Friday, March 18, 2011

Why Progressives Should Cautiously Support The Libyan No-Fly Zone

Should progressives and leftists really support military strikes by the most powerful forces in the world against yet another Muslim country? I think this position stinks, but it stinks much less than the alternative.

The alternative is that we continue to use words and money to support the rebels and undermine Gaddafi. Maybe in the long term that would help the Libyans overthrow Gaddafi and begin a democratic transition. But in the short term it would mean Gaddafi crushes this uprising with air, land, and sea power. It would mean a siege and heavy bombardment of the second largest city in Libya. It would mean mass executions in the cities that supported the revolution (which is most of them). Are we willing to watch all that happen so that we can take a principled stand for pacifism or non-intervention? Not me.

American progressives have cheered on the protests and uprisings in the Middle East since they began in Tunisia in January. We have rallied in solidarity. We have linked our own struggles for justice to those in the Middle East. We have pressured our government to ditch its puppet dictators in the region and side with the people. We have encouraged these uprisings in many ways. In Libya the uprising has been met with brutal and overwhelming military force by a dictator who is allied with Western governments and oil companies. We cannot now just look the other way while the dictator crushes the uprising and slaughters its people.

We must support a no-fly zone and the air strikes that go with it. Our attention now should shift toward preventing "mission creep" and unnecessary escalation. We can't allow the US government or anybody else to turn this into a war for foreign domination of Libya. For some in the West, it is probably already about extending their own power. A number of peace activists and intellectuals are already making the case that the US rarely if ever intervenes militarily in foreign countries for purely humanitarian reasons. Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies argues that the US government is more interested in being favorably positioned in the region and with a new Libyan government than in preventing atrocities. Yes, that's true. All of the usual arguments from the left against war and intervention are true. But they are not reasons to oppose a no-fly zone in Libya. They are reasons why the international left must keep up the pressure on governments once the no-fly zone and air strikes begin.

How We Got Here...

Over the last week there's been a dramatic shift in the international community's position on the fighting in Libya. At first, France and Britain were the only countries making much noise in support of a no-fly zone over Libya. The US was dragging its feet. Then, the 22-member Arab League voted unanimously to call for a no-fly zone. Meanwhile, Gaddafi's forces were rolling through Ajdabiya, the last major town before they reached Benghazi--the capital of the anti-Gaddafi uprising. Soon the talk of a no-fly zone would be a moot point, because the rebels would control no territory of significance.

And then suddenly the United States changed its position yesterday and threw its weight behind the push in the UN for military action. On Thursday the UN Security Council voted to authorize "all necessary measures" short of ground invasion to protect Libyan civilians. At any time in the next few days, US, European, and Arab nation air strikes are likely to begin against Gaddafi's heavy artillery, tanks, and air power. Although it would have been nice to have seen this move a week ago, before the regime forces had driven so far east, this does seem to me like remarkably fast maneuvering by the UN, all things considered.

And Where We Should Go

So there's a strong mandate from the world for the use of force. But what should that use of force look like? The first goal should be to stop a government assault on Benghazi. That means defending the desert road between Ajdabiya and Benghazi. The second goal should be to dismantle Gaddafi's ability to make war on other cities. That means preventing his armor and artillery from simply rolling back into Ajdabiya or heading back further west to crush remnants of the uprising in other cities.

What do you think? What's the "least bad" option?

1 comment:

Mason said...

Hey BTM! Did you hear that the government almost shut down over a budget bill? And that there's about to be a huge spending debate as Republicans threaten to let the US default on its debt? Maybe you are on assignment in Libya...