Besides the fact that the current regime in Libya is not a threat to U.S. national security, the role of the U.S. military ought not be engaged in strictly humanitarian missions, will likely lead to future humanitarian interventions, and can in no way be argued that such actions in Libya are somehow part of a greater “war on terror,” why else is military intervention in yet another Middle Eastern country a terrible idea? I will answer in the form of another question: what kind of message are our leaders sending the rest of the world when they decide to attack a country that has actually cooperated in the past?
This is exactly the point Jonathan Schwarz makes in his article in The Huffington Post:
In all the discussion about the current U.S. bombing of Libya, something important has gone almost unnoticed — the lesson the United States is teaching the government of every country on earth. That lesson is: no matter what, no matter the inducements or pressure, never ever give up chemical weapons or a nuclear weapons program. Doing so will not ensure that the U.S. does not attack you — on the contrary, it will make it much more likely.
In Libya’s case, Muammar Gaddafi announced in December 2003 that it was renouncing all WMD — Libya possessed chemical weapons, ballistic missiles and a nuclear weapons program — and invited international inspectors to certify its compliance. The U.S. declared that this “demonstrates that, in a world of strong nonproliferation norms, it is never too late to make the decision to become a fully compliant NPT state,” and that Libya would be “amply rewarded.” From the perspective of many governments, Libya is now receiving its reward, in the form of hundreds of Tomahawk missiles and the likely downfall of the regime that agreed to disarm.
I’m no more a fan of Muammar Gaddafi than I am Hugo Chavez, Kim Jung Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Robert Mugabe and I hope they will each have to answer to their own people someday. But even as despicable as these individuals are, they aren’t stupid (though arguably crazy in some instances). If you were one of these dictators, how do you think you would respond if you witnessed from afar the U.S. using its military might to topple a fellow despot who gave up his WMD program to satisfy the nonproliferation policies the U.S. had long pursued in the region? Would you be more or less likely to pursue a WMD program?
How could the Obama administration not recognize that this could undermine these nonproliferation efforts?
Schwarz believes that none of this was lost on those within the administration but was part of the calculations.
But here’s what no Americans know: the current attack on Libya is not an unforeseen glitch in our efforts to get them to disarm. Instead, it was the explicit policy of the U.S. to get countries to disarm so that we would be able to attack them.
This may sound ridiculous to many Americans. After all, no president ever puts it like that. Instead, they say: our enemies must disarm because they threaten the precious lives of our citizens! But in fact when talking to each other, U.S. government officials say it over and over again: we don’t oppose countries like Iraq, Libya and Iran having WMD because we’re scared they’re going to attack us with them. Instead, we oppose them having WMD because that would allow them to deter us from attacking them.
From there, Schwarz cites examples from a 2001 memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several paragraphs from a paper entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” written by a Neoconservative group called Project for a New American Century.
I don’t know how much this sort of thinking is in place in the Obama administration and couldn’t say if this attack on Libya is a result of such thinking or just plain old shortsightedness. Either way, this intervention is a horrible mistake and will have negative repercussions even beyond Libya itself.