E.D. Kain is one of my favorite bloggers and someone who I respect for his ability to get beyond simple partisan talking points, but I think he’s in denial about this:
As far as I’m concerned there are no good arguments for intervention in Libya. Reports that we’ve saved 100,000 lives there strike me as no better than propaganda.
As soon as Libyans began gearing up for their February 17th protests (which were supposed to mimic the successful Egyptian protest movement), I began to follow the situation closely. It’s a country (and a regime) that I’ve been fascinated by since I became friends with a Libyan who was given asylum in the U.S. in the early 90s. To this day, I’ve never been able to get the whole story out of him on why he had to flee the country.
For a while, it did appear as if Libya would follow the script of both Egypt and Tunisia. Protesters took to the streets across the country and in many cities were able to raise the tri-colored flag of pre-Gaddafi Libya. At one point, only Tripoli, Sirte, and a few other tiny pockets of the country remained loyal to Gaddafi.
As in Egypt – and in Cairo in particular – this required that people “lose the fear”. In Benghazi, this happened, and while some troops stayed loyal to Gaddafi, many didn’t (they were found bound and burned alive). Fighter pilots that were sent to bomb the city flew to Malta and demanded asylum. Many other Libyan diplomats defected and joined the ranks of the protesters. Benghazi was able to overrun the few Gaddafi supporters left and raise the rebel flag. But in the capital, none of this happened.
When protests started to break out in Tripoli, Gaddafi had enough fighters (along with paid mercenaries from other countries) who began terrorizing the populace. They fired from tanks and aircraft into crowds of peaceful unarmed protesters. At this point, the internet was still available and people in Libya were posting pictures and videos of the truly gruesome carnage. And my friend (who was still in communication with his large family back in Tripoli) was still optimistic when I talked to him, but Gaddafi’s assaults on the populace brought the fear back in Tripoli and allowed for him to project to the world that he still had support in the capital.
It’s hard to really get into the mind of someone like Gaddafi, but it’s not hard to see that from his speeches that it matters to him deeply that he’s loved by his people. And here he was faced with his entire nation standing up and telling him to fuck off. It was very similar to Mubarak, but Gaddafi isn’t Mubarak. And the Libyan Army isn’t an institution capable of rejecting a diseased head of state bent on massacring his populace in order to project an image to the world that he’s beloved.
At this point, there was still hope that the protesters could arm themselves and take on Gaddafi’s loyalists and paid fighters, but that hope was dashed in a flurry of intense military retribution on the general public. Tens of thousands started to flee to the Tunisian border. Gaddafi then started consolidating his military assets to reclaim cities that had raised the rebel flag. He repeatedly attacked Zawia, just west of Tripoli, by shelling residential areas. After several days of fighting, Gaddafi achieved his objective, to be able to set a scene where western reporters could broadcast to the world a scene of pro-Gaddafi supporters waving green flags and holding up his picture. It’s nearly impossible to know how many people died in order to set up this photo op. As was the case throughout the battles in Libya, dead bodies were picked up from the streets and taken away by the military. Hospitals were attacked and ambulances were often hijacked.
In the east, Gaddafi forces were able to continue along the main highway between Tripoli and Benghazi. Having the ability to fire from the air made it impossible for the now-armed but largely untrained opposition to stop them, especially in sparsely populated areas where it’s tough to hide. There was nothing stopping the advance on Benghazi, the second largest city in the country – and the heart of the newly formed revolution government. It would’ve been enormously wishful thinking to say that we weren’t staring down the possibility of a massacre that could’ve taken 100,000 lives. The Obama Administration had the military means to prevent a significant loss of life. And if Obama had not acted to wipe out Gaddafi’s troops and they did in Benghazi what they did in Zawia, you can be sure as hell that everyone would lay the blame for that massacre at Obama’s feet.
I recognize that there are a number of good counter-points to our intervention in Libya, and I’m still worried as hell that this situation will continue to deteriorate, but any argument that tries to dismiss the idea that a huge massacre was about to occur in Benghazi is not dialed in to what was going on there. And ultimately why I fall into the camp of the interventionists here is along the same lines of why these uprisings have managed to be so successful to this point. The citizens of the world are far more aware of what happens outside of their communities than ever before. And while this phenomenon can lead to greater understanding of one’s own state of being oppressed (as we’re seeing throughout the Middle East), it can also lead to greater expectations for those world powers who have the means to intervene on behalf of those being most oppressed. Of course, it would be considerably better if the Obama Administration were a little more consistent on when we intervene (see: Ivory Coast). But I still believe standing alongside the Libyan people here was still the right move, even if the outcome isn’t as triumphant as we’d all hope for.