Answer to Glenn Greenwald

Answer for Glenn Greenwald, for whom I have enormous respect: Yes.

Iraq was an illegal war, for no pressing national interest & with no UNSC authorization.

The Libya intervention is legal and was necessary to prevent further massacres and to forestall a threat to democratization in Tunisia and Egypt, and if it succeeds in getting rid of Qaddafi’s murderous regime and allowing Libyans to have a normal life, it will be worth the sacrifices in life and treasure. If NATO needs me, I’m there.


1. People keep bringing up the need for Congressional approval. I agree that would be better, and don’t agree that Bush actually had it for Iraq. But there is an argument for going to war under a UNSC decision because it is a prior treaty obligation entered into by Congress. See e.g. this comment. This reasoning is the one used in the Korean War. Me, I’d like a straight Congressional vote since that would be cleaner, and Sen. Levin may be working on (the president has some time to seek it).

2. In a rather juvenile way, some people keep telling me to go join the rebels and fight in Libya; I thought we’re all opposed to American boots on the ground? Likewise for telling people to enlist; unless they are going to be fighter jet pilots, they wouldn’t get to be involved in Libya, and infantry would be shipped off to Afghanistan, which has morphed into a war I can’t support. This meme is just a mischievous distraction. I took Glenn’s rather more serious question to be whether I categorized the Libya intervention as I did the 2001 intervention against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and my answer is yes. Since I’m 58, no one is going to let me, nor would it be wise to let me, soldier, but I do do consulting with the military sometimes if it is an issue on which I think I can make a difference through conceptual understanding proffered to officers (I find our officers to be very smart and on the ball). Sometimes colleagues of mine have done such consultations in places that are at least a little dangerous, which was what I was saying I was willing to do in this instance. I lived through the some of the early years of the civil war in Lebanon and know what war is, unlike a lot of the commenters; I don’t support one lightly.)

153 Responses

  1. With all due respect your analysis is 180 degrees of.
    US/EU dominance of the so called freedom fighters will end up co-opting & controlling the adjacent ‘revolutions’.
    As always the rule to follow is:
    We are the friends of freedom every where but the defenders of liberty at home.

  2. So, hypothetically if a murderous regime existed in America, and people stood up to fight it, should other countries come here to put down the murderous regime?

      • A fundamental difference, Juan …. the American rev was a struggle against an outside empire, this is deliberate interference in a civil war. Indeed, as is increasingly apparent, there is a lack of mass support for the rebels outside of the east of Libya and they lack any military capacity when they don’t have NATO special forces calling in airstrikes for them. This is the fomenting and arming and aiding of a civil war faction.

        • The American Revolution was a civil war as well — the loyalists were a significant portion of the population. England was not an “outside empire” — the American colonists considered themselves British, and wanted to preserve their rights as Englishmen ( at least, initially ).

      • An accidentally instructive example. The French intervention in the American revolution had everything to do with economic rivalry between the colonial superpowers, and nothing (but rhetoric) to do with protecting civilians, or overthrowing a murderous regime.

        The situation in Libya is similar. Several great powers are vying for Libya’s economic treasure. Certainly the fate of people of Libya is secondary.

      • I was under the impression that this could more easily be categorized as a civil war than a revolution.


        • I think “civil war” might be stretching things, but i’m definitely open to hearing more information on the topic. It seems like the dictator’s regime, his army, and some supporters (tied in some way – family connections, etc. – to the security services or the military) versus just about everybody else in Libya. Am I missing something?

    • Jaun might very well be able to name up to four different periods of time in United States history in which it would have been morally necessary for another country to attack our government. He at least believes there were three such periods.

    • Or, if the US can interfere in Libya, then Iran can interfere in Bahrain. Right? And Russia in whatever area they think needs some interfering. If you set a precedent, you can’t complain with others live by it too.

  3. President Obama took America to war in Libya when American was in no way threatened by Libya with no approval of Congress. What President Obama did was surely illegal. All that had to be done was for the President to ask the approval of congress, but the President would not do this. President Obama’s act was and is illegal and beyond any excusing for me.

  4. Totally agree with the differences you see between Libya and Iraq, but I also think we have to consider Qaddafi’s past as an indicator of likely immediate and future actions.

    Much like Serb atrocities in Bosnia informed our concerns moving forward about tensions in Kosovo, we need to remember that Qaddafi has a deep terrorist and WMD past. Those 2 factors, plus his blatant public threats to rebels while UN was still debating the resolution, point to a major difference between this and Iraq. This dictator is a loose cannon incapable of being a moral sovereign domestically or in dealing with others on the world stage.

    That is why I also see this intervention having little connection to suggestions that we would have to do the same thing next in Bahrain, Ivory Coast, etc. Its a one off.
    While others will be brutal and inhumane in trying to cling to power, I suspect few will result to using fighter jets to bomb peaceful street demonstrations.

    • Yeah. As bad as it’s got in Yemen and Bahrain, it’s an order or two of magnitude worse in Libya. It’s so bad that the UK and France fear massive waves of refugees, which may well be the key reason they’ve pushed so hard for military action.

      • You betcha! Its not oil or even military adventurism, that stirs up the electorate but Immigration – particularly Refugees. No government wants the human flotsam of another countries crisis washing up on their doorstep and ruining their chances of reelection.

        Much better to ‘fight to make it safe’ for them to stay where they are – or to send them back to. Though in this case ‘safe’ is a a very subjective term especially when they’re sent back to a country where our troops are still fighting
        (and dying) ..hardly what I’d think of as safe.

  5. You wrote, “if it succeeds” it will have been worth it…Does this imply that if it does not succeed in eliminating Qaddafi’s regime that it will not have been worth it? If so, you must be willing to go well beyond airstrikes to make this worth it…Am I reading you correctly?

    • @ carolofcarol — The sanctions and bombings that President Clinton visited upon Iraq for nearly a decade in the 1990s resulted in the crippling of the Iraq economy and the deaths from malnutrition of half-a-million Iraqi children. President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright notoriously and glibly quipped: “We think the price is worth it.” I have no doubt that President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton feel the same way about embargoing and bombing Libyans — for their own good, naturally. I pains me to see Professor Cole join this claque of moral cretins, but self-righteous claims to virtue based on expedient violence often do produce the strangest — if not entirely savory — bedfellows.

      Let us never forget the three slogans on the white face of the Ministry of Truth:


  6. Unfortunately, entering the war in Libya on the side of the rebels is unlikely to be successful. Based on a study of Libyan history, Professor Johan Galtung has predicted the Libyan Civil War could continue for 20 years. (see David Swanson’s report here: link to ) Libya has a number of differences from Tunisia or Egypt, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia for that matter.

    Rather than arming dictators and followed a few years later by demonization and military interventions, the US and UN should be supporting mediation, conflict resolution, and democratic elections — and an end to the arms trade.

    We know the outcomes of long civil wars are not beneficial to civilian populations.

    • David Swanson also is against war in general — yes, even the “good war” of World War II. From his War Is A Lie website:

      “David Swanson has taken the mantle of AJ Muste, who had the guts and the audacity to declare World War II to have been unnecessary and wrong. Swanson takes Muste’s argument further to make the audacious claim that all wars are not just unnecessary, but a crime. He is correct, of course. Just as no good outcome (whether the ouster of a tyrant or the freeing of captive nations) can compensate for the death of millions of innocents, which of course is the argument made in defense of calling World War II a ‘good’ war, no good (whether the ousting of a tyrant or the claimed improvement in the rights of oppressed women) can compensate for the death of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq or of tens of thousands of innocents in Afghanistan. This is a book that every American should read, especially those who think the United States is the good guy.” — Dave Lindorff , journalist, author of The Case for Impeachment, and founder of the online newspaper ThisCantBeHappening!

  7. How on Earth is the Libya intervention legal? Congress did not declare war, the constitutional requirement for the President to use military force against another country. How can something be both unconstitutional and legal?

