A Status Report on Our Intervention in Libya. Historians Will Find this Farce Fascinating

Summary:  Our mission in Libya expands while the original rationale for the war stands exposed as falsehoods.  It’s just another typical war for America in the waning days of the Second Republic.  This post gives a status report, with excerpts from relevant articles.

A review of Obama’s speech about our intervention in Libya, comparing it to our adventure in Iraq

But, after what we saw yesterday, there can be no counting on the people, and it really seems as though old Hegel, in the guise of the World Spirit, were directing history from the grave and, with the greatest conscientiousness, causing everything to be re-enacted twice over, once as grand tragedy and the second time as rotten farce … — Letter from Friedrich Engels’ letter to Karl Marx, 3 December 1851


  1. Mission creep …
  2. while the reason for the war is revealed to be bogus
  3. For more information

(1)  Mission creep …

What’s wonderful about this is that Obama never explains why he changed his mind, or even acknowledges that he has done so.  We are at war with Eastasia; we have always been at war with Eastasia.

Speech by President Obama at National Defense University, 28 March 2011, about Libya:

Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power.  I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

Expanding the goal — “The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes“, op-ed in The Telegraph, Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, 15 April 2011 — “The Libyan leader will make his country a pariah state. To leave him in power would be an unconscionable betrayal.”  Excerpt:

Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. . . . However, so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

Expanding the expected duration of the war — President Obama in an interview with Associated Press, 15 April 2011:

I didn’t expect that in three weeks, suddenly as a consequence of an air campaign, that Gaddafi would necessarily be gone. … You now have a stalemate on the ground militarily, but Gaddafi is still getting squeezed in all kinds of other ways. He is running out of money, he is running out of supplies. The noose is tightening and he is becoming more and more isolated.  My expectation is that if we continue to apply that pressure and continue to protect civilians, which NATO is doing very capably, then I think over the long term Gaddafi will go and we will be successful.

(2)  while the reason for the war is revealed to be bogus

We’re conned again.  Just like “remember the Maine”, the Tonkin Gulf resolution, and Saddam’s nukes.

(a) Did Obama avert a bloodbath in Libya?“, Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, 3 April 2011 — Excerpt:

Obama implied that, absent our intervention, Gadhafi might have killed nearly 700,000 people, putting it in a class with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. White House adviser Dennis Ross was only slightly less alarmist when he reportedly cited “the real or imminent possibility that up to a 100,000 people could be massacred.”   But these are outlandish scenarios that go beyond any reasonable interpretation of Gadhafi’s words. He said, “We will have no mercy on them” — but by “them,” he plainly was referring to armed rebels (“traitors”) who stand and fight, not all the city’s inhabitants.

“We have left the way open to them,” he said. “Escape. Let those who escape go forever.” He pledged that “whoever hands over his weapons, stays at home without any weapons, whatever he did previously, he will be pardoned, protected.”

(b) Libya is not Rwanda“, Paul D. Miller (Asst Prof of International Security Studies, National Defense University), Foreign Policy, 30 March 2011 — Excerpt:

{Obama’s speech} gives credence to the reports that Hilary Clinton, the secretary of state, Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the U.N., and Samantha Power, N.S.C. senior director for multilateral affairs, led the charge to war specifically to avoid “another Rwanda.” The latter two especially have been outspoken in their belief that the United States was wrong not to intervene to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which the ethnic Hutu Interahamwe militia slaughtered some 800,000 fellow Rwandans in a few weeks while the world watched. One diplomat told Power she shouldn’t let Libya become “Obama’s Rwanda,” according to the New York Times. Rwanda looms darkly in the liberal conscience as a powerful prod of guilt, whispering “Next time, do something. Do anything. Anything is better than nothing.”

Liberals have a point about Rwanda. It was grotesque that troop-contributing countries actually withdrew their forces from the U.N. Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), rather than beef it up with more resources and authority, as the genocide unfolded. (However, Power betrays her ignorance of military realities when she argued in her book, A Problem From Hell, that the U.N. could have stopped the genocide with the assets it had on the ground at the time).

But Libya is not Rwanda. Rwanda was genocide. Libya is a civil war. The Rwandan genocide was a premeditated, orchestrated campaign. The Libyan civil war is a sudden, unplanned outburst of fighting. The Rwandan genocide was targeted against an entire, clearly defined ethnic group. The Libyan civil war is between a tyrant and his cronies on one side, and a collection of tribes, movements, and ideologists (including Islamists) on the other. The Rwandan genocidiers aimed to wipe out a people. The Libyan dictator aims to cling to power. The first is murder, the second is war. The failure to act in Rwanda does not saddle us with a responsibility to intervene in Libya. The two situations are different.

