War Number Three

Today I have to swallow my pride and mail a $1.00 check to my Uncle George.

Last month, when Clinton and Obama announced the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya, I applauded the decision.  Muammar Qaddafi was the first of the Middle Eastern despots to respond to the current waves of citizen protest by bombing peaceful protesters from the air.  That went on for weeks and international condemnation did nothing to stop him.  I publicly posted on Facebook my desire for grounding those planes.

I'm not a war supporter.  In fact, I can't think of another military action in my lifetime that I supported.  I certainly did not support the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.  In 2003, I even wrote letters to the English-language newspapers in the Security Council nations.  I urged them not to support President Bush's appeal to invade Iraq (based on trumped up WMD allegations).  That was when it looked like he cared whether or not the UN approved.

But I like the concept of Just War.  The tenets of Just War would justify stopping Hitler's horrors in the late 1930s and limited action to prevent air slaughter by Qaddafi.  Here are the key tenets:

Just cause
The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. 
Comparative justice
While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to overcome the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. 
Probability of success
Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
Last resort
Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical.
The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. 

Self-serving means, the usual measure of whether or not the US should get involved, do not impress me.  Whether military action is to our advantage is of less interest to me than human rights.  Some might argue this makes the US the world's policeman.  I disagree.  "When in doubt, stay out" would be a good rule.  Nor do I argue that the US is a preferred player over an international force.  In the case of Libya, the Arab League would have been the preferred players.  Unfortunately, too many of them saw themselves as the next Mubarak, the next Qaddafi, and stayed on the sidelines.

So I applauded Clinton, Obama and NATO when they finally acted on 18 March.   I also respected Secretary Gates' opposition to the action.  Caution from a Secretary of Defense is a welcome sign.  The President overstepped though in making statements supporting the rebels and opposing Qaddafi.  He overstepped by staying involved when NATO decided to bomb Qaddafi's headquarters and to fight on the side of the rebels.  He has now done still worse, authorizing drone assassins to operate in Libya.  These are the hated tools of a great power, always used against a weaker one.  We have the capacity to send anonymous drone aircraft to bomb targets without pilots on board.  We wreak great damage, often killing civilians, and encourage anger and resentment.  Hearts and minds cannot be won this way.

So the day after the US jumped in to impose the no-fly zone, my Uncle George insisted that we would now be embroiled in a third Middle East war, that we would not be "in and out" as I maintained.  I was sure this president was smarter than the last.  After all, he had been very reluctant to take the limited action in the first place, apparently angering Hillary Clinton who argued for it long before he agreed.  He knew we needed to pull out of Afghanistan and Iraq, messes he inherited.  Why would he now add Libya in any long-term way?  I bet George one dollar that within one month, the US would have no presence in Iraq except the possibility of participation in a UN Peacekeeping Force.  George was sure I was wrong.  And a bit naive.

So today I mail a dollar to Uncle George.  I really wanted his dollar instead.