Sierra Leon, Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, Iraq (before and immediately after Desert Storm I) and Bosnia, all pertinent examples from the last three decades where the United States and the U.N. all had the capability to prevent genocide. Yet in only one (Bosnia) of those examples did we as a nation do anything and only after thousands of people had been massacred. For all the talk of standing up for human rights our nation and indeed the U.N. has a pretty poor record of protecting them. Too long this talk has been just that, talk, nothing but mere platitudes possessing not an ounce of substance. If you’re among the many out there who could best be termed isolationists in regards to international affairs then it’s a rather easy fix, merely shut up, don’t preach what you can’t or aren’t willing to backup. However if you ascribe to the alternative view of the United States as a leader on the global stage then you have a bit of a problem.
Now of course, advocates for the United States as a global leader are split into their own camps, the two leading and most notable being the Neoconservatives and the Liberals (those not of the isolationist bent). Again the neoconservatives have it fairly easy, everything for them is zero sum with every action we take on the global stage designed with us as the primary beneficiaries. The talk of protecting human rights for a Neoconservative is but another in a series of strategic moves on an insanely complex 3D chess board. Unfortunately for Liberals such as myself (and ostensibly the one currently in the presidency) we’re left to bear the difficult problem of conscience.
With some confidence I feel I can say most Liberals abhor the notion of war as a general rule unless doing so is in the aide of a good cause such as liberating Europe, Asia or the slaves. So when confronted with our record of genuinely protecting the human rights and the defenseless against genocide it goes without saying that from a Liberal’s perspective we have been miserable failures. Yet, our country has been presented with an opportunity to turn that around and to begin to bring about genuine change on the global stage. It is my contention that that opportunity has been taken in Libya and that we as the most powerful nation in the world have an obligation to do what we can to protect the defenseless and human rights the world over. We have talked the talk long enough, now it’s time we started walking.
Why Libya though? Why not Yemen or Bahrain or Syria or the Ivory Coast? That is the question which currently vexes many on the Liberal side of the equation some going so far as to say we should not do anything at all in Libya. Liberal opponents site the violence in these other nations as being on equal footing with what is currently occurring in Libya and on this point I disagree. Now I fully admit, I may not have all the information available as to exactly what the situation is in all these countries. But from what I do know, my assessment is that Libya prior to our (and the U.N.’s) recent involvement had reached a critical tipping point that none of the others appear all that close to. Yes, I concede that there is deplorable violence against civilians going on in these nations among numerous others and I do not demean or downplay the loss of life therein. However in none of the other countries were we faced with a mercenary army surrounding a city of over a million people where the leader had vowed to find and kill anyone that resisted him.
Additionally there are in many cases critical reasons not to intervene (at least currently) in these other nations. In Yemen, the military is fractured with large segments joining with and protecting the protesters. In Bahrain, despite the assistance of the Saudi government, the ruling sect is significantly outnumbered by the protesters. They may inflict a handful of casualties here and there but I’m fairly certain they’re aware that if any greater numbers are harmed they’d stand virtually no chance of surviving the overwhelming numbers they’re facing. In the Ivory Coast, there are no clear lines of organization easily discernible among the populous, the pro-government side is interspersed among the opponents and vice versa. Syria is still in the early stages and no one is quite sure yet how it will develop. Of all the other candidates for assistance Ivory Coast would probably be the most likely however that would require a much greater commitment on our part including troops on the ground more than likely. Libya though has allowed us to protect civilians, possibly affect change and send a message to the other despots out there while minimizing the amount of risk on our part.
The people of Libya (and the other nations) still have a fight on their hands but its one that they want on their own terms. Our assistance has for now averted a possible genocide and evened the playing field to a great extent affording the people the chance to have a say in their fate. We should continue to do good where we can (including in the other areas and countries) and where we’re wanted to minimize bloodshed as much as possible, but this is their fight in the end just as it was ours in 1776.