Libya backlash

I’m fresh off a roleplay for a course where I had to argue that, in hindsight, the Libyan intervention was a bad idea. Being given a role to play can make thinking through tough issues deceptively easier — your mind is made up, so you just have to sort through the available evidence and narratives to make the best possible case for that decision. If I had had to choose my own position, well… I’m much more conflicted. The media narrative of the moment is that Qaddafi’s death proves that the Libya intervention was a success. Maybe I’m under the influence of my assumed position, but here are two alternate perspectives that I think are extremely valuable.

First, Daniel Larison, writing at The Week, says the Libya war is still a failure. It weakened the “responsibility to protect” principle and has already made it harder to respond to other situations (such as in Syria):

Instead of protecting the population of Libya — which is what the U.N. authorized — the West’s intervention allowed the conflict to continue and consume perhaps as many as 30,000 Libyan lives, including many thousands of civilians, in addition to tens of thousands wounded and hundreds of thousands displaced. Rather than the “limited” war presented by the intervention’s defenders, it immediately expanded into a policy of regime change. The official goal of protecting civilians was subordinated very early on to the real purpose of the war — namely, the destruction of the existing government and the elimination of its leaders.

Contrary to the hope that Libya would provide a deterrent to regime violence elsewhere, the political fallout from the war has stalled any international response to Syria’s crackdown. By exceeding the U.N. mandate they received in March, the U.S. and its allies have poisoned emerging democratic powers such as India and Brazil against taking any action in other countries. Libya has confirmed every skeptic’s worst fears that in practice, the “responsibility to protect” is little more than a pretext for toppling vulnerable governments.

And David Rieff, writing at Foreign Policy, calls Qaddafi “the man who knew too much”:

Qaddafi was, quite simply, a man who knew too much. Taken alive, he would have almost certainly have been handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which had indicted him — along with his son, Saif al-Islam, and brother-in-law and military intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi (whereabouts unknown) — for crimes against humanity in late June. Imagine the stir he would have made in The Hague. There, along with any number of fantasies and false accusations, he would almost certainly have revealed the extent of his intimate relations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the details of his government’s collaboration with Western intelligence services in counterterrorism, with the European Union in limiting migration from Libyan shores, and in the granting of major contracts to big Western oil and construction firms.

He would have had much to tell, for this cooperation was extensive. In the war against the jihadis — a war to which Qaddafi regularly claimed to be as committed to prosecuting as Washington, Paris, or London — links between Libyan intelligence and the CIA were particularly strong, as an archive of secret documents unearthed by Human Rights Watch researchers has revealed. If anything, the CIA’s British counterpart, MI6, was even more involved with the Qaddafi family. As the Guardian reported in early September, it was Sir Mark Allen, then the director of the counterterrorism section of MI6, the British overseas spying agency, who was the key figure on the Western side in the secret negotiations to get Qaddafi to give up his WMD programs. The Guardian story further laid out how, after failing to become director of MI6 in 2004, Allen went into the private sector, becoming a senior advisor to the Monitor Group, a consulting firm that was paid huge fees by Qaddafi to burnish his image around the world, and, while they were at it, helped Saif (who had been his father’s initial envoy to MI6) research his PhD thesis for the London School of Economics (LSE). Allen was also an advisor to BP, helping the oil giant secure major contracts in Libya from the Qaddafi regime.

Messy all around.

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10 2011

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