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Why Libya is Different

by on March 25, 2011

I had hoped to write an article, upon my return for Israel, detailing the reasons why the US should not become involved in Libya.  It’s a bit late to  write that article, but not too late to lay out my thoughts, and why I can change my views.  When I left for Israel there was a conflagration in the the Middle East and Maghreb, inspired by self-immolation.  There were revolts or protests in Egypt (which had just overthrown Mubarak), Yemen, Tunisia (‘successful’), Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria (which has turned into a major mess), and a few other places in proximity to Israel.  I’d also written before leaving about why there would be no protests in Israel.  Things had just started to heat up in Libya.

While in Israel I heard an excellent summary of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, including current events – which, of course, led to the topic of Libya and other countries with large protests.  I don’t know if you remember, but the United States is engaged in a war in Afghanistan, a ‘nation-building exercise’ in Iraq, and a drone war we no longer hear about in Pakistan.  Therefore, Neil Lazarus, the amusing British speaker summarizing the conflict for us, was laying out the reasons the United States does not wish to be involved in Libya (he said this before we became ‘involved’): Obama has enough to deal with already.

But wait, the title of this article is “Why Libya is Different”.  Different than who, or what?  Different than Afghanistan or Iraq, or Pakistan, or wherever else we’re waging war that we’re not aware of.  There was no effort to consult congress, and that’s nothing different.  There was a UN Resolution, though, which gives me brief hope that this was not a ‘war,’ ‘intervention,’ or ‘humanitarian mission’ of only US interests.  Opinion – and in international affairs, international opinion – is the only  way to walk away a victor.  Otherwise you have a Pyrrhic Victory.

I wanted,  as I said, to return to America and share my view that we should not be in, or involved in, Libya.  And now I have changed my view.  When the rebellion in Libya started (and it existed only because some military defected, giving rebels weapons) they asked – I’m not quite sure how you reach the outside world when communications are cut off – to be let alone to fight their own battle.  Fight they did, and they probably lost as much as they won, except that they were fighting for a cause, while Qaddafi’s men were fighting so they could receive another paycheck (a very different kind of cause).  The world let  the rebels fight their battle.  And the world watched (actually, for the first time in several years, since I was in Israel on a guided trip without a computer, I wasn’t watching).  It was  when the rebels said “we need help!” that the international community worked together (about as much as it ever does) – and the United States worked with the international community.  I should repeat that, it’s important.  The United States worked with the international community. When Bush was president, that was not the way to operate.  This time, the United States actually waited for international interest and a UN Resolution.

I’m disappointed that the United States forgot to consult its own congress about ‘implementing a no-fly zone’ (that is, bombing targets) over Libya.  It would have been nice to get the whole procedure right.  But this time, we’re not democracy-building by invasion.  Not yet.  We waited until the rebels said they needed our help.  When they ask us to leave – and they will ask – I hope we leave, planes and all.

Why is Libya different?  Because we’re not forcing democracy, we’re assisting what might become democracy.  Could it become a disaster (more than it is), or backfire?  It’s happened in the past.  Yes, it could.  We run that risk, but this time our values and our morals and our actions all agree.  I did not want us there – we’re over-committed and can’t fund domestic programs – but Libya is different.  I hope we are right.

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One Comment
  1. Sheryl permalink

    I hope we’re right too. I enjoyed this very much and am glad you’re back and writing. S

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