Evolving ideas of intervention

Steve Skrainka

By Stephen W. Skrainka

It is not clear to me that we should have intervened in Libya or that, having done so, the current rules of engagement are useful to our strategic interests. I find it hard to draw a line that distinguishes Libya from other situations that arguably demand intervention. I am aware that in recent years the community of nations has been groping its way to a concept that when a government engages in egregious acts against its own citizens it is morally just and useful for a coalition of willing nations with U.N. or other multinational approval to intervene to stop the bloodshed and oppression. However, this principle is just evolving: Kosovo was supposed to be an example. 

Those major countries that fear this principle do so because it may someday be applied to them. Countries that are still recalling the worst excesses of colonialism have been reluctant to endorse the application of this developing concept.

So it was with the Security Council abstainers in the Libyan case. While this evolving principle may have applied to Libya, it applies to a lot of other countries too: Myanmar and Ivory Coast, for example. We have neither the resources nor strategic interests to respond to all of these situations. Where do you draw the line? Here, the tipping point for us seemed to be the Arab League’s call for a No-Fly Zone to protect civilians. But the Arab League seems to be having second thoughts since no-fly zones require bombs and attacks to suppress antiaircraft fire, command and control facilities, and opposing air forces. I do not think they have joined in this operation in any meaningful way.

I am clear that, given the West’s history in the Middle East, we should not be the ones to remove Qaddafi. Recall the Iraqis’ change in attitude toward us when we pulled down the giant statue of Saddam Husein in Bagdad in the early days of the Iraq war. In retrospect, that was something we should have allowed Iraqis to do for themselves. The same principle applies here. Perhaps we should supply some weapons, training, munitions and supplies to the rebels, but if Qaddafi is to be replaced, we and the Europeans should not be the ones to do it.

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Steve Skrainka is a retired Senior Counsel at Gallop, Johnson & Neuman, L.C., a Task Force Co-Chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis.