Thursday 20 October 2011

What Libya tells us about interventionism

As the first pictures of Colonel Gaddafi's corpse flashed across the world media, the mood in Libya was one of joy, while in the West it was mainly relief. Undoubtedly a debate will now take place on the rights and wrongs of Britain and France's participation in the uprising in Libya and their active support through massive airpower. 
The feuilletons of newspapers in the years to come may, however, focus on a completely different narrative that is nevertheless, I feel, the more important one. That narrative is about the resuscitation of Western interventionism in the fight for freedom across the world. 
George Bush and Tony Blair's ill-fated war in Iraq seemed to have buried any opportunity to develop a viable interventionist strategy where un-democratic regimes took up arms against their own people and engaged in large scale killings. However, it seems that a new avenue for interventionism has taken shape, designed and defended in the form of a supportive tactic to supplement indigenous rebellions against dictators. 
Slowly, but steadily, international interventionism is about to recover and Libya may just have played a critical role in laying the ghost of Iraq to rest. The developments around Syria will either confirm the contours of this more 'muscular interventionism' or demonstrate its inherent limitations. 


  1. as much as I agree with you, it seems to me that many fail to see that this 'muscular interventionism', which has taken various forms and shapes in recent years, never had a truly humanitarian scope at its heart or a willingness to spread freedom across the world.
    We did not go to Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya to defend enraged people and topple un-democratic regimes. Look at how much money some (American) companies made out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and just wait and look at the race that will now start over claiming Libyan's resources.
    Is it really a supportive tactics against dictators? Are they really enraged by the massive killing of civilians by the hands of these dictators?
    If so, why didn't we intervene in other countries around the world (e.g. Congo) to support their population desperately crying for international help?
    N from London ;)

  2. That's a vlid point. You raise the issue of whether motifs should play a part in doing good. I agree that we have often not the most benign motifs to intervene, but does that mean that any intervention must be judged solely on motifs, not on outcomes? The question is philosophical in nature for some observers: consequentialism versus moral principles as the only drive for doing good. I tend towards consequentialism in some cases. The fact is that motifs are often confused (or outright bad as you mention) but some good can still come from it. That does not relieve us of the duty to extol better virtues and principles next time, yet it may allow us to recognise the good that can sometimes come from bad deeds.
    Also, Obama has just committed 200 marines to the North Kivu area (Democratic Republic of Congo) to assist the Congolese army to capture or kill the leader of the Lords Resistance Army. May this be the good and worthy example of interventionism we've been looking for?

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  4. You mention that "motifs are often confused but some good can still come from it". Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't we first have good motives to intervene, and then recognise that some confusion or bad deeds may also arise from the situation?
    Surely, it's an ideal world I'm talking about but that is how I'd like to see things happen sometimes. Indeed, I believe intervention should be judged on motives as well as outcomes, and not just outcomes while hoping that some kind of benign motives will somehow pop up along the way.
    Re Obama and 200 marines: you are right, that would probably be the first example of good interventionism. I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome of this.

  5. True, in an ideal world this may happen. We still seem to be an awful long way from this. We probably agree on that much.