If the U.S. maintains its position miles behind the U.K., France, and even the Arab League, by continually vacillating and expressing “deep concern” at the slaughter of an Arab people fighting to emancipate themselves from the yoke of tyranny, it will be another stain on the history of American foreign policy serving to further drain the U.S. of what moral authority it retains. If we stand idly by while screams calling for the Western freedoms we so rightly extoll turn instead into the unheard screams of a madman's vanquished, we will reinforce the narrative that the U.S. only cants about freedom and democracy to serve its own interests. This, it seems to me, can only multiply hatred toward the U.S. and radicalize a betrayed population.
To those critics who predictably chime “Iraq War” at the very mention of a no-fly-zone over Libya: advocating one strategic blunder by reminding us of another does neither the U.S. nor the Libyans any good. It is unsound to analogize aggression towards Iraq to a defense of Libya, where a people currently undertaking revolutionary upheaval are suffering active slaughter and desperately calling for an international intervention which has the support of the Arab League. It would serve many of these critics, since they are so quick to raise the specter of Iraq, to remember that the no-fly-zone over Iraq was something of an effective policy, at least after 1993 when Saddam's aggressions toward patrolling aircraft were met with effective reprisals (even in the years between 1998 and 2003, during which Saddam announced he would no longer observe the NFZ, no manned aircraft were shot down).
Failure to lead the Security Council to authorize action against Gaddafi's ongoing war crimes will make a mockery of us and of the Council's credibility and force. And doing so might not be as difficult as those opposed to further action say. The U.N. General Assembly's 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide initially defined genocide as including political killings, though objection from the USSR led to a compromise which removed this criteria. But the force of international law is adequately equipped against Gaddafi with the subsequent adoption of UNSC Resolution 1674 in April 2006, which contains within it the reaffirmation of following paragraphs 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document of 2005, and compels the UNSC to act under circumstances such as the one we have so far only watched in horror:
138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and should support the United Nations to establish an early warning capability.
139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapter VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action , in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to help states build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assist those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.
So, as far as my limited understanding of int'l law takes me, invoking R.1674 against Libya is legitimate. A veto from the Chinese would expose them to the charge of hypocrisy, if not moral decrepitude, and would paint for the international community an exceptionally unappealing view of China's rising stardom. Similar pressures apply to Russia.
Summoning the memory of past escapades in Islamic countries is not a good argument for letting a historic opportunity to rid the world of a murderous tyrant pass us by. Libya is not Iraq. The time to act was yesterday.