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Support for Libya a moral responsibility

By Cody Shilling     3/30/11 7:00pm

This Monday, President Barack Obama spoke at the National Defense University explicitly describing the motivations and justifications for our action in Libya. And yet so much of what people feel he left out was crucial to "making his case" to the American people.

He neither talked about how long we would commit ourselves to this action nor promised a goal or specific end after which we would end our involvement. But to be honest, I do not think those are what we really should be discussing. And I worry that the American public won't feel that his case for actions was sufficient enough, especially with our increasing head-go-in-sand mentality.

So many times in our history, we have let domestic concerns (and even poor foreign policy choices) stifle and hinder our usage of our power toward bettering the world and preventing evil. From our refusal to help the Armenians during World War I and declining to intervene in Cambodia — where when the Khmer Rouge took power one-fourth of the population died within four years — and the lack of action against the genocide in Rwanda, the US seizes very few opportunities when our military can be used as a force of good not of destruction. The number of times when the US has intervened militarily alone or with international cooperation successfully — i.e. we fully committed ourselves to it — have been few and far between. I will be the first person to tell you that the more than $100 million the US alone has already spent would be far more useful in the long run if applied elsewhere (paying for school and teachers in the region, investing more money in actually helping them build infrastructure and not just paying off corrupt officials), but now that we have a humanitarian crisis  — as well as a political crisis — on our hands, we shouldn't shrink back from our duty to help the Libyan people. As long as we make plans to prevent the situation from becoming worse, we should do what we can to aid and assist those in need.

Conservatives decry Obama for not laying out a perfectly thought out, detailed plan with an accurate description of how fast we require everything done. But the truth is that perfect predictions are not possible in situations like this; it certainly wasn't the case in Afghanistan when President Bush launched a war against the Taliban government, yet conservatives weren't accusing him of wasting American money or time or soldiers. This is a far from perfect situation, but we shouldn't act as if our domestic concerns are the biggest problems in the world; just because we have budget problems here (which both sides seem to have suddenly realized in the last two years as if the problems hadn't been there earlier) doesn't mean the suffering of the Libyan people will be any less than if this happened when we had a balanced budget and widespread willingness to help. We may not be able to support democratic changes by whatever means necessary in every country, but that by no means should limit us to isolationism when we are by far the country best equipped to help deal with situations like this.

We do have to take care that our involvement doesn't make the situation worse off than it would be otherwise. Any number of things could happen that would render our action the less desirable course: the tribes united against Gaddafi in rebellion may dissolve into a civil war after they have no common cause; in the process of overthrowing the government, NATO and the rebels may destroy the infrastructure of the country so the government would have limited ability to govern much like in Somalia now; or it may just be that the war between Gaddafi's troops and the rebels won't end any time soon. But we shouldn't let the impossibility of a perfect end result— or the probability of a less than perfect result — stop us from at least bettering the world as much as we can. Assuming that our leaders are knowledgeable and intelligent, we should support the fight to stop oppression in Libya and around the world; I would much rather live in a country that does support those that need assistance rather than shrinks away from the opportunity to help others.

Cody Shilling is a Will Rice College sophomore.


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