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America's intervention in Libyan revolution a dangerous decision

By Katie Jenson     8/24/11 7:00pm

Events in Libya are being transformed instantly into political myth in order to pursue policy objectives instead of being treated as contextualized yet individual occurrences of modern history.

The protests against Moammar Gadhafi's rule illustrate an interesting policy phenomenon, where the international response to a government's violence against its own people seems to be based on the quality of the political relationship between that government and the UN Security Council. Israel, China, and Saudi Arabia may be politically valuable, but Gadhafi was not; now Europe and America find themselves over the Libyan sky, shooting expensive explosive weapons into Libyan buildings and soil and people (civilians and rebel militants and government soldiers). As the war ideology grows denser and more complex, it obscures fractured trust in the international system of discussion and consensus.

Protests in Libya opposed the length and quality of Gadhafi's 41-year rule. These protests were suppressed by the Libyan government with violence. The protesters themselves may have also been violent, but this question does not seem to be asked very often; they certainly turned very violent, because the government forces had to exert a military effort to reclaim territories claimed by the rebellion. In addition, we should not assume that the average Libyan shares the same opinions as the protest rhetoric; nor should we assume that the average Libyan wants an American-style democracy.

In the midst of civil war, the Libyan government faced escalating international attention; Libya was suspended from the Arab League on February 22, and the U.N. resolved to impose sanctions (arms embargo, travel bans, asset freezes) against the Gadhafi government. This signaled that the U.N. had taken a stance in the conflict, and chose the rebellion against the government. Libya was suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council at the beginning of March. By mid-March, the Libyan government had successfully countered the rebellion and contained it to the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi; the rebels were largely defeated in western Libya, and Zawiya was recaptured by government forces.

March 19 saw the implementation of the U.N. Security Council's no-fly zone over Libya. NATO military action was declared against the Libyan government forces, nominally acting on the U.N. authorization. The Security Council resolved to protect civilians from attack. NATO's actions, however, seem to reveal a confused sense of "civilian" versus "armed rebel militant," and replacement of protection of civilians with active support for those same armed rebel militants.

On April 10, Gadhafi accepted an African proposal to end the conflict, which was rejected by rebel leaders. The content of this proposal would be interesting to see, to understand why the rebels rejected it in the context of near-defeat followed by newly delivered military support from NATO.

The International Criminal Court then issued an arrest warrant for Gadhafi and his second son, Seif al-Islam, on charges of crimes against humanity. After the murder of Gadhafi's youngest son and several of his grandchildren by a NATO strike on April 30 (Xinhua English), an opinion piece in al- Jazeera highlighted the selective definition of "human rights," referring to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and China. Such selectivity, argued the author, suggested that the ICC merely codified the "justice of the strong;" where right is might, the enemies of great powers are the only ones guilty, and universal justice finds itself mocked from a distance by the ICC.

As Saudi Arabia is economically valuable to America and Europe, goes the essay, the leader of Bahrain will never see charges of crimes against his own people, nor will the Saudi army. Israel's relationship with America and Europe, argues the essay, will similarly prevent the Palestinians from seeing justice for Israel's crimes. Gadhafi, a long-time enemy of America, was an acceptable target for the ICC's brand of selective justice; with this observation, the al-Jazeera author says, the international organizations, particularly the U.N. and the Security Council, lose international credibility and trustworthiness.

After the Security Council Resolution 1973, and NATO's highly aggressive (and apparently illegal) implementation of that resolution, August brought more successes for the rebels moving eastward from the Nafusa Mountains. BBC adds that, "NATO air strikes have been targeting Col. Gadhafi's forces, acting on a U.N. mandate to protect civilians." The attack of government forces in conjunction with armed rebel militants may be construed as the "defense of civilians," but not only is it contrary to the wording of the UNSC Resolution 1973, it is also contrary to the mission of defending civilians: these attacks result in more collateral damage and crossfire for more civilians to die in.

The al-Jazeera opinion essay expressed a special anger for this degree of foreign intervention in the affairs of the people, calling it "a clear violation" of Security Council Resolution 1973. The opinion essay continued that regardless of the perceived evils of Gadhafi's reign from an American or European perspective, "Resolution 1973 was not intended to allow foreign forces to take sides in the revolution and actively work toward the overthrow of a U.N.-member state." It continues, "What kind of credibility will future Security Council resolutions have if their terms can be so thoroughly exceeded or violated by those entrusted with the task of enforcing them? And if members of the Security Council understood NATO's true intentions when they passed the resolution, that damages the credibility of the Security Council – and of the U.N. as a trustworthy and impartial arbiter of international and civil conflicts."

Ideology and myth seem to be running dangerously far ahead in the case of Libya, along the way damaging valuable forums for international discussion and decision like the U.N., and valuable international implementation and enforcement tools like NATO. Untested and half-baked rhetoric about human rights and freedom and democracy abounds, while Security Council diplomatic resolutions are broken and reformed along lines more agreeable to a select few. The foreign intervention should have been more careful to respect the international opinions expressed in the United Nations and the Security Council. Now, we will see the consequences.

Katie Jenson is a Lovett College senior.

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