March 24th, 2011
03:54 PM ET

5 arguments for intervention in Libya

In a previous post, I rounded up 5 arguments against intervention in Libya.  Here I highlight 5 common arguments in favor of intervention.

Some leading foreign policy lights argue that this intervention is necessary to: prevent a massacre, deter other regimes from deploying violence, back up words with deeds (and topple Gadhafi?), launch a "new beginning" in the Muslim world, and rehabilitate the notion of the “responsibility to protect.”

1. Prevent a massacre

Fouad Ajami says that Benghazi would have been President Obama’s Srebrenica:

"The cavalry arrived in the nick of time. Help came as Moammar Gadhafi's loyalists were at the gates of the free city of Benghazi. There was no mystery in the fate that awaited them. The despot had pretty much said what he intended. He would hunt down those who had found the courage to stand up to him, show them no mercy and no pity.... Benghazi would have been Barack Obama's Srebrenica, the town that the powers had left to the mercy of Ratko Mladic and his killers. No less than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys had paid with their lives for that abdication."

William Galston isn't sure a massacre was imminent, but argues that we couldn't have taken the risk:

"To be sure, there’s a chance that this [massacre] wouldn't have happened, even if we hadn’t intervened. But would we have been morally justified in taking that chance?"

2. Deter other regimes from deploying violence

Zbigniew Brzezinski says that inaction in Libya would have permitted other regimes to suppress dissent with brutality:

If we didn't react…to what Gadhafi was about to do in Benghazi and elsewhere, we might have precipitated a situation in which others elsewhere in places at play would act similarly.

Eliot Cohen agrees, saying that if we did not act, we would be:

…teaching dictators, and the populations they oppress, that you can get away with large-scale mayhem if you avoid YouTube. Instead, let the hard men do their work with assault rifles in alleys and soldering irons in lonely cellars. The thuggish leaders will be emboldened, the populations either despairing or desperate.”

3. Back up words with deeds

A number of pundits contend that once President Obama said “Gadhafi must go,” he was obligated to match words with deeds.

Elliott Abrams argues “Any remotely credible threat against the Iranian nuclear weapons program would be undermined if not destroyed by inaction in Libya.”

Christopher Dickey adds “Washington’s reluctance to take concrete action against Gaddafi’s forces confirms the idea that a dictator (a Ben Ali or a Mubarak) is more vulnerable if he is America's friend than its enemy (or in Gaddafi's case, it's frenemy).”

3* Remove Gadhafi?

President Obama has said the goal of the operation is to protect Libyans from Gadhafi, not to depose Gadhafi. But some, like Doug Feith, argue that Libyan civilians can only be protected if Gadhafi goes.  A number of pundits justify intervention by arguing that the world would be better off without Gadhafi:

Victor Davis Hanson, though skeptical of the intervention, maintains:

“Qaddafi has a long record of supporting anti-American terrorism, whether in the form of killing Americans in Europe during the Reagan administration or masterminding the Lockerbie bombing that took down a Pan Am 747 jumbo jet, killing 270 in the air and on the ground. In humanitarian terms, Libyans have been living an ungodly nightmare since Qaddafi’s coup in 1969, and it would be a fine and noble thing to lend them a hand to end their four-decade-long misery. The world would be a better and safer place without Qaddafi and his odious clan in power.”

Ash Jain agrees:

“…the fall of Gadhafi's regime – and a democratic government to replace it – is in America’s strategic interest. The man responsible for killing scores of innocent Americans and brutally repressing his own people over the course of four decades deserves to go.”

4. Help launch a “new beginning” in the Muslim world

Anne-Marie Slaughter thinks that intervention in Libya could help reshape the region.

“Now we have a chance to support a real new beginning in the Muslim world — a new beginning of accountable governments that can provide services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease support for terrorist groups and violent extremism. It’s hard to imagine something more in our strategic interest.”

5. Rehabilitate the notion of the “responsibility to protect”

Ramesh Thakur writes that R2P would have shriveled up if the world failed to act in Libya:

“Resolution 1973 marks the first military implementation of the doctrine of 'responsibility to protect' (R2P). Had the international community shirked this responsibility, Libya could have become R2P’s graveyard. In the old world order, international politics, like all politics, was a struggle for power. The new international politics will be about the struggle for the ascendancy of competing normative architectures based on a combination of power, values and ideas.”

Nick Kristof agrees:

"In 2005, the United Nations approved a new doctrine called the “responsibility to protect,” nicknamed R2P, declaring that world powers have the right and obligation to intervene when a dictator devours his people. The Libyan intervention is putting teeth into that fledgling concept, and here’s one definition of progress: The world took three-and-a-half years to respond forcefully to the slaughter in Bosnia, and about three-and-a-half weeks to respond in Libya."

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Kwame

    I wonder why "world leaders" consider it a priority to intervene in Libya where technically Ghaddafi is challenging a a peace protest turned rebellion and look on at the Ivory Coast where democracy has prevailed and a new legitimate government has been elected but the incumbent is using pure violence and inciting more violence, but nothing absolutely nothing is being done about it! As a black person I feel that we are being given very inferior treatment! Others are worth saving but for Black Africans wait till it is like Rwanda then you debate to intervene! Amar can you and Fareed (who I watch every Sunday kindly, please let me know why?

    March 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    You have all the reasons in the world to intervene, but the whole enterprise has gone way over the top. I think a right dose of psychology would have helped more than a ton of cruise missiles. Different cultures have different mentality.

    March 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  3. Shashi

    This kind of reporting where so many opinions are put together on a daily basis on current events really helps me understand my world a little better. I do not have the time in my day to go through all the news available. This CNN blog is a really good idea

    March 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  4. 116mb

    My opinion is to bring our military home and stay out of the Middle East for awhile. We do not have the money to finance another war, we have plenty of problems in our own country to deal with.

    March 28, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Reply

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