After weeks of indecision and lengthy debate in the U.S. administration about appropriateness of military intervention in Libya, President Obama has finally won approval from the UN with the passage of Security Council resolution 1973 that authorizes all necessary measures, euphemism for use of force, to protect the Libyans. Ever since mid-February the Libyans have been violently protesting against their tyrant leader for political freedom, buoyed as they are, by similar success in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. Quite unlike to those Arab countries, the Libyan leader Colonel Qaddafi has remained defiant and more so after the decision of the coalition forces assembled in line with UN resolution to strike against the Libyan targets to enforce UN-sanctioned no-fly-zone over the country.
Military interventions are in most of the cases controversial, confusing and fail to achieve the objectives for which they are authorized even with formal legitimacy buttressed by the relevant resolution of the UN Security Council. Military action undertaken unilaterally as in March, 2003 Iraq war has led to further disaster despite inviting widespread criticism. Such action undermines the very moral strength of a country that embraces such approach. The U.S. government has been frustratingly humiliated due to its decision to invade Iraq almost 8 years ago under the first term of President George W. Bush, where peace and stability, the fundamental twin purposes of intervention, have still remained as elusive as ever.
A quick review of some of the most essential paragraphs contained in resolution 1973 of March 17, 2011 which was adopted with five abstentions as China, among others, has placed enviable emphasis on sovereignty, reveals that ongoing intervention in Libya has very limited goals. The overall aim of the above resolution has been to end fighting and obtain a ceasefire between the Qaddafi regime and the rebels and the latter have been ambitiously demanding the ouster of their despised leader, who, unfortunately, has vowed to continue fighting until the last moment. At a time of conflicting signals coming no other from President Obama and the Security Council resolution, it looks very much like an uphill task if not impossible to achieve the objectives of present intervention. President Obama has demanded that Qaddafi give up all political powers, however, UN does not have that condition as per the resolution 1973.
Had the resolution intended the removal of Qaddafi from power, there would have been tremendous difficulty of mustering required support for endorsement by the UN Security Council. The American public is also divided on this issue as well that has impact on President Obama’s future plan to resolve the crisis and a section of people do not find their national interests so vitally at stake in Libya. It is irrefutable that U.S. military leadership involvement which though is available at the initial phase of intervention is crucial to success albeit formal legitimacy from the UN Security Council.
The intervention in Libya is the first in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Logically U.S. will be required to invest its resources even at a time of its overextended involvement in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the face of domestic opposition how long the Obama administration will be able to meet its military obligations to fulfill the goals of current intervention remains uncertain. A few observations from some of the American elites whose opinion very much shape the foreign policy will be in order as the American interventions in the past have failed miserably with limited exceptions.
Richard N. Hass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a recent opinion piece run by Foreign Affairs, has questioned the rationale of U.S. government’s decision to intervene in Libya which to him is similar to participation in the country’s civil war even when American vital interests are not at stake and the humanitarian crisis is not unique too. He labels the Libyan intervention as a war of choice rather than necessity.
The U.S.-led intervention in the Middle East particularly in Iraq has proved controversial except in August 1990 when it triumphed in ousting the Iraqi from forces from Kuwait with international backing but soon after its role in removing Saddam and starting war in March 2003 against Iraq has made the American public agonize woefully. They are confused if the goal of achieving the security and stability in the Gulf which President H.W. Bush had so persuasively outlined in his speech just six days after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990 has been accomplished after so many wars seeing more chaos than peace in the troubled Iraq after the American invasion.
Gideon Rose, the editor of Foreign Affairs, in his widely-acclaimed book entitled, “How Wars End” has quoted former President H.W. Bush who had then promised the American people that Desert Storm (Persian Gulf War of 1990-91) would not be a Persian Gulf Vietnam. Rose further mentions in the same book that “in Bush’s (Sr.) determination to avoid getting trapped in one sort of quagmire, he ended up with another-in an bitter irony of history, he eventually saw the Vietnam nightmare visit his son, who would decide to take the U.S. into another war a decade later in a bungled attempt to solve the Iraqi problem once and for all.” In this regard the opinion of Fareed Zakaria, the author of “The Post-American World” and editor of Newsweek International, is noteworthy who has said that “Americans are always disappointed with the outcomes of wars and troubled peace that follows”.
More importantly the international community should undertake simultaneous efforts for negotiated resolution of the crisis and the post-war settlement that ensures unhindered transition of political power and avoids internal violence. Who rules after the guns stop firing is fundamental, otherwise military operations end up in preventing peace rather than helping it establish, which is paradoxical.