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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Barry Rubin: The War in Libya: Unprecedented Strangeness

This post was written by Barry Rubin and is reposted here with his permission.



By Barry Rubin

Should the United States and Europe want Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi out of power? Sure. But the real question is how U.S. policy is dealing with this crisis.

1. Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that all of these people talking about how evil Qadhafi is are doings only because he is being so severely challenged in a civil war. Where were all of these humanitarians when nobody was writing about his repression? Better late than never but let's get real about what has happened here.


2. How can a president go to war without even seeking congressional support. Some in the media are so ridiculously eager to support Obama that one CNN reporter defended him by saying that he had telephoned some members of Congress! Note how this parallels the use of czars, regulation, and executive orders to bypass Congress regarding domestic affairs. Just because Barack Obama is a Democrat and an alleged "liberal" (this is a radical, not a liberal White House), why should he be allowed to act in a non-democratic fashion?

3. What is the aim of the war? Overthrowing Qadhafi? Forcing a ceasefire? Protecting civilians? I've never before seen anarchy on the side of a U.S.-led (or is it a French-led?) coalition. From minute to minute the strategy seems to change.

4. Who is the opposition that the West fights to help? Islamists? Tribalists? Regionalists? Moderate democrats? Before you help someone win a war it helps to know who they are.

5. How can people who spent years criticizing the war in Iraq, telling us that war is not the solution to problems, decrying civilian casualties from other countries' defensive activities, arguing that such interventions led to endless commitments, and such things now plunge the United States into a third simultaneous war in a Muslim-majority country?

6. This war was entered into on the premise that the "Arabs" support it. But now the Arab League opposes the war. Has anyone in the U.S. government considered the regional implications? One might note that the Arab nationalists oppose the intervention while the Islamists support it. That's not a good indication.

7. Just calling something a humanitarian intervention does not solve all problems. The U.S. intervention in Somalia--the perfect example of a disaster in this regard--was also humanitarian in motivation.

At least the Iraq war was a huge success at the beginning and only later became something of a mess. This war is a mess from the start.

I am not saying that I oppose military intervention in Libya in principle. But such a confused and ill-defined operation is horrifying. The real issue is not whether something should be done but how it's being done.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His latest book is Israel: An Introduction, to be published by Yale University Press later this year. You can read more of Barry Rubin's posts at Rubin Reports.

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