    • @ Jason Vines — Of course something cannot logically be both unconstitutional and legal, but if one believes with President Obama that the expedient exercise of Power trumps the inconvenient restraints of Law, then the legal contradiction becomes irrelevant. President Obama has done what he has done and presented Americans with a “take it or take it” fait accompli. He has told us citizens, quite brazenly, to “like it or lump it.” He hasn’t quite gone as far as Emperor Caligula and sneered “Let them hate, so long as they fear.” But he has thrown down an equivalent gauntlet: “Let them not approve, as long as they accept.”

      If Americans passively accept this flagrant insult to their Constitution and democratic traditions, the Nation of Sheep will have finally crawled up its own ass and died — irrespective of whatever happens in Libya.

  8. I have agreed with everything you have written so far on Libya. So your logic is correct here, too. Now my question has to do with the degree to which we should send arms to the opposition. I worry about how long this campaign will take and where the line is for our/outside involvement. Is is just a matter of leveling the paying field and letting them fight it out? Should we actively oust Ghaddafi? I agree with Obama that this would not be correct for the reasons he stated. All hard questions. Looking forward to your views.

  9. Juan Cole now: “Iraq was an illegal war, for no pressing national interest & with no UNSC authorization.”

    Juan Cole then: “The planned war against Iraq is not being done right so far. If the Security Council and the European Union get aboard with it, then I will be all for it.”
    link to

    So if the UNSC had approved, you would have had no problem with the U.S. invasion, despite the lack of a “pressing national interest”? Or does the UNSC get to decide what is in the U.S. national interest?

    • That was back in April of 2002, back when the plans were first announced and most persons were still willing (thanks to 9/11) to give Bush the benefit of the doubt on military issues (and the news media was largely trumpeting without question the “Saddam caused 9/11” canard that many Americans believe to this day).

      But Prof. Cole was a good deal less sanguine by January of 2003, two months before the invasion was launched:

      Those who support an Iraq war argue that the potential negative fall-out consists of improbable scenarios that are no more likely to come to fruition than did the dire forecasts about overthrown Arab regimes in 1990. They argue that if we can get a genuinely democratic, modern Iraq out of the war, its beneficial effects will radiate throughout the region. They may be right. But it is worth remembering that we were promised a democratic Kuwait in 1991 and a democratic, stable Afghanistan in 2002, and have yet to see either.

      • I made it clear that I thought the war on Iraq would be illegal if there was no United Nations Security Council resolution. There wasn’t. I also made it clear that I thought it unwise, which it was.

        • @Juan: Sorry, but you’re revising history. You most definitely did not, in April 2002, think war on Iraq was “unwise”; once again, your words: “If the Security Council and the European Union get aboard with it, then I will be all for it.”

          @Phoenix Woman: So if March 2011 & Libya is similar to April 2002 & Iraq (not in substance, but in timing), then at the very least we should wait until December 2011 before we can take anything Mr. Cole says seriously.
          But thank you for pointing out how his opinion evolved between April 2002 and January 2003. This only proves how important it is for a President to abide by his oath of office to protect the Constitutional requirement to seek Congressional authorization for the initiation of wars. This would have allowed time for the intense scrutiny which should always be undertaken before we as a nation decide to unleash our forces of death & destruction upon the people of another country. But, sadly, most “liberals” seem content with whatever Dear Leader does.

        • You are not very good at reading texts. My messages of spring 2002 were cautioning against unilateral US war on Iraq, which is what the Neocons were then pushing. I was saying it had to be a UNSC-authorized effort before I would be able to support it. It was obvious that the international community, including especially France, would not go along with such a thing, so my sentence was sardonic. Read down in the April archives and you’ll find with regard to the Pentagon plan for unilateral war on Iraq:

          ‘ successful imperialism (that is what it is) requires large and influential local comprador classes willing to be junior partners in governing the colonial state and society. The Pentagon appears not to have noticed that the processes of social and political mobilization in the second two thirds of the twentieth century throughout the world have led to the demise of the compradors and their conversion into nationalists.

