia and Kosovo, hopefully now in Libya—may make dictators pause to reflect that they could be next,” and declares that to be impressive moral progress.  Missing from Beinart’s list is our intervention in Iraq, which, back in the day, was what caused Libyan dictator Qaddafi to abandon his effort to develop weapons of mass destruction and seek an invitation to rejoin what passes for polite society among nations.

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Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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