Skip to Content

US and West declare war on Libya: it just got much, much worse

I came home tonight and found that the US and the other Western powers had just launched another war in the Middle East. Add Libya to Afghanistan and Iraq.

A few hours ago the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action against the Libya regime led by Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi. The authorization extends beyond the much-discussed "no-fly zone" to include a wide range of military actions, including bombings of Gaddafi forces' tanks and artillery and air-defense systems. It also calls on member nations to take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians, which effectively gives the UN members a justification for sending in ground troops as well.

Here are some immediate observations:

  • This action is a blow to the fight for self-determination for the Libyan people. The rebels have been on the retreat and looked like they were going to lose. But that does not justify Western intervention. The Western powers do not have the interests of the Libyan people at heart; they have their own interests, which are typically in conflict with popular needs. The US is not in favor of democracy, despite its rhetoric: it did not support Egypt's protesters until the uprising had toppled Mubarak, and today it looks the other way as its allies in Bahrain's ruling monarchy crack down on democracy-seeking protesters. As Iraq and countless other war sites have shown, democracy cannot be introduced in by outsiders, from the top-down, at the end of a gun or missile. The act of intervention negates self-determination.
  • The UN authorization now effectively internationalizes what was an internal conflict, and thus changes the dynamic - and not for the better for the Libyan people. As we know from other war zones where the West has intervened, local forces often become focused on how best to secure Western funds. And now the West has handed Gaddafi the capacity to claim that he is an anti-imperialist fighting outside interference, and thus might cohere some support on that basis. The fact that it looks like Italy - the longtime colonial power in Libya - will provide the base for launching attacks will give the Libyan dictator an argument that joining him is a way to defeat their traditional imperialist foe. 
  • Make no mistake, this is a war. The advocates of a "no-fly zone" put forward that such action would be a sanitized version of battle, just some helping out from the sidelines. As mentioned, the UN authorization goes much further than this. But even if it had been limited, there is no way it could have stayed limited. The US and other Western powers have taken sides with the rebels. A victory for Qaddafi now would be a defeat for the West - will they allow that to happen without sending in ground forces? It is bad enough to intervene, but to intervene now and expect to stick to air strikes makes no sense. If Benghazi falls to Gaddafi, there will definitely be pressure to put troops on the ground. Obama's confused policy on Afghanistan (build up troops so you can pull out) looks logical compared with this Libya initiative. 
  • The Obama administration is making the George W. Bush regime look like brilliant foreign policy strategists in comparison. There has been no rationale provided for this action. There has been no real public debate: Obama has spent more time discussing his March Madness bracket than the war in Libya. To the extent that Americans have considered the Libya issue, most are, according to polls, against taking any action. Up to now, the rumor was that most of the Obama team was opposed, with the exception of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The word being spread around by the administration before Thursday's vote was that Libya was not a country that fell within the US's national security interests. Then, like a tiptoeing thief in the night, Obama joined the declaration of war on Libya, and that's that.
  • Furthermore, the US approach has been cowardly. Obama has hid behind the coattails of Sarkozy, Cameron, the Arab League and now the UN. It is one thing to put a stake in the ground and then call for others to join in. It is another to stay silent, let the others go out in front, and then decide to just go along for the ride . Whatever happened to the unipolar world?
  • This action against Libya is a direct attack on a principle of national sovereignty. It is a big deal to override sovereignty, and yet it hardly recognized as such. It means that there are no grounds to complain when other countries start to see borders as just lines on a map, easily trespassed. Like when the Saudis send troops to Bahrain.
  • Speaking of which, don't hold your breath for Western denunciations of the Saudis in Bahrain. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab League pushed for action in Libya, and many in the West used that group as a fig leaf to justify Western-led intervention. Now that the UN has voted to authorize, the US and UK are now allies with the GCC and Arab League against Gaddafi in Libya. Do you think the US and UK will, in the midst of war, criticize their allies for leading the crackdown in Bahrain?
  • This action is a new attempt to revive "humanitarian" intervention, after the idea of Western action became tarnished by the Iraq war experience. But bombing Libya or anywhere else is not humanitarian:  if you think that the news reports have been gruesome, just wait till the Western powers start to attack. And as prior examples such as Bosnia show, these "humanitarian" interventions only open the door for Western control at the expense of local democracy. Finally, where does "humanitarianism" end? Why intervene in Libya and not in Zimbabwe and other countries?                 

It is amazing how the intervention in Libya is proceeding as if the Afghanistan and Iraq wars never happened. The opportunity to obtain some moral authority from the "do something" brigade was apparently too great for the West's politicians to resist. Even too hard for an American President who, as a candidate, claimed his unique ability to lead was evidenced by his foresight to oppose the war in Iraq.

The US and the West are not a force for good in Libya. A civil war in Libya has now become an international war, which can only be bad for the Libyan people.

6 Responses to “US and West declare war on Libya: it just got much, much worse” Leave a reply ›

  • I couldn't agree with you more! I'm deeply sickened, but not surprised, that my Government (UK) is in the process of mutual back-patting over the 'success' of the UN resolution. The Western media have grossly distorted the situation in Libya, in an attempt to portray it as similar to Egypt, i.e a people's revolution. The Libyan situation is an armed insurrection of rebels, and to support and intervene with regard to a rebellious overthrow of a Sovereign Nations rule is against International Law. The 'no fly zone' or rather, initial act of war, which it is, is reckless to say the least and I believe it will have disasterous consequences for many countries. This is no more an humanitarian move, than Iraq was ... if Libya's main export were broccoli the West would not any where near this situation. Once again, it is about oil, and also the fact that Gaddafi has outlived his usefulness to the West.

  • Obviously it would be better to let el-Gadaffi slaughter his own people? Fence-sitting may be the pathetic option for armchair quietists like Collins and Spiked, always taking the contrarian position, but not for the rebels in Libya.
    Your line of reasoning implies that if the ideal and best option is not available to act upon, then you should do nothing. What that may lead to in the end is obvious to anyone but yourself.

  • The internet has lowered the cost (to zero) of getting anything published by anyone with any view. So we have a blog for the America-haters who conclude that whatever America does will be bad for (insert name of cause). What people like the writer of this blog don't understand is that there is a virulent backlash coming in the West against the smartass intelligensia who are attempting to foist their solution on the wider population in any number of current issues. Twenty-one years ago, I witnessed the fall of the dictator Pinochet in Chile and the way ordinary people thrilled to the arrival of the precious commodity called democracy. In my opinion, democracy in the Western democracies is about to be reawoken in the same way. In the meantime, the current president of the United States is attempting to do only what most Americans (and democrats in the wider world) want him to do.

  • brilliant.
    this is not America bashing.
    this article is an act of patriotism.

    these elitist #$^% are going in with their own agendas, not americans'.

Leave a Reply


I'd like to hear from you. Feel free to email me with comments, suggestions, whatever. I can be reached at