This is an interesting case because many of us have found ourselves having a difficult time forming a definitive position on what is taking place. On the one hand, a tyrannical dictator was using fighter jets, tanks, and other heavy military equipment to attack a civilian population. This certainly qualifies as a humanitarian crisis. Nevermind that much of said military equipment is probably of US and European origin. It can be argued that the mass slaughter of civilians presents a moral obligation for a dominant, allegedly pro-democracy and pro-human rights country like the United States to intervene on behalf of the civilians who find themselves under attack.
I’m sympathetic to this argument. However, a fair counter point is made. What of other similar cases of innocent people being slaughtered en masse where the US did not intervene?
It is an excellent question and the fact is, when you look at US military action over the past twenty years, there is no clear or consistent standard of what constitutes justification for US intervention. This is one part of the problem for me. But the real problem is, historically, when has US military action in middle eastern countries ever had a net positive outcome? Our track record is abysmal. We have a spectacular ability to turn a bad situation into a hellish one and create a host of determined new enemies in the process. The term is blowback. And it’s what happens when you blow up lots of innocent people. Friends and relatives of blown up people do not give a shit about the US’s proclaimed intentions – even in the rare instance that our intentions are not blatantly self-serving.
As to the legality of Obama’s actions, the fact that the decision for a no-fly zone originated within the UN and was mandated through a security council resolution (unlike Iraq) absolves him from any legal wrongdoing. The United Nations Participation Act passed in 1945 excuses the president from needing congressional approval for a case like this. No domestic or international laws have been broken by participating/leading the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya. Anything beyond that is questionable.
However, just because it is legal does not automatically mean that it is right. Other points have been made concerning the will of the Libyan population. It has been argued that that should be the foremost consideration concerning US involvement. I wholeheartedly agree with this argument. The weakness of this argument is that it views an entire civilian population as a monolithic bloc, which is really an impossible assumption. But every indication I have seen suggests that yes, in general, the Libyan rebels (which we are again assuming is representative of the larger population) asked for and support a UN implemented no-fly zone.
It could be that I have succumbed to spin or propaganda from the various information sources I’ve used to form my opinions. As a rule I take every measure to avoid that but it’s not out of realm of possibility. Aside from the various news reports, it makes sense on a gut level. When civilians are being bombed by fighter jets and tanks it stands to reason that they support action alleviating that situation. With that in mind, I do break from some of the voices out there that I generally agree with on foreign policy issues, and find myself highly sympathetic to the view that the US/UN has a moral obligation to intervene and prevent the mass slaughter of civilians by the heavy firepower of their own government.
With that being said, Middle Eastern as well as American citizens have every reason to be highly skeptical about this (and any) US military intervention. Reluctance and reservation are not just understandable, but – at this point – are the only sane and rational response to any military aggression by the US.
And while I lean towards support of the no-fly zone, anything beyond that is suspect. Anything outside the specific mission outlined by the security council resolution is an immediate game changer. If US ground forces enter Libya, we’ll know we’ve been had (again). At this point one just hopes that this is that one out of twenty times when our intentions are pure and our action is justified.