Below are excerpts from two columns against intervention in Libya from nearly two weeks ago. One is by Michael Walzer, the just war theorist, and the second by Pat Buchanan. Read the pieces, then ask yourself, if you knew nothing else about the authors, which one of them you would conclude was the political thinker? Walzer comes across as a man of feeling with the most ad-lib notions of prudence, practical possibility and the limits that history may set on the actions of a great power. Buchanan (It’s Their War, Not Ours) comes across as a no-nonsense judge of the situation.
Why the disparity? (hardly a measure of the talents and qualities of the two writers in other settings). Walzer has Israel on his mind. Buchanan does not.
The point of calling in an army would be to overthrow the dictator and help move Libya toward a democratic transformation. And that is just the kind of intervention that [John Stuart] Mill opposed and that international law rules out….
What if it looks as if Qaddafi is going to win? Would we be willing to go all the way with Mill and say that if the rebels lose, it’s because the country isn’t ready, isn’t “fit,” for democratic government? I don’t think I am tough enough for that. But if there is to be, somewhere down the road, a military intervention, let it not be an American intervention. Ideally, I suppose, it should be an Italian intervention. According to post-colonial theory, the Italians are responsible for everything bad that has happened in Libya since they left. But if they tried to fix things, it wouldn’t be a post-post-colonial effort; it would look very much like the old colonialism. In any case, they could act effectively only as part of a NATO force, and NATO is second-worst to the United States as a potential intervener. United Nations auspices would provide a little cover, but it would almost certainly be vetoed in the Security Council. So why not call in the Egyptian and Tunisian armies? A high-tech force isn’t necessary here; with logistical help, these two armies could do the job. And who knows? Promoting democracy in Libya might push them to do the same thing, a bit more eagerly than they are doing now, in their own countries.
When intervention is necessary, neighbors are the best substitute for insiders. But when does “necessity” kick in—when the rebels have been utterly defeated, or when they are on the brink of defeat, or when too many of them are being killed? I would like to say, we will know necessity when we see it—except that so many people see it too soon, and so many never see it. We should begin that argument right now.
2. Buchanan at antiwar.com, March 8:
Before the United States plunges into a third war in the Middle East, let us think this one through, as we did not the last two.
What would be the purpose of establishing a no-fly zone over Libya? According to advocates, to keep Moammar Gadhafi from using his air force to attack civilians…
What is the theme, where is the consistency in U.S. policy?
We backed the dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, who were as autocratic as Gadhafi, whom we demand be deposed.
We support the dictator in Yemen, the absolute monarch in Saudi Arabia, the king in Bahrain, the sultan in Oman, and the emir in Kuwait, but back pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran, though there have been more elections in Iran than in all those other nations put together.
America has taken a terrible beating for what she has done and tried and failed to do in that region for a decade.
Let the “world community” take the lead on this one.
Tell them, this time, the Yanks are not coming.