          The alternative model is that of alliances among political equals (e.g. NATO), which is the State Department model. nilateralism and neo-imperialism of the Pentagon sort are probably ill suited to the world in which we now live, regardless of how many fancy gadgets we can deploy. ‘

          I denounced their plans as ‘imperialism’ and said it wouldn’t work because the Iraqi elite would not agree to be occupied.

  10. Juan Cole
    March 19 2003 –

    “I remain convinced that, for all the concerns one might have about the aftermath, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the murderous Baath regime from power will be worth the sacrifices that are about to be made on all sides.”

    100,000+ dead, and 4 million refugees later in Iraq, we now get chest thumping from Prof Cole about removing “Mad Dogs” (his words) from Libya, for their own good of course.

    Well forgive me if I’m not convinced by his assessment.

    Meanwhile, the Libyan insurgents have a new Finance Minister, a senior lecturer in the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington.

    They also have a new military commander, who spent the past two decades in suburban Virginia.

    And no prizes for guessing that their head of media is based in Washington.

    This positioning of U.S.-backed exiles in key positions is precisely what happened with Iraq, so for Prof. Cole to claim that – “Libya 2011 is not like Iraq 2003 in any way” – seems quite extraordinary. Both are very clearly examples of the U.S. doing what it does best – employing violence for political and economic ends.

    • Unfortunately, by the time March 2003 rolled around, the AUMF had long since passed and the invasion wasn’t going to be stopped by anything short of physically removing Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Andrew Card from their respective offices. (I myself thought it a bad omen when Paul Wellstone, who strongly opposed the invasion plans, was killed in a plane crash in late October of 2002, a week before the election. Wellstone was winning in the polls despite the “conventional wisdom” that opposing the Bush invasion was political suicide; even though the Authorization to Use Military Force had already passed earlier in October, he may have actually slowed if not stopped the invasion plans long enough for Joe Wilson to provide the full debunking of the “Saddam caused 9/11 and has WMD” nonsense.)

      Dunno how Prof. Cole feels about this over eight years later, but to me, the quote above, written when the coalition troops were already on their way and aerial bombardments started, sounds very much like what I’d heard coming from a lot of military families at that time: They protested strongly and loudly in the weeks and months up to that point, but once the invasion started they felt it was their duty to support it, or at least their sons and daughters and other loved ones involved in it.

      Furthermore, the people who like to cite the March 19, 2003 statement of Prof. Cole’s don’t seem to like citing one he made on March 24, 2003 — less than a week later (emphases mine):

      *As usual in war reporting, I already have to take back some of what I said yesterday. It seems increasingly clear that the Bush administration rushed into war with Iraq before its military was really ready. …


      … The war is already interfering with the harvesting of winter crops and the planting of spring ones. Some 60% of Iraqis are dependent on outside food aid because of the “food for oil” program under UN sanctions against Saddam.

      *An estimated 70,000 marched against the US war in Lahore, Pakistan (vastly exaggerated numbers ten times that were floated by the organizers, though AP said it was 200,000. Crowds are easy to over-estimate). The fundamentalist religious leaders denounced the Iraq war as a crime against humanity and a plot against Islam. The Iraq war is universally unpopular in Pakistan, as in most of the Muslim world. The difference is that with the return to quasi-parliamentary government, Pakistan has not attempted to prevent these demonstrations, which so far have been peaceful. If 200,000 Egyptians or Jordanians could come out for rallies, they certainly would. There are two big dangers here. One is that the fundamentalists will parlay their leadership of the protests into genuine national political standing and ultimately manage to come to power. (These people are unrepentent supporters of the Taliban and al-Qaeda). The other is that anti-Americanism will become so widespread and vehement that the Pakistani government will find it difficult to continue cooperating in the war on terror. The Rumsfelds and Wolfowitzes think you can have your cake and eat it, too. I am not so sure.

  11. “If it succeeds?” What about “if it fails?” (Is failure not an option?) What are the chances that our intervention will “allow Libyans to lead a normal life?” What IS “a normal life” for Libyans, and is that significantly different from (and better than) the life they lead now? And who appointed us as the arbiters of how Libyans live their lives?

