Liberal hawks should hang heads in shame over Libya

The Western-assisted war in Libya isn’t going too well. So much for a quick victory against Gaddafi forces. The utterly confused strategy, even with US-led bombing runs, has not overwhelmed government troops.

Gary Younge writes in the Guardian that such missions should force “liberal interventionists” who backed this war to question (yet again!) their belief in our governments to carry out noble wars without crimes and errors:

The problem is not mission creep, it’s the mission. There are only so many times their governments can reasonably keep doing the same thing and expect different results and there can be only so many times liberal hawks can “trust” their governments to do differently.

Despite Obama’s initial foreboding, Libya is not Iraq. It came with legal sanction, European insistence, Arab cover, a credible, if not exactly viable, resistance on the ground, and the immediate threat of massacre. Iraq had none of those.

UN support makes the bombing legal, it does not make it legitimate. This is no mere semantic matter. Just because something is within the law does not make it a good idea. International law should be a prerequisite for action, not the basis for it. The Iraq war would still have been a disaster even if the UN had endorsed it. It would just have been a legal disaster.

One of the more pathetic aspects of this misadventure is how it has exposed the discrepancy between their imperialist rhetoric and postcolonial decline. Obama hoped the US would play a “supporting role”; in reality it is centre stage. Indeed the show could not go on without Washington. However, even at this early stage, American domestic support for this war is fragile. Most believe the US should not be involved and that it does not have a clear strategy – and, in any case, they are not that interested. This is not a question of the ends justifying the means. As both Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, the west does… not have the military or political means to achieve its ends even on its own terms.

The Libyan rebels’ demands are important. But solidarity does not involve unquestioningly forfeiting responsibility for one’s own actions to another, but rather it is a process of mutual engagement demanding an assessment of what is both prudent and possible. It is now clear that the Libyan uprising, like other revolutions in the region, could not succeed militarily.