Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Familiar Question

Predictably enough, NATO is losing its collective resolve to achieve regime change in Libya under the cover of a UN Security Council mandate to use military force to protect civilians:
“Italy called for a suspension of hostilities in Libya on Wednesday in the latest sign of dissent within NATO as the civilian death toll mounts and Moamer Kadhafi shows no signs of quitting power.

"‘We have seen the effects of the crisis and therefore also of NATO action not only in eastern and southwestern regions but also in Tripoli,’ Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told a parliamentary committee meeting. . . .

"The alliance is coming unstuck," Natalino Ronzitti from the Rome-based International Affairs Institute, told AFP.

"‘There's an air of dissent from some members, not only because of the huge cost but also because it's not clear the recent air attacks are entirely legitimate under the United Nations resolution,’ he said.”
The idea that driving Gaddafi out of power—rather than, say, enforcing a no-fly zone, dropping enough ordnance to stop his advance against the rebels last March and then negotiating a mutually agreeable ceasefire between the contending parties—was necessary to implement the UN Libya resolution was always preposterous on its face. Even European diplomats can pretend that there's no difference between protecting defenseless civilians by military means and taking sides in a civil war for only so long.  The improbable fiction that NATO has been acting under the color of international law is the diplomatic counterpart of an equally improbable domestic fiction propagated by the Obama administration, viz., that, although we're helping France and Britain drop bombs on Libya, we aren’t engaged in “hostilities” within the meaning of the War Powers Resolution.

Assuming that the UN isn't going to broaden NATO's mandate to encompass regime change and Americans haven't forgotten what "hostilities" means, it’s time to call the real questions presented by Gaddafi’s Libya: first, may a "coalition of the willing" depose an internationally recognized regime in contravention of international law because of its genocidal potential and history of supporting terrorism?; and second, if it may do it, should it do it?

I don't have anything distinctive to say about the strategic concerns raised by the second question.  But doesn't the first question have a familiar ring to it?

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