The situation in North Africa continues to worsen, with the ‘international community’ literally operating on the margins, rather than working for a speedy resolution with minimal loss of life and destruction of Libyan society.
Truth be told, the United Nations is not equipped, philosophically or politically, to deal with evil. And that isn’t because all governments are more or less evil, as many people now cynically believe.
The intentional philosophical confusion between war and humanitarian action is again surfacing with regard to taking military steps in Libya. American pundits who had no trouble supporting the killing of a million people in Iraq make egregious noises about how enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya involves taking out radar stations.
American and European reputations are on the line however, since President Obama said on March 3rd that Gaddafi must “step down from power and leave.” Though Gaddafi’s a basket case, he’s cunning as hell, and has no compunction against killing as many of his own people as necessary to remain in power. In Muammar Gaddafi, the world has a clear test case for dealing with evil.
The morally bankrupt and rather cowardly statements from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and top US military brass cannot be allowed to carry the day where the Libyan crisis is concerned. General Petraeus, the overall NATO commander in Afghanistan, greeted Secretary Gates on a stealth visit by another top US official into Kabul on March 7th with the joke: “Well, I think you have a bigger plane than normal–you’re going to launch some attacks on Libya or something?”
President Obama is trying to peel away high-ranking Qaddafi loyalists by warning them: “I want to send a very clear message to those who are around Colonel Qaddafi. It is their choice to make how they operate moving forward and they will be held accountable for whatever violence continues to take place there.”
Mired in Afghanistan, killing Afghan boys from helicopter gunships and offering more hollow apologies to the corrupt Karzai government that the US installed, America doesn’t have the moral capital to do the right thing in Libya, even if Barack Obama had the moral backbone to do so.
Even so, the United States, which has supported and done rotten deals with tyrants for decades (including Gaddafi), has an urgent need to show the people of the region that we can support their pent-up desires for democracy and a better life. In other words, America has to demonstrate that it can help end slaughter and humanitarian disaster in North Africa after propagating so much chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The international order is facing a fundamental challenge to its viability in a globalizing world. A timely response to mass murder, war, and humanitarian catastrophe has to be forthcoming in North Africa now, or a precedent for future inaction around the world will be set.
After the debacle of Iraq and the quagmire of Afghanistan, a policy flowing from the fear of appearing to attack another Muslim country will have the opposite effect, heightening the perception of American weakness, and demonstrating failure of imagination and leadership.
Any international action that’s taken in Libya should occur within the context of the United Nations. Otherwise, there can be no claim to the rule of law and international authority.
That presents a tremendous diplomatic challenge, since China and Russia are obsessed with defunct notions of sovereignty, and can’t see beyond their own borders.
Russia has an oily dog in this fight, since the longer the North African and Middle Eastern crisis goes on, the more the price of a barrel of oil goes up, and the more Russia, with its huge reserves and developing oil industry, cashes in.
America and Europe are falling back on NATO as the framework for a military response, which as of this writing amounts to little more than talk about imposing a no-fly zone, to prevent Gaddafi from bombing and strafing civilians and rebels.
The prevailing idea—that this is an internal matter and Libyans need to fight it out—is grotesquely heartless and amoral.
If the crazy-dark Gaddafi has taught us anything, it is that, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, evil will not be easily dislodged from its ruling position in the world.