"I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I've just finished my milk." - Moss, The IT Crowd

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

You cannot wage democracy

You cannot wage democracy. You cannot rain it down from above as some kind of payload carried by missiles and bombs. When a country's people want democracy, they must bring it about from within. The heavy lifting must be done by the citizens who will ultimately vote within and administer the democracy itself.

Instituting democratic reforms in an authoritarian system generally involves the removal of leaders who believe that they will be stripped of their wealth, power, privileges, and/or continued physical existence if they step down. Naturally, these leaders tend not to go gently into the night, and casualties among would-be reformers are to be expected. The more objectionable the despotic regime, the more atrocities are to be expected as it fights against its demise.

The fact that deaths, torture, and atrocities are the common currency of dying dictatorships does not make them in any sense morally acceptable.
All people of conscience should use all possible peaceful means to cut off aid and support to regimes which, for the purpose of stifling internal dissent and attempts at reform, commit systematic torture and extrajudicial murder against their own citizens. (It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the ironies posed by the U.S. government's own forays into torture and extrajudicial murder.) However, the key term here is "peaceful means." While I think a convincing case can sometimes be made for external military intervention to halt ongoing genocide, preemptively projecting one's military power into a foreign country purely in order to promote a change in government amounts to little more than empire building. And empire building often has unsavory consequences.

It alarms me greatly that some U.S. senators and other prominent current and former government officials are promoting the idea of a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone in Libya. I completely agree with this comment by Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense: "Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya." Our armed forces are already mired in ruinously expensive actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no end (or, indeed, clear-cut objectives) in sight. Libya and its immediate neighbors are hardly clamoring for for the U.S. military to interject itself. In fact, the people who seem to be the most enamored of military intervention in Libya are largely the same coterie who thought that going to war in Iraq and causing the deaths of tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of Iraqi civilians was a swell idea.

How on earth do these people think that Libyans, regardless of which side they are on in the current uprising, are going to respond to the U.S. military's shooting down Libyan aircraft over Libyan soil? How do they think that Libyans are going to respond to bombings of Libyan territory by foreigners in order to destroy Qaddafi-controlled anti-aircraft emplacements? (No bombs dropped by U.S. forces ever go astray and cause civilian casualties as collateral damage, of course.) And when enforcing the no-fly zone doesn't convince Qaddafi to give up, what next? What's the logical end point once we begin committing to the use of U.S. military force to settle Libya's internal turmoil? What is the ultimate goal here? To create a broken client state in which the U.S. can hand-pick the "democratic" leaders of the future?

The Libyans have seen the fruits of U.S. intervention in Iraq, and they are not interested in a similar outcome for themselves. No sane person would be.

The primary beneficiaries from the debacle that was the last Iraq war were the corporations feeding at the (seemingly bottomless) U.S. defense spending trough. U.S. citizens should not foot the bill for a possible replay in Libya.

Economic sanctions: yes. Freezing Qaddafi-controlled assets: yes. Not buying oil from the Qaddafi regime: yes. Stopping the flow of arms to Qaddafi's forces: yes. Trying Qaddafi as a criminal in international courts: yes.

U.S. military intervention: no. A thousand times, no.

ETA 3/12/11: Retired General Wesley Clark has a cogent op-ed piece in the Washington Post in which he reviews U.S. military interventions in foreign conflicts over the last 40 years and discusses the problems involved with intervening militarily in Libya.

ETA 3/12/11: The Hill has a piece talking about the issue of enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya and what it might cost. (Hint: it's not cheap.)

ETA 3/13/11: "If there is no 'coalition of the willing' for intervention in Libya, that is due to the bitter taste Iraq has left in the mouths of Western governments and voters." The analysis in this article is worth reading.

ETA 3/14/11: Just as important as understanding what a no-fly zone actually consists of is understanding what a no-fly zone is likely to lead to: namely, on-the-ground military involvement.

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