Point • Counter-point: Libyan intervention

Despite the atrocities committed upon his own civilians, Col. Moammar Gadhafi stiffly maintained the opinion that the world was looking up to Libya in his first speech after the protestors had begun their mass uprising. He pointed his finger at his own citizens, declaring that their protests were serving the devil. He urged supporters to attack the “cockroaches” who were protesting against him, threatening to “cleanse Libya house by house.”

Genocidal threats spoken from a man divorced from reality, Gadhafi has forced the world to step in and take action in order to protect the human rights of all Libyan civilians. This dehumanizing language, similar to that of the Hutu Regime preceding the Rwandan genocide, should have been a huge red flag to the entire world.

The responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine, which requires the United Nations Security Council to take action when a country fails to protect its own citizens, has indeed made Libya’s civil unrest an international issue. With Gadhafi forces moving towards the opposition stronghold in Bengahzi and democratic revolutionaries at their breaking point, the UN approved a resolution allowing for a no-fly zone.

There is no debate on the immorality of the Gadhafi regime, as the world is well aware of the destruction Gadhafi’s 42 year rule had on Libya, as well as its current attempts to denounce and stifle dissent. The debate instead lies around the Western intervention. It seems almost against human nature to stand by and watch these crimes to humanity be committed on the six o’clock news, as the country’s civilians fall victim to their dictator.

However one word has caused many authorities to balk at the idea of intervening in Libya: Iraq. When the U.S. military entered Iraq, incompetence led to chaos, which led to violence; tens of thousands of people died in an eight-year civil war. This is not an example anyone wants to follow, but one thing must be made known: Libya is not Iraq. I do not want to discount that this show of military force could transform this into an internationalized civil war, but there is a higher risk to not intervening. Little is known on what would emerge from a post-Gadhafi Libya, but a Gadhafi victory is not acceptable. The behaviour of regime loyalists in Tripoli suggests there will be terrible reprisals and dark years ahead for the Libyan people.

There should be an unprecedented level of international consensus around the need to protect Libyan civilians. Although the world’s community response to Libya was lightening fast when compared to the past snail-paced efforts (ie. Rwanda and Darfur) it was still, in my opinion, inadequate. We must be quicker and more efficient in mobilizing if we are to deter leaders from using violence to cling to power.

However, it is still important to mention that I in no way promote the world inserting itself into this domestic struggle and committing to a similar story as Iraq. To stay devoted to the mission of protecting the innocent and bringing about a cessation of violence so that a new political process can take root while not intervening decisively on one side of a civil war, the world will effectually be allowing the Libyans to decide their future for themselves.

– Shagun Randhawa

Although I am writing a counter-point this week on military intervention in Libya, I must first say that I am not against it in principle. In my heart of hearts, I am a liberal interventionist fully committed to the concept of the responsibility to protect (R2P). I believe Gadhafi is a monster who has violently oppressed the Libyan people for 42 years. The West also has the responsibility to advance freedom and individual liberty around the globe in co-operation with democratic movements and to protect the liberties of those that can’t protect themselves.
With all that being said, the commentary surrounding the Libyan crisis is naively simplified. If the West believes it has the responsibility to protect civilians, they need to dedicate themselves fully to see it through to the end and be honest with the public about the costs.

In response to the rapidly deteriorating position of the Libyan rebels in the face of an onslaught by Gadhafi’s superior armour, artillery and air power, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution authorizing the use of whatever measures necessary to protect civilians in Libya. This did not include occupation, but authorized the establishment of the much debated no-fly zone and attacks on government armour and artillery.

The problem with the UN resolution is it is an open-ended commitment with no clear strategic objectives or exit strategy. While Obama adamantly denies it to be in pursuit of regime change (in an effort to avoid comparisons with Dubya), how can you ensure the protection of the Libyan people without the removal of the crazed dictator? This is especially true since he has threatened to purge Libya “house by house” and “inch by inch.” Indeed there seems to be evidence of a desire for regime change with the coalition striking Gadhafi’s residential compound, but in public, world leaders are not being honest in their motives for intervention.

Gadhafi will not be dislodged easily. The rebels are battered, weakened and ill-equipped. It is not clear whether they will succeed even with an allied air campaign backing them. Air power never wins wars alone. The current authorized intervention will at best lead to an unlimited commitment to maintain the no-fly zone as a stalemate develops between the two sides. At worst, the rebels could still lose and the UN would have to come to terms with a Gadhafi victory or put boots on the ground. This is why historically no-fly zones have a nasty habit of leading to escalation or mission creep.

In addition to the lack of will in the coalition to maintaining an open-ended commitment is a lack of stomach for anything but a casualty-free war. Air campaigns will inevitably lead to civilian casualties. Enemies of the West are well aware of the lack of will in the general public for anything but a perfectly clean war (which is impossible). Gadhafi will challenge the will of the coalition by moving his heavy weapons into the cities where air strikes will draw civilian casualties. Indeed, the Arab League is already wavering in its support in the face of tragic civilian deaths. Reconciling the creation of more casualties through coalition bombardment with the UN mandate to protect civilians will be difficult. It will continue to drive a wedge in the coalition and compromise their ability to commit to the operation.

I believe that intervention in Libya is the right thing. Gadhafi’s regime is illegitimate and must be brought to an end. Libyans have clearly voiced their desire for change. However, we should not pretend that this is a simple issue. War is messy. It will require a long-term commitment and will not be devoid of casualties along the way. If we do not have the will to get the job done, then we need to have a closer look at our actual commitment to protecting civilians under attack around the world.

– Eric Merkley