I am very cautious in choosing which U.S. military adventures I support. There’s a simple reason for this. That reason is that if I support a military operation, it needs to be one for which I would submit to a draft. Now, as I age the chances of my getting drafted are between slim and none, so it’s something of a moot point. But I do think it’s a fair standard to ask myself if I would be willing to place myself at the bottom of a chain of command where I can be ordered to take a human life because someone with a higher rank than I gave me a “lawful” order to do so. This also applies in the event that an action that has my support goes bad.
So what has that meant in terms of what actions I have supported over the years? Well, I was opposed to the Gulf War. I was okay with the Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, although it’s a perfect example of how a well-intentioned action can go bad. I felt that intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo were good calls. I never thought that Afghanistan was a good idea and I wish Obama would get us out, and Iraq was based on lies. The people responsible should be in prison.
And this brings me to Libya. There’s been much handwringing on the left equating Libya with Iraq and Obama with Bush. These comparisons do not hold water. In Iraq, Bush manufactured a crisis and used America’s post 9/11 fears to provide cover for his administration’s lies. There was no credible resistance in Iraq asking for the U.S. to attack and overthrow Saddam Hussein. There was no significant international support and Bush chose to not seek UN authorization for the invasion because he knew he would not get it. We were ill-prepared for an occupation.
With Libya, we have a genuine crisis in which the people, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets in search of democracy after 40 years under Gadafi’s rule. They were met with military force. Still, it was only when they were attacked by the Libyan air force that they engaged with the international community in search of support. (Franklin in Paris anyone?) That support came in the form of a UN resolution authorizing intervention. That intervention, in the form of a no-fly zone has had the effect of putting victory, hard won though it will be, within reach of the rebel forces.
There’s one other thing. On June 4, 2009, President Obama gave a speech at the University of Cairo. He said these words:
The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.
I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.
That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.
There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.
You see, there’s been a move toward democracy in the Mid-East. Has this come about as a result of Obama’s words? There’s no way to know, but we do know that between Tunisia and Egypt, we have witnessed a moment, a season in the Islamic world. Libyans tried to seize the moment and were met with violence. Our intervention is an attempt to seize that season in the hope of a dawn of democracy.