Advocates of the Libyan intervention have invoked the “responsibility to protect” to justify the campaign. But R2P is narrowly and specifically aimed at stopping genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity on a very large scale. It does not give the international community an excuse to pick sides in a civil war when convenient.

(c) False pretense for war in Libya?“, Alan J. Kuperman, op-ed in the Boston Globe, 14 April 2011 — Excerpt (links added):

Evidence is now in that President Barack Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya. The president claimed that intervention was necessary to prevent a “bloodbath’’ in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and last rebel stronghold.  But Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.

Misurata’s population is roughly 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3% — are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties.

Obama insisted that prospects were grim without intervention. “If we waited one more day, Benghazi . . . could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.’’ Thus, the president concluded, “preventing genocide’’ justified US military action. … The best evidence that Khadafy did not plan genocide in Benghazi is that he did not perpetrate it in the other cities he had recaptured either fully or partially — including Zawiya, Misurata, and Ajdabiya, which together have a population greater than Benghazi.

Libyan forces did kill hundreds as they regained control of cities. Collateral damage is inevitable in counter-insurgency. And strict laws of war may have been exceeded.

But Khadafy’s acts were a far cry from Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, Bosnia, and other killing fields. Libya’s air force, prior to imposition of a UN-authorized no-fly zone, targeted rebel positions, not civilian concentrations. Despite ubiquitous cellphones equipped with cameras and video, there is no graphic evidence of deliberate massacre. Images abound of victims killed or wounded in crossfire — each one a tragedy — but that is urban warfare, not genocide.

Nor did Khadafy ever threaten civilian massacre in Benghazi, as Obama alleged. The “no mercy’’ warning, of March 17, targeted rebels only, as reported by The New York Times, which noted that Libya’s leader promised amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away.’’ Khadafy even offered the rebels an escape route and open border to Egypt, to avoid a fight “to the bitter end.’’

If bloodbath was unlikely, how did this notion propel US intervention? The actual prospect in Benghazi was the final defeat of the rebels. To avoid this fate, they desperately concocted an impending genocide to rally international support for “humanitarian’’ intervention that would save their rebellion.

On March 15, Reuters quoted a Libyan opposition leader in Geneva claiming that if Khadafy attacked Benghazi, there would be “a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda.’’ Four days later, US military aircraft started bombing. By the time Obama claimed that intervention had prevented a bloodbath, The New York Times already had reported that “the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda’’ against Khadafy and were “making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.’’

It is hard to know whether the White House was duped by the rebels or conspired with them to pursue regime-change on bogus humanitarian grounds. In either case, intervention quickly exceeded the UN mandate of civilian protection by bombing Libyan forces in retreat or based in bastions of Khadafy support, such as Sirte, where they threatened no civilians.

Alan J. Kuperman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, is author of The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention and co-editor of Gambling on Humanitarian Intervention.

A last comment about our love of foreign wars

This might not be true of the Libyan War, but probably, eventually our foreign wars will bring us to a sad end.

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. — The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx, 1852

For more information

Articles about the Libyan war:

  1. Western powers dig in for long war in Libya“, analysis by Reuters, 15 April 2011
  2. Nato mission in disarray as criticisms mount“, The Independent, 16 April 2011 — “Obama admits ‘stalemate’ on the ground as France seeks fresh UN resolution”

Other posts about Libya:

  1. Libya’s people need uninvited infidel foreigners to save them!, 1 March 2011
  2. “You just have not seen enough people bleed to death”, 8 March 2011
  3. About attacking Libya – let’s give this more thought than we did Afghanistan and Iraq, 6 March 2009
  4. Our geopolitical experts see the world with the innocent eyes of children (that’s a bad thing), 14 March 2011
  5. We’re at war, again. Another shovel of dirt on the corpse of the Constitution., 21 March 2011
  6. A war monger review, looking at the articles advocating a US war with Libya, 22 March 2011
  7. What will the world’s tyrants learn from the Libyan War? Get nukes., 25 March 2011
  8. Who are we helping in Libya? Here are some answers., 27 March 2011
  9. In America, both Left and Right love the long war, 30 March 2011
  10. Can the UN give Obama the authority to send US forces in the Libyan War?, 1 April 2011
  11. Tearing the Constitution is a bipartisan sport!, 4 April 2011
  12. Why the Libyan War is important to us – and to our children, 9 April 2011

Originally published at Fabius Maximus and reproduced here with permission.