    What was the “threat to democratization in Tunisia and Egypt” that Qaddafi posed? I haven’t heard about that before.

    I think we are meddling with forces that we only vaguely understand and cannot hope to control. All we can reasonably say is that we believe life under whatever comes after Qaddafi will be better than life under Qaddafi; which while certain to be true for at least some Libyans, is not necessarily going to be true for others. That seems a slim reed on which to base the sacrifices of life and treasure needed to force Qaddafi out of power.

  12. That’s certainly a saner and more respectful answer than I would have given Mr. Greenwald, and I oppose support for the Libyan rebels, because I believe non-violence is the answer in places like Palestine, and intervening on the side of violence — not matter how justified it may seem at the time — only delays he adoption of non-violence by liberation movements. The problem with jesuitical questions like Mr. Greenwald’s is they never reflect the world as it is. Except in polemics land, no one gets to volunteer for just one fight. Once you’re in, you belong to the major, and he can do with you as he wills. Mr. G often overlooks simple facts of life like that.

  13. When you wrote “It’s the Popular Sovereignty, Stupid” I thought you had some sense of what was actually happening. I can see in your reasoning (second paragraph above) that you do not. If anything, what you say there substantiates what Glenn wrote about “American Exceptionalism” – Your there, HUH?

      • But CIA is already there. And we are already talking about arming and training the rebels. The no-fly initiative was just a fig leaf for what is to come. It amazes me to see how little people learn in spite of the long imperial history repeating now….

  14. no personal offense intended Prof, but it is not you I would want there. Though I have no doubts that mean what you write.

    No….I want the Chelsea Clinton’s of the world there. I know that kind excursion does not go well with 15 Million Dollar wedding, but what the hell.

  15. Juan, you’re wrong on this one. This intervention will in the long run cause more pain for the Libyan people. And it establishes a precedent which will be the fig leaf covering imperialist interventions around the world.

  16. Mr. Cole has met Mr. Greenwald’s challenge on the ethics of the Golden Rule. Now, can Mr. Greenwald rebut each argument in their respective ethical sphere?

    1) Legal – “The Libya intervention is legal”
    2) Deontological – “Was necessary to prevent further massacres”
    4) Consequential – “If it succeeds in getting rid of Qaddafi’s murderous regime and allowing Libyans to have a normal life, it will be worth the sacrifices in life and treasure”
    5) The Golden Rule – “If Nato needs me, I’m there”

    • 4) Consequential – “If it succeeds in getting rid of Qaddafi’s murderous regime and allowing Libyans to have a normal life, it will be worth the sacrifices in life and treasure”
      How can this statement be reconciled? If it costs $1B for the Colonel to go, is that too much? How about $10B? $100B? Iraq cost (so far) 20 times some initial quotes. How can someone say something is worth the cost when you don’t know what the cost is?

      Peace be with you.

      • How can one say “the price is worth it” if one doesn’t know the price and, in any event, will not have to pay it oneself? Just ask former Clinton Secretary of State Madeline Albright. You know, the one who also asked — in all apparent sincerity — “Why even have this big expensive military if you won’t use it.”

        In other words: we do stuff because we think we can.

  17. Seriously, I’m 30 years-old, have enormous respect for Dr. Cole and Glenn Greenwald.

    I am still for this intervention in Libya. I have to imagine it would be nearly impossible for me to enlist in the military and assure that I would ONLY be assigned to fight in Libya, cause I do not support the Iraq or Afghanistan “interventions,” but, seriously, if anyone who really wishes to challenge me on this can tell me how to participate only in the Libyan conflict, cause I honestly don’t know how I could do that, I will.

  18. When one country invades another to “liberate” it from itself, there is no honor, no rationale, no possible explanation that can meet the definition of any form of justice. Protecting one country from another? Yes. Protecting a country from itself? No. The country must decide. If Qaddafi’s forces overrun the rebels, he SHOULD be in control of Libya. Otherwise, all it takes is some radical faction in a country to cry foul about their government in order for big ol’ US of A to step in and turn their country over to them. What happens if that faction, as is suspected in Libya, is actually headed by CIA operatives?

