I’m making this rebloggable because I am starting to gather that too many folks on tumblr thinks the US should intervene in Libya, and I want to be very clear about how bad an idea that would be. Now, I understand that there’s a pretty broad perception of the US as international watchdog, and this is the sort of thing you’d expect after being the only real hegemonic power for the last twenty years. We are used to seeing international interventions — this has been basic US policy for the last 110 years or so. This has very rarely gone well. In fact, I feel comfortable saying that the only times it has gone well that I can think of are the First Gulf War, NATO’s Bosnian intervention, and NATO’s Kosovo intervention (the last two obviously being rather related events). I want to draw a distinction between those interventions, which basically fell under the purview of theGenocide Convention and things like what’s going on in Libya, which is a revolution.
As such, not only is US intervention not legally compelling, it is also not morally viable. Bad things happen when the US intervenes in revolutions or political upheavals. I will point you to the history of the US in Latin America and Iran (‘53) for examples on such things. Not only is a US intervention in Libya illegal, it is also an incredibly provocative move that is likely to spark broader and international conflict in a region that the US is already heavily involved in. Furthermore, it makes a revolution that is about the Iranian people about US hegemony in the Middle East, something we already have quite a lot of, and which is often rather tenuous. When the US gets involved in revolutions (overtly), whether it be here or in Egypt or any future developments in Iran, it allows dictators (e.g., Qaddafi) to point to that US intervention as foreign forces trying to meddle in the internal politics of the state. This devalues the revolution. Period.
Now, there is obviously a humanitarian crisis going on in Libya right now. That is incredibly obvious. The UN is meeting about the issue, and if the UN feels that international military action is necessary, then it will happen through that channel and that channel only, and I can only hope that the US isn’t at the helm of it because it will inevitably make things go very, very poorly for everyone. That is a legal avenue, that is an international avenue, that will not necessarily devalue or delegitimatizes this revolution. But I find the argument (which I saw on tumblr yesterday in my brief moments on the internet) that the US should head up some sort of intervention in Libya both politically nonviable and incredibly dangerous, but flat out ignorant of political realities both in the United States and in Libya. And in the world, really. The United States should not intervene in revolutions unless there is international agreement to do so. Any unilateral action will beseen as unnecessary foreign intervention in a country that has its own history with imperialism that it needs not relive.
The Obama administration has, from my understanding, been getting quite a bit of flack about not being more active about this revolution (and all the others), and honestly I do not think they could do anything better than just sit tight until they’re called upon. As far as I know, the people of Libya have not called for US intervention. If they have, I retract this post. If they haven’t, we shouldn’t be there. If they call for it, then maybe we should. I still don’t think it’s a good idea (or a viable one; everyone remembers Somalia), but at least then it won’t be seen as an occupation (let us recall that the US has a rather bad reputation in the Middle East right now?) nor will it be seen as the US appropriating a revolution for its own aims. At this point, the international community should act as an international community. The US doesn’t have the resources, will power, or political capacity of doing this unilaterally, and any verbal push for action will be either seen or swung as foreign actors interfering in the internal affairs of the state, which, again, devalues and delegitimatizes the revolutions. I don’t really understand why anyone would expect US intervention, and I certainly don’t understand why anyone would want it. This has never gone well. I’ve been rather proud of the Obama administration for keeping relatively quiet on it. Everyone knows their position, but they’re not making broad and visceral proclamations on the subject, which is good. Because, once again, that will be spun in all the wrong ways.
I understand that it’s frustrating, waiting and waiting, but this is political history and it’s the best move to make for everyone involved. And if the UN chooses to have some sort of intervention, then it will be done through legal avenues as an international effort. If the MSNBC report about the military defecting is true, then this revolution is probably going to be over very soon, and then a process of democratization can begin. That’s how this should go. This is how revolutions should go. Citizens fighting for their freedom as they wish to do.
(ETA: there are a number of international organizations involved in this, lists are going around tumblr, and those are the places you can donate to or volunteer with, and that is how you can be active in this if you hate sitting on your heels and waiting, which I totally understand. But a US government effort would be bad news bears. Go give some and tell your friends and make some phone calls. You can do that. You should. But don’t expect US military intervention. Don’t wish for US military intervention. Won’t go well. Oh hi we just got free liberating Iraq let us come in and save you too!
You shouldn’t feel guilty for worrying about the things that are going on in your life. The sad fact is that most of us can’t do a whole lot about what’s happening in Libya and other places, and no matter how much time we spend feeling badly about what is happening, life will…
I tell people this all the time, even when things like Libya aren’t going on. Your problems are important to you, and I hate it when people compare their problems to someone else and feel bad about their “pettier” situations. You didn’t ask to be born into a “fortunate” life any more than the Libyan people asked to be born into theirs. You can care about the world and your own life at the same time.