ARLINGTON, Va., April 4 — Some objections have been raised over the U.S. involvement in the coalition air campaign, begun March 19, to aid the rebels opposing the forces of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Chief among them are that it is costly to our government, and that we don’t really know much about the rebels other than that they want to be free from Gaddafi. However, two important reasons for supporting the air campaign trump the objections.
To begin with, suppose that no country, not the U.S., Great Britain or France, or any other nation, had intervened to aide the rebels in Libya. Considering Gaddafi’s overwhelming power in aircraft, tanks and artillery, it is almost certain that his forces would have crushed the opposition fighters by now. They would all have been killed or imprisoned, or if they were lucky, some of them might have escaped across the border as refugees. Their cause would have been lost.
There couldn’t have been a better way than inaction, for the West to pour cold water on the newly emerging reform movements in North Africa and the Middle East. The clear message to dictators and autocrats would have been that if they respond to protesters and reformers with ruthless force, they will remain in power, and they won’t have to change anything at all.
And the clear message to reformers in nations such as Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or even Iran would be that the West is not going to exert much effort to help them, and that they are on their own.
Thanks to the coalition air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces and the no-fly zone they have established, the situation is different. The rebels in Libya are still alive, and they have a chance of success. Although the rebels are still largely unknown to the West, Gaddafi is definitely known, as a tyrant. It can be hoped at least, that from among the rebels can emerge true leaders who will bring their people into better times.
Moreover autocratic rulers in a number of other countries in the region may be more likely to treat reformers and protesters with some respect and to listen to their appeals for constructive change. Hopefully, the reform efforts in many of these nations can bear fruit through mostly peaceful means, rather than the kind of warfare that Libya is enduring.
The second good reason for the coalition intervention has simply to do with conscience. Do you remember the genocide in Rwanda in the 1994? In this situation the world governments knew that extremist Hutu militias threatened minority Tutsis, and they had ample time to prevent loss of life, but they failed to act decisively.
The result was that around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered when the militias overwhelmed the tiny, token United Nations force that was supposed to provide security. In 1995 over 7000 Bosnian Moslems were rounded up and murdered by Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica, a town that the U.N. had designated as a haven of safety. Again, the world had failed to take decisive action to prevent a massacre.
Essentially, the U.N. and the U.S. have acted in Libya in order to get it right this time, to prevent yet another massacre. If the coalition forces had not acted, would Gaddafi have killed his opponents on a massive scale? He was certainly attacking rebel-held cities with ruthless abandon, with air force and artillery attacks.
Would he have hurt any rebels or suspected rebels who survived long enough to be taken prisoner? Consider the recent testimony of three BBC journalists who were briefly imprisoned by Libyan government forces before being released. They reported that in the military compound where they were held, they saw many other prisoners who had been terribly tortured. One of the journalists, Goktay Koraltan, said, “I cannot describe how bad it was. Most of them were hooded and handcuffed really tightly, all with swollen hands and broken ribs. They were in agony. They were screaming.” There is no doubt that had the world not intervened, Gaddafi would have taken a horrible vengeance on those Libyans who had had the temerity to ask for reform of their government and of their lives.
It is true that the U.S. and coalition effort in Libya is an expensive gamble, a little like the gamble that the French took in supporting the American revolutionaries in the late 1700s. But sometimes gambles pay off. Moreover, we did the right thing in acting to prevent the annihilation of rebel fighters and civilians in Libya. Around twenty centuries ago, a very wise man told his friends, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Doesn’t this wisdom apply not only to how individuals should relate to other people, but to how nations should relate to those in need? When an individual, a nation or a coalition of nations does the right thing, the effort may be costly. Nevertheless, Heaven often tends to reward the effort, even in ways we might not expect.
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