Libya and the “Obama Doctrine”
Any student of I.R. knows the obsession that journalists and political scientist have with “doctrines.” Monroe, Truman, Carter, and so forth have the not so uncommon honor of having a doctrine attached to their name. Apparently, Obama’s been the latest in the long list of recipients. As identified by Alan Kuperman in his article discussing the possible false pretense of intervention in Libya, the so-called “Obama Doctrine” is based on the noble principle of “the responsibility to protect… calling for intervention when possible to prevent genocide.”
I’m not nearly convinced of the positive social value and good precedent setting of humanitarian intervention to begin with, but assuming, for the time being, that humanitarian intervention is net positive and a good international precedent to set, I’m finding it hard, in light of recent reports, to see the intervention in Libya as a necessary humanitarian mission (aside from Kuperman’s article, see here and here). Instead, things are shaping up to look more like another case of western powers intermeddling with the internal affairs and violating the sovereignty of another middle eastern nation resulting in instability and chaos. But, lest I go on a
idealist realist tangent about western imperialism and the cooked-up notion of the right to sovereignty, let’s stick squarely to the humanitarian issue.
If the justification for the intervention in Libya is truly about saving innocent civilians from being ruthlessly massacred by a merciless government, then, as Kuperman suggests, the pretense for intervention in Libya may turn out to be false. Even though protecting civilians was the stated reason, I still think it’s rather unclear for why, exactly, the U.S. and her NATO allies were so gun-ho about wanting to bomb Libya (especially France). Regardless of the real intent, the stated reason of preventing the massacres of civilians isn’t holding up under the current information being revealed. Contrary to expectations, there seems to be nothing close to a “bloodbath” being perpetrated by the Libyan government on its people. Instead Khadafy seems to be targeting rebels – those actively revolting against the central government. As Kuperman reports,
Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.
Misurata’s population is roughly 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3 percent — are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties.
Instead of stopping the deaths of civilians, the intervention by western powers seems to be causing them. The intervention by NATO has, in effect, thrown a life-line to the rebels and turned what would have certainly been a suppressed resurrection, into a continuing civil war.
It is true that Khadafy (I’m going with Kuperman’s spelling here) is killing his own countrymen, but probably in the same way that any central government dealing with a rebel insurrection would. There is a major misconception that Khadafy had pledged to show no-mercy to the civilians in the rebel-occupied cities, that he was intent on using the military to massacre civilians. This isn’t true. Back to Kuperman’s article,
Khadafy [never] threaten civilian massacre in Benghazi, as Obama alleged. The “no mercy’’ warning, of March 17, targeted rebels only, as reported by The New York Times, which noted that Libya’s leader promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away.’’ Khadafy even offered the rebels an escape route and open border to Egypt, to avoid a fight “to the bitter end.’’
It seems, instead, that the U.S. and her NATO allies were either deliberately duped by rebel propaganda, which made it seem as if a massacre of civilians was an inevitable barring western intervention, as Kuperman suggests. Either that, or, the real reason lies elsewhere. Questions like why, if saving civilians from slaughter is the reason for bombing Libya, are air-strikes being carried out on retreating government forces and forces stationed in areas of the country not currently in contention with the rebel forces? And why was there such an abrupt change in position regarding whether Khadafy stayed in power or not?
Whatever the case, the net result is still uncertain. Will intervention by the western powers end up being directly or indirectly responsible for the death of civilians? Despite our “good intentions,” have we ended up perpetuating civil war and humanitarian suffering? The Obama Doctrine may be based on a noble principle that innocent lives ought to be protected when possible from merciless governments. But what happens with the doctrine has the reverse effect? Or, what happens when the doctrine is invoked in an inapplicable situation?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, isn’t it?