02 April 2011

Still worrying about those shades of grey...

I've received a lot of mail about my declared "shades of grey" ambivalence over outside military intervention in the Libyan civil war.

Geoff Powell comments “not in my name” – an honourable cry, which I joined many others in voicing at the time of the Iraq invasion (though with the caveat that, like Salman Rushdie, I could support action to protect the Kurds and Marsh Arabs from genocide).

Pauline Laybourn pointed out to me the deaths inflicted by the initial cruise missile attack on Libyan government air defenses in preparation for air interdiction. Another moral conscience driven point which I take seriously. This aspect comes down to a variant on (yet again...) the Foot's Trolley dilemma: when forced to make a choice between actively killing a smaller number and thereby saving many, or allowing the much larger number to die by our inaction, which should we do? (I say "a variant on Foot's Trolley" because there is an added dimension here ... the few are aggressors against the many, and have thus made a moral choice of their own.)

Zainab Talu takes the opposite tack, upbraiding me for my "moral squeamishness" in not stating clearly (as Julie Heyward does in another comment) that I am in favour of the intervention.

Well ... I am in favour of the intervention to protect the civilian population from massacre. Elsewhere I was more vocal than here in my impatience over delays in that intervention when it looked like protection might come too late. I thoroughly approve of it on basis. That doesn't, however, mean that I have no worries about it. It's very difficult, in practice, to separate humanitarian actions from broader political agendas. Already, there are signs that the industrialised west is tempted to go beyond protection in search of future advantage.

In his March briefing for the Oxford Research Group, Paul Rogers says:

Although there was substantial support for initial coalition actions against Gaddafi’s forces, especially when they threatened civilians in Benghazi, the Libyan War is now developing into a much wider operation. It also seems likely that the more it becomes a matter of attempted regime termination by NATO forces, the less support there will be across the Arab world. Furthermore, it has been paralleled by suppression of dissent in countries where autocratic regimes have strong support from those very countries now seeking regime termination in Libya, the most notable example being Bahrain. Above all, NATO has now embarked on its second major out-of-area operation since the end of the Cold War following Afghanistan. What began being seen as a narrow but essential humanitarian military intervention seems unlikely to end there, and this may have consequences right across the region and also for the future of NATO.

I hope we will finally do the right thing without rushing on into the wrong one; but I do fear that we will, yet again, have failed to learn.

  • Paul Rogers, Libya, Bahrain and NATO. International Security Monthly Briefing 2011(2011-03).
  • Salman Rushdie, A Liberal Argument For Regime Change, in Washington Post. 2002 Washington DC. p. A35.


Geoff said...

There are, and have been for as long as I remember, massacres here there and everywhere in the world. Yes, look around, there they are right now. Yet, we have no financial "interest" in those others so turn a blind eye. I have myself quite often - yes it can be done from a wheelchair - stepped in to deal with a bully. But not wildy with flailing arms, maiming all withing reach. Is it not strange that we, with all our "teknowlogy" cannot pin-point the bully if justified? Remember too that yes, people with mental health problems should be "taken care of " but with gentle restraint and kindess. And that our wonderful Mr.Churchill was responsible - so I am led to believe -for gassing the Kurds in the 1920s and that we sold the gas that Saddam Hussein used to the same end.
Oh whiter than white the white man rules and white washes the moment and history. So, again I say "not in my name" will we behave this way, nor make our fortunes by designing tekno-weps that splinter the flesh and leave limbs akimbo, young and old eyes staring in disbelief.

Felix said...

As I said, Geoff: "Not in my name" is an honourable position, and it is one which I deeply respect – even when, as in this case, I regretfully and respectfully disagree.

Yes, there have indeed, always been massacres here there and everywhere in the world ... but that doesn't mean that there should be, and if one can be stopped then I have to say that allowing them to continue cannot be in my name.

Any decision has consequences ... all of us must accept our responsibility for them, in whichever direction, and I am by no means confident that I will end up vindicated. But, like you, hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders.