conflict in north africa

conflict in north africa

War… war never changes.


About a month now has passed since the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1973, authorizing the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya [1].  At the time, both the UNSC and the Obama administration framed this intervention as a humanitarian effort in which a coalition of nations would implement a no-fly zone with the intent of curtailing Col. Qadhafi’s assault on civilians within his borders.  Fast-forward some thirty-odd days, and the scene unfolding in this North African state looks very different than the one promised by the White House.  The United States is unleashing predator drones against entrenched Qadhafi forces [2], CIA operatives are on the ground working in collusion with the rebel efforts [3], and Obama has authorized covert aid to the opposition troops [4].  For all intents and purposes, the US has unequivocally taken sides in an intractable civil war, one which appears unlikely to progress from the current stalemate anytime in the foreseeable future.

Now to be fair, there is a lot that the White House did right when entering this war.  With the ostensible aim of halting Qadhafi’s horrific [5] and indiscriminate [6] retaliation, Obama brought the might of the US military to bear in protecting civilians, a notable departure from past overseas interventions.  With the US hegemony being what it is, there are many (myself included) who would like to see human rights take a greater prominence in our foreign policy decisions.  Obama also went to great lengths to secure international support for the effort; in particular, his diplomatic pursuit of the Arab League endorsement speaks volumes to his appreciation of the sensitivity of this action [7].  And the decision to hand command over to NATO was particularly prudent [8], as  it disseminates both the financial burden and international ill-will of continuing the operation.

That having been said, however, it is difficult to look with optimism at the United States’ latest foreign quagmire.  The desire to prevent harm to civilians is certainly a noble one, but the complexities of modern warfare mixed with regional and tribal politics make the outcome of any intervention dishearteningly uncertain.  Qadhafi’s repression was horrific to be sure, but in the first month of this civil war, the death toll has already mounted to thousands [9].  The perpetual stalemate and sectarian violence are all too reminiscent of the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where civilian deaths have long since passed the 100,000 mark [10][11].  The decision to funnel supplies to the rebel forces in Libya should recall painful memories of the US involvement in the Soviet War in Afghanistan, where in its desire to help the rebel movement against an oppressive government, America inadvertently funded and supplied what would become modern day al-Qaeda [12].  And the Libyan rebels we are so eagerly jumping into bed with now?  They appear all too willing to descend to the depths of depravity we are trying to stand against, including unlawful mass detentions, beatings, rape, and media suppression [13].

Compassion dictates that we ought to stand against aggression, to stand between a tyrant and the innocents he would harm.  Qadhafi is a despot; there is no doubt about that.  But if we are to be a force for good, not just in our rhetoric but in our actions, we must consider the consequences of our intervention.  War is a violent, evil affair, and it is difficult  to look at the mounting bloodshed with no end in sight and conclude that our actions will leave the world more peaceful and free than when we began.

One Response to “conflict in north africa”
  1. N. Asher says:

    My apologies for how long it’s been since my last post, and my thanks to those who’ve been checking in regularly. School has put quite a damper on my writing time, and it looks to continue that way for at least the next month or so.

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