The end of liberal interventionism would be a wonderful new beginning
For liberalism, that is. Alas, there is no end in sight.
Looking forward, it is really not up to the west, much less the US, to plan Libya’s transition. It is a relief to see so many articles and statements reflecting lessons learnt from Iraq. But the Libyans are far ahead of where the US was when the initial fighting ended in Iraq. The National Transitional Council has a draft constitutional charter that is impressive in scope, aspirations and detail – including 37 articles on rights, freedoms and governance arrangements.
The sceptics’ response to all this, of course, is that it is too early to tell. In a year, or a decade, Libya could disintegrate into tribal conflict or Islamist insurgency, or split apart or lurch from one strongman to another. But the question for those who opposed the intervention is whether any of those things is worse than Col Gaddafi staying on by increasingly brutal means for many more years. Instability and worse would follow when he died, even had he orchestrated a transition.
The sceptics must now admit that the real choice in Libya was between temporary stability and the illusion of control, or fluidity and the ability to influence events driven by much larger forces. Welcome to the tough choices of foreign policy in the 21st century. Libya proves the west can make those choices wisely after all.
Matt Steinglass nods:
To have failed to intervene in Libya would have been a disaster for any future claim to intervention on human-rights grounds. It would have essentially signaled a temporary surrender by the democratic world on the ideals of liberal internationalism.
I suppose our failure to intervene in Syria will likewise be seen as a surrender? A disaster for any future claim to interventionism?
Well I certainly hope so. Setting aside the obvious selectiveness of our interventions, it is remarkable to me how otherwise reasonable people like Steinglass can say such remarkably silly things when it comes to blowing up people half a world away. Oh the failure of our refusal to partake in violence, in another country’s own civil war. What moral high ground we are forced to cede when we forsake liberal intervention and leave other people to their own devices!
Slaughter, meanwhile, is talking in circles. She rightly notes that skeptics argue that it is too early to tell, but then pivots to an almost entirely unrelated statement by claiming that the “sceptics must now admit that the real choice in Libya was between temporary stability and the illusion of control, or fluidity and the ability to influence events driven by much larger forces”. Why must we admit this? Why was this the choice? The choice was quite simply between lending our air support to the rebels – who we knew virtually nothing about – or letting the Libyans manage their own affairs.
That was the choice, not this sleight-of-hand nonsense about illusion of control vs the ability to influence events. And how does Libya prove anything yet? Ms. Slaughter, you just admitted that war critics are arguing that things might still fall apart, that indeed the toppling of Gaddafi is the quick and easy part and that the aftermath is the real danger.
That and the strengthening of the hawks’ hand in all of this. The ‘liberal interventionist’ ideal is alive and well, as Steinglass points out. This in spite of the Congo, in spite of Syria, in spite of North Korea and Iran, in spite of all the atrocities we ignore. The naiveté of interventionists like Slaughter lives on, but at least the Libyan rebels have scraps of paper “including 37 articles on rights, freedoms and governance arrangements.” They have guns, too, which I imagine will matter a great deal more in coming weeks.