Is Libyan intervention really in our national interest?

Opinion Zone,Bruce McQuain

The establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya, even when sanctioned by the UN, is an act of war.  And normally when countries go to war, it is usually because their vital national interests are at stake or have been attacked.

But neither of those reasons exist in terms of intervening in Libya.  It is of little vital national interest who ends up in charge there.  Certainly we, and the rest of the world - not to mention the people of Libya - would be better served if representative democracy blossomed there, but that's not very probable.  And given the government that's been in charge for 40 years, we've managed quite well without intervening there.   And, in fact, it is now being reported that mixed liberally among the rebels we and the rest of the world have chosen to acknowledge may be a large percetage of Islamic extremists.

So why has the world, or at least some of it, chosen to intervene on the side of civilians in Libya?  The answer to that may be found in something UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said this past Thursday in discussing the establishment of the no-fly zone there.  It promises even more such Libyan type adventures in the future:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), "a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community's failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."

"Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community's determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government," he said.

Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America's core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P -- over the objections of Donilon and Gates.

The excerpt is from an excellent article, by Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy's magazine "The Cable" blog, which tells the story of how the Obama administration literally "turned on a dime" to move from non-intervention to deciding to intervene there.

But the UN's new principle is problematic on a number of fronts.  As a "new norm," it assumes the power to speak for the international community on behalf of the member states and, apparently, commit them to military action. 

It also leaves an incredible amount of room for selective enforcement.  If Libya, why not Bahrain?  The Congo?  Sudan?  What about Yemen?  Certainly the case can be made that in many of those nations; civilians there are indeed victims of "violence perpetrated upon them by their own government."  Why aren't their cries for intervention heeded there?

One of the claims which Obama supporters portrayed as coming from the fever swamps of right-wing extremists when candidate Obama was running for president was that he'd surrender our sovereignty to a world entity like the UN.  Few took that seriously.  There was nothing really to point to which would indicate such an inclination on Obama's behalf.

That is until this week, when we saw Obama "turn on a dime," as the article describes it, and decide to support military intervention in a place which has little to do with our national interest at the same time as the UN was declaring it had a new "international security and human rights norm to address the international community's failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."

That came as news to some, but it seems - and perhaps it is all a huge coincidence - to have possibly guided the decision made by the US this week.

For the last 200 years, US foreign policy has been focused on serving the best interests of the United States.  This week, it appears those interests have not been well served as the administration committed the U.S. to a fight in which it has no national interest at stake. 

Is this a paradigm change - one that worried some on the right would result from an Obama presidency?  Or is it just a bad decision, based in emotion instead of the country's best interest, and only coincidentally aligned with the UN's new "norm"?

Either way, to answer the question in the title: no, intervening in Libya is not in our best national interest and committing the country and its military to yet another war mission is an extraordinarily bad decision that may end up having some pretty negative repercussions in the near future.

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