“Egyptians have inspired us,” said Obama, “and they’ve done so by putting the lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence. In Egypt, it was the moral force of nonviolence—not terrorism, not mindless killing—that bent the arc of history toward justice once more.”
Hmmmm. Just a month later, with nonviolent revolutions brewing all along the southern Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf, Obama chose to intervene militarily in the region for the first time since the Arab spring broke early this year in Tunisia. He did so by bombing Libya, the one place where opponents of the dictator chose to take up arms to secure their freedom.
Nonviolence had its moment, and now it’s back to business as usual.
Take a look at the map. Tunisia to the west; Egypt to the east. Both nonviolent revolutions. Libya is smack in the middle. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Barack had to walk into Libya. I’m just saying.
Our involvement in the Libyan war is many things. It is condoned by the United Nations. It is being fought along with our allies. It is seen by many Libyans as a campaign to help them win their freedom. It produces warm fuzzy moments, like when the Benghazi civilians welcomed and fed the American pilots who bailed from their plane.
It is also a very bad idea, an intervention based on a pile of false assumptions, and doomed to failure.
One of the assumptions is that Gaddafi is targeting civilians and that we are rushing in to save those civilians. In fact, we are stepping in to prevent Gaddafi forces from retaking Benghazi, and hoping that the rebels can muster enough strength and organization to drive the colonel into the sea.
And how do we expect them to do that? This poorly organized, trigger-happy and mostly untrained army led by a man who began this year as Gaddafi’s interior minister will undoubtedly leave its own trail of civilian blood in the sands if and when they make their way to the shores of Tripoli. And they are already telling us that in order to do that, they need our guns.
The conflict in Libya is a civil war, with opponents of Gaddafi holding on in Benghazi while the leader’s military forces try to retake the city and reunify the country. Because we dislike, even hate, Gaddafi does not make for a good reason to involve ourselves in a civil war. Have we learned nothing from eight years in Iraq? Already our so-called friends, the rebels holding Benghazi, are screaming that the United States is betraying them if somehow Gaddafi manages to regain control of their stronghold.
The analogy has been made to Serbia and Bosnia, where the United States and NATO were said to have moved too slowly to come to the aid of Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s. But the genocide at Srebrenica involved the wholesale gunning down of the young Muslim men in that town. What is happening in Libya is warfare, ugly warfare, not genocide. We should understand the difference.
It’s been nothing short of shocking to hear reporters and Democratic defenders of the president talk of the Libyan slaughter of innocents as justification for this war. Even Jon Stewart seems to have shredded the rules of evidence on this one.
When Mansour O. El-Kikhia, Ph.D., chair of the political science department at University of Texas, San Antonio, was on The Daily Show with Stewart on March 28, he asserted that if the United States had not bombed Gaddafi’s forces advancing on Benghazi, 25,000 to 50,000 civilians would have died.
Stewart, in a rare lapse, didn’t challenge the good doctor, a Libyan born in Benghazi, to explain where he got his numbers. Perhaps it was because his audience was busily cheering as the doctor loudly repeated, “Thank you, Obama! Thank you, Obama!” We all like happy endings, and the world would no doubt be better off if Moammar Gaddafi joined his neighboring tyrants in retirement. Even happier we would be if he faced trial and punishment for his crimes. Central New York, which lost so many people to his 1988 terror attack on Pan Am Flight 103, has more reason than any community in the Unites States to wish Gaddafi a speedy exit and to make him accountable for his crimes.
Once Obama framed his acts of war in Libya as necessary to prevent a slaughter, he already committed himself to ending Gaddafi’s days in power. When Gaddafi comes knocking again at the gates of Benghazi, all bets are off. When that happens, Obama will wish he had remembered what he once said he liked about the revolution in the Arab world—its nonviolent nature.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at email@example.com.