Pushing Back Against Libya War Supporters
Now that the rebels virtually control Tripoli and Qaddafi’s regime has allegedly fallen, Libya war supporters are taking a celebratory victory lap and asking for apologies from those who opposed intervention. However, I find this reaction to be quite misguided. I opposed military intervention in Libya, and stand by that now, even as Qaddafi fell. The anti-intervention argument wasn’t that getting rid of Qaddafi was going to be a problem or that intervening couldn’t help facilitate the rebels overthrowing the regime. Nor was it that Qaddafi wasn’t a dreadful person who did awful things to his people. Rather, it focused on the legality of the war and the far-reaching consequences of military action. These pertinent questions and concerns posed by opponents of the Libyan war still stand today.
The war in Libya was illegal, regardless of the supposed outcome. It’s elapsed for months now without congressional approval in violation of the War Powers Act – in fact, congress voted against a resolution in favor of the war. Moreover, the claim that military intervention in Libya didn’t qualify as ‘hostilities’ under the War Powers Act is a widely recognized fiction. On Antiwar radio, constitutional scholar Bruce Fein rightly pointed out that if ‘hostilities’ only apply when US troops are being actively shot at, then launching a nuclear bomb wouldn’t constitute ‘hostilities’. And while not a legal issue, the disingenuous justification for the war, ‘humanitarian intervention’ to prevent slaughter of civilians, was quickly revealed as a ruse for regime change.
Alternatively, the main criticism of the Libya war, was, and remains the unanswerable questions and uncertainty of what ensues in the aftermath of Qaddafi. Sure, he was a terrible leader who committed atrocities against his own people, but what guarantee is there that what succeeds him won’t be just as bad, if not worse? It’s not as if we really know who the Transitional National Council is. There’s also no way to predict what kind of government will be set up and who will comprise it. A notion of the entire rebellion as either representative of Libyan society or all liberty loving freedom fighters is downright comical. The rebellion is highly diverse and dissimilar, comprised of people from all different walks of Libyan society – the potential for violence will be great as competing interests vie for power in the new government.
Moreover, after facilitating the downfall of Qaddafi, the US and NATO can’t just turn their backs on the fallout and rebuilding process. Immediately leaving would open the US to blame for the end result or potential problems left in Qaddafi’s wake. The appearance and consequences of extracting ourselves permanently from Libya will unfortunately result in us having no choice but to be significantly involved in the affairs of the Libyans as they form a new government. Anti-interventionists argue that due to the unknown future, military intervention and regime change could yield bloody unintended consequences that nobody expects nor fully understands.
However, the most salient critique of the war is the precedent established by the president’s decision to intervene in Libya. Any pre-existing check on the executive’s unilateral power to wage war is now effectively eliminated. By intervening militarily in a country with no US national security interests and without congressional authorization, Obama provided cover for every future president who launches new wars and conflicts likely to produce far worse and long-term consequences to American interests than Libya. Whether it’s a neocon approved Republican or a liberal ‘humanitarian interventionist,’ the justification for the next illegal war will be based on the Libya precedent set by Obama.
Image via Flickr user RMondolfi