On the Interdependence Project blog we discussed the pros and cons of the military intervention in Libya, and we had a good discussion, I think, of the topic. I wrote this:
…as a country we’ve engaged in all sorts of terrible actions abroad, and I’m very aware of those; overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran, overthrowing Salvador Allende, supporting dictators like Pinochet, funding the contras in Nicaragua, our covert operations in Angola, and on and on. We’ve engaged in atrocities and massacres. Not to mention the probably unnecessary dropping of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one of which killed my father’s aunt and uncle and probably gave cancer to my uncle. We have a very chequered past when it comes to foreign involvements and in many if not most cases we’ve done much more harm than good.
Furthermore any use of violence is already at a point where things have deteriorated to a terrible phase. Contemplating all this I can’t in any way find a way to think of the use of violence as something “good”. It’s always bad; weapons are, as the ancient saying goes, “instruments of ill omen”. It’s sad, regrettable, awful. At best I think violence is something which is only sometimes the least bad of a spectrum of bad options, and only warranted in the highly unusual circumstance where other options are likely to be worse.
As far as who gets to decide this: obviously there’s no way you can know for certain. My only argument is that sometimes I do think, unlike some, that it is something that any civilization ought to hold in reserve, as a last resort, to protect people. Far better to avoid the need for it in the first place, far better to use any other option short of it, but in extremis, I think it should be there. There was a sad reason for samurai to exist, for warriors to exist, violence I believe is a part of nature. It is not necessarily a view which all Buddhist teachers would agree with and I respect those who disagree. This is my personal view.
When it comes to Libya, as I’ve said before, in my opinion the lives saved by this intervention will exceed, even in the long run, the lives it will cost. At the same time I’m highly sympathetic to my pacifist friends who are skeptical of every American international involvement, whether it is sanctioned by the UN or not, out of what seems to me to be a well-founded distrust of our motives abroad as well as our past history, and an additional skepticism of the usefulness of the use of military force in general.
Ultimately, however, I cannot agree with their blanket criticism of our foreign policy simply because I don’t really think it’s appropriate to view any given situation in terms of taking one side versus taking another. My aunt’s boyfriend and I once had a long discussion of this a few years ago; both my aunt and he are progressive political activists and he in particular had seen first hand the atrocities we had committed or supported in Central America during some of the darkest days of the Cold War. While I absolutely accepted his accounts as I’m quite familiar with many of those operations (they’re now public knowledge for the most part), that didn’t change my view that sometimes, just sometimes, we’re not on the wrong side. He then asked me, who do you think has the ideal government? And I said, “they’re all bad!”
What I meant was, every government of every country at some point in history has engaged in both virtuous and terrible acts, has been both a supporter of justice and freedom and a supporter of oppression and injustice. The crimes the United States has committed are long: the genocidal ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of North America is perhaps one of the most egregious, not to mention our sanctioning of slavery, and on and on. But then again the atrocities committed by other countries are no less heinous and in many cases even worse. Every ethnic group, every culture, every nation has done terrible things. So in my view we ought not to judge situations through the lens of taking sides, either for or against any given nationality or ethnicity, but rather we ought to stand and discern each situation as human beings living in the world. The enemy of justice is not a specific nation or nations, either our own or others, it is oppression, it is dictatorship, it is injustice itself.
I don’t believe this particular operation is, in fact, motivated primarily by a capitalist agenda to control the oil supply. I happen to think that we, and our allies, are actually primarily motivated by humanitarian concerns. We are also motivated, I think rightly, by a national security interest, in that Qaddafi retaking power militarily would be a negative sign in the region, and would encourage dictators to try to hold onto power through bloody means — which would only tend to encourage extremism and the same forces which attacked us on 9/11. However, that doesn’t mean we ought to intervene militarily in Yemen and Bahrain and everywhere else: if there is a path to resolving the crisis through diplomacy or via other means, then we ought to utilize that approach. Military intervention is a last resort. I think in the case of Libya, it has become, through the actions of Qaddafi, the least worst remaining option.
Iraq in 2003 was not such a case. Bad as Saddam was, he wasn’t at that moment using heavy weaponry to directly attack massive numbers of civilians. He wasn’t positioning snipers to shoot people at the entrances to hospitals. He wasn’t firing antiaircraft guns at peaceful protesters. Maybe he would have done such things if provoked, but preventive use of military force is in my view always illegitimate. They didn’t greet us as liberators, throwing flowers at our feet. We went in and thousands of civilians died and we created chaos and disaster in the name of imposing democracy. Rather than supporting an internal, grass-roots rebellion, we were dictating to their country by force of arms what they ought to do.
In this case, however, I think the majority of people in Libya will be grateful to us. At least there is evidence of this, judging by this video of a march in Benghazi:
There are hundreds of similar videos posted by many different organizations online already. When the opposition takes over cities, there is celebration in the streets. When Qaddafi is in control, people cower in fear in their homes because snipers are shooting anyone who moves. As a human being on the planet Earth, I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that in this case, the always regrettable use of military force happens to be on the right side of history. This time.permalink |