Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dan Smith: Libya and the Fog of Intervention

Libya and the fog of intervention
by Dan Smith



What seems more likely, therefore, is that this war, having started, will be fought to the end. One side will win and one side will lose. It will be painful and bloody and whether the outcome will justify the suffering is one more thing we cannot yet know.

The ITNC estimates that 10,000 people have so far died in the Libyan uprising and war. If it is right that there is not a quick way out, many more people will die before the fighting’s over and it will be no surprise if, perhaps with interruptions and ceasefires along the way, that does not happen till the end of the year or later.

challenges and dilemmas on both sides of the argument

For supporters of intervention, this is the challenge of ‘do you really mean it?’, which I looked at in my last blog-post on Libya (10 March). Political leaders like Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama who have supported and led the case for intervention cannot be accused of attempting a cut-price, drive-by intervention. They have at least been serious; force has been used not to make a point but to achieve change. Now the question arises, will they continue to be serious? For months on end?

There is a strong case to make that something had to be done and the western powers could not just stand by and watch Qaddafi reassert his brutal rule. But do they have the stomach for war?

For opponents and sceptics of intervention, the main reservations have been based on

■the limited utility of military force, because the situation will be resolved politically or not at all;

■uncertain legitimacy, because the same European powers now bombing Qaddafi have embraced him when that was more politic;

■contradictory politics, because in the end freedom and sovereignty to underwrite it are not the grant of outside powers’ bombing campaigns.

Every single one of those reservations is sharpened by the uncertainties of the campaign, by the current impasse and by the prospect of continuing war.

But there is also an acute challenge – the challenge of, ‘but what would you do now?’

Now the war has started, which side are you on? Should the intervention stop because the war will be long and bloody? Which means that instead the war will be short, Qaddafi will be victorious, and the aftermath will be bloody – probably as bloody as the war.

Or do you say, we are where we are and we have to see it through?

Both sides of this argument have their case, both have their difficult questions, and neither has a neat answer.

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