Sunday, March 20, 2011

Checking in With Egypt, Libya

As the US and its allies take a bold step to help the march for democracy in Libya, and bravely offer sterns words to the Saudis as they help put down pro-democratic protests in neighboring Bahrain, let's take a moment to step back and bask in the glow of the historic changes coming to Egypt.

The results of yesterday's referendum are coming in, and guess who's really happy about the results and who isn't?

Oh, wait, what's that?  The protesters opposed these minimal reforms, fearing that the remnants of the old regime would find it easier to revert to the same old system than if more vigorous reforms were passed?  So the established elites, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are the real victors?  But...but...there was record turnout!  That's gotta be good for something, right?

Even if not, at least we can be happy that things are going well in Libya, and the US and its allies won't get dragged into occupying another country.  I mean, the government told me they won't, so obviously it must be true.  Just like the US only advised the South Vietnamese government in the 60s and the US was greeted as liberators in Iraq.  Ezra Klein is just so off the mark when he says,

(C)onsider the promises made.  "The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya." Those two sentences are at war with each other. Protecting civilians might well require more than bombing runways. If Gaddafi is deposed and the state collapses into tribal warfare, does our pledge to resist ground troops trump our pledge to protect civilians? Or will it be the other way around?
I mean, really Ezra.  What possible cause for concern could you have?


Oh, and here's an interesting little bit of trivia for you, from Abu Muquwama (h/t the Duck)

On a per capita basis...twice as many foreign fighters came to Iraq from Libya -- and specifically eastern Libya -- than from any other country in the Arabic-speaking world. Libyans were apparently more fired up to travel to Iraq to kill Americans than anyone else in the Middle East. And 84.1% of the 88 Libyan fighters in the Sinjar documents who listed their hometowns came from either Benghazi or Darnah in Libya's east (emphasis in original).

So let's sum up.  Referendum -> victory for old guard, defeat for protest movement in Egypt.  Meanwhile, the US and its allies wisely maneuver into a situation from which it will be all but impossible to walk away when and if a post-Qaddafi civil war breaks out, supporting rebels who hail from a region whose population was very eager to kill Americans in Iraq not long ago.

Hurray for democracy, and also for the promotion of democracy by force!  Nothing ever goes wrong with that.  And democracy certainly never fails to live up to its promises.  Like ensuring that the government will only use force if it is sure it can accomplish its goals quickly and easily.  Or in any other way, really.

Of course, I've been wrong before.  Most recently, when I said the US wouldn't intervene in Libya.  Maybe I'll be wrong about how said intervention will unfold.  Anyone care to place a bet as to whether the US will (still) have ground troops in Libya come January 1st, 2013?  If so, please email me: parena at buffalo dot edu.


  1. The fact that many transnational terrorists/insurgents come from Libya to fight the US -- with the given cause that the US supports brutal dictatorships in the MidEast -- is not a good argument for not intervening. I'm not saying a few Tomahawks can change hearts and minds on their own, but alternatively have you been to Kosovo lately?

  2. No, that alone does not take us very far. Sure.

    But it's not exactly a foregone conclusion that if the US, UK and France help topple Qaddafi, he'll be replaced by a liberal democracy. As the US is discovering in Iraq and Afghanistan, even when external powers are willing to incur great costs in terms of life and treasure, over many years, the end result may still be a corrupt regime that is nominally democratic at best.

    And if the argument revolves around a R2P (responsibility to protect), one can't help but wonder why Libya is anywhere near the top of the list of cases worthy of intervention when there are lots of other travesties that the US is more than happy to sit by and let unfold. Sure, the fact that the US can't intervene everywhere does not mean the US shouldn't intervene anywhere.

    But it's not like interventions are costless or risk-free. I'd like to think that it's incumbent on those advocating for the use of force to establish that something worthwhile will be accomplished. What about the point that if the motivation is to protect innocent civilians, it's asking a lot to expect people to believe that this intervention won't go beyond no-fly zones? It's not like innocent civilians are going to stop dying once Qaddafi's air superiority is hobbled.

  3. Nonetheless, you raise a fair point about Kosovo. It's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility a relatively light intervention could make a huge, positive impact.

    I'd be more than happy to see this intervention look like that one. I have my doubts, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

  4. I think you're right about everything. And it's not as if Kosovo is some perfect, pluralistic paradise. But we're quickly learning that we need some sort of policy towards revolutions. Obama appears to be gravitating towards "don't let dictators kill their own people, then let national determination play out", at least in places not named Bahrain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. I'm not saying that's a perfect strategy, but as a partial continuation of Clinton's foreign policy it could be worse.

  5. Yeah, it's a tough problem. It's not like I'm in favor having dictators kill their own people.

    I'm just kind of shocked at the reemergence of a grand coalition between liberal hawks and neocons. If you'd asked me in December how soon we'd see that particular coalition come back together, if at all, I would not have said "a matter of months".

    And I guess the exception carved out for places named Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia gets me too.

    I understand the reasons for that. And I'm open to the idea that the administration's policy is the least bad of available options. I'm more inclined to think it's a policy many will (predictably) come to regret yet one they found too politically difficult to resist, but I accept that may not be correct.

    As I told a friend the other day, times like these remind me that as much as I enjoy studying politics, I can't say I enjoy watching it unfold.