In Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column this morning, he suggests several courses of action the international community should take to “nudge Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power,” including enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Qaddafi from using military aircraft against his own people. In his tweets, Kristof has also argued that the United Nation’s doctrine of protection would allow the west to legally bomb airbases Qaddafi is using against his own people.
In theory, I’m on board. (Although we should mention that the Libyan military is doing a pretty damn good job of not bombing its own people.) Certainly Qaddafi, and his maniacal actions, could not be worse – arming mercenaries to fight his own people! – and his speeches are both exhausting and delusional.
And the bravery exhibited by the Libyan people, in pursuing their freedom, is stunning. People who go back into the squares when there are dead bodies and bullet casings and tanks! This nutbar of a dictator must be stopped.
But we must be careful (yet quick!) in orchestrating a coalition for action. This can’t be another American-led coalition of the willing. Qaddafi and other Islamist extremists have perpetuated their influence based on a fear of the west, its military might and its support for Israel. Any kind of western military action in Libya will reinforce those long-standing world views.
This is true not just in the Arab world. Last weekend, the American Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman visited one of the squares where Chinese protesters are trying to get their own jasmine revolution off the ground. The Atlantic describes the Chinese state media’s portrayal:
Many Chinese have access to alternative sources of news (just as Libyans do), and they won’t uncritically believe this point of view. But this kind of west-vs.-the-rest framing reinforces patriotism, national pride and support for the institutions in place in China, just as they would in Libya. Generally, the perception of American interference in other countries’ political affairs perpetuates the cycles of behavior that have caused so much distrust of the United States and our allies.
In the past, we’ve been derelict in our responsibility to intervene in genocide. I hope we will not be derelict again. But if we wish to both support the Libyan revolution and improve the perception of the United States in the Arab world, we have to do it right. On Tuesday, the Arab League issued a strong declaration that the violence had to stop. Let’s encourage their leadership.
If the international community is going to pursue action in Libya, it better be under the auspices of the Arab League (and not just that of Saudi sheikhs) and with the blessing of the Arab street. And preferably the planes should not be American.
Photo Credit: Voice of America