    What we have then is an illegal overthrow of a recognized government by an outside state.

    How would could we prevent such actions? By letting countries handle their own internal struggles.

    I am sick and tired of armchair quarterbacks sitting in their comfy chairs back in the University Of Michigan spouting infantile elaborations on their wishes for world-wide social equality. That is fine for you. You have the right to espouse that IN YOUR COUNTRY. Let others in other countries do the same.

    • ‘If Qaddafi’s forces overrun the rebels, he SHOULD be in control of Libya.”
      Even when most of the country has risen against him, and the only way he can retake those areas is with a technologically far superior force? If political power inside Libya = military power, your argument would have substance.

      Instead, all we have is a situation where an autocrat sells oil to buy weapons from abroad to oppress his people. There’s no justice in letting him slaughter his enemies with them, especially if his enemies are simply demanding freedoms that you take for granted. Sometimes democrats need a hand from outside their borders. Myself, I think Gaddafi made it clear that he has no mercy for his opponents, and I don’t see why sovereignty should allow him to slaughter them.

      • Who bought the autocrat’s oil and then sold him the weaponry with which he oppresses his people? Answer: the very same self-interested, cynical powers that now find the disreputable autocrat less attractive than they did last year when they liked him just fine.

        French President Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Cameron, and American President Obama — all “conservatives” busy waging class war on their own downtrodden workers — thought they could get a little bounce in the popularity polls by launching a “splendid little war” against a human caricature like Moammar Gadaffi. That the despicable caricature does not seem at all daunted by the ferocious U.S./NATO (pardon the redundancy) onslaught against him does not bode well for the three conservative Western politicians who have bet their respective farms on a rather lame and easily stampeded Libyan camel.

  19. Nothing personal about your physical abilities and courage, which I do not question, Mr. Cole, but I won’t address the ridiculous notion of a middle-aged college professor trotting off to join the latest Kinetic Military Action, a.k.a. – The Odyssey.

    I will say that I think it was a real cheap shot by Greenwald to go there. Contrary to his empty reasoning, it was adolescent and rhetorical. I just wish Glenn would use this opportunity to confront you on your blatant double standard by addressing the substance of your position, something Greenwald is much better equipped to do than this game, but admitted, amateur.

    But, what the hell, I’ll keep trying.

    Greenwald did link to the DN debate in which you made these truly disappointing series of statements:

    But to compare tiny Bahrain, where there has been some violence against protesters, to Libya, where there was a national popular uprising and where, in Libya, thousands are dead, not 20, it’s just not on the same scale.

    And the other thing is, you know, let us be practical, let us be pragmatic. We are people of the left. We care about the ordinary people. We care about workers. We care about the aspirations of the people, and the United States should certainly be putting pressure on the Bahrain monarchy to accommodate them. And in fact, the U.S. has put pressure on it, to the extent that the Saudi government is furious with the United States. I mean, we’re saying it’s not doing enough. The reactionary forces in the Gulf are angry that we’re doing too much. And however, you know, a military intervention in Bahrain is not a practical option, and I cannot see in what way it could even have any hope of success. The Bahraini protesters themselves would object to a direct U.S. or NATO military intervention in Bahrain.

    In Libya, the people asked for this intervention: they asked for a no-fly zone. And I would be the first to admit that this is going beyond a no-fly zone. There’s also a no-drive zone.

    20, 200, 2000, who’s counting?!
    Except that in “tiny Bahrain,” there is ample evidence that it was much more than 20. There is ample evidence that Bahraini and Saudi forces have attacked hospitals, their staff, and the wounded. There is ample evidence coming out of the pro-democracy movement from their websites, through videos, tweets, and every other form of communication that, in fact, there is massive outrage that there is a double standard, that the U.S. has allowed this to happen, and has done nothing to stop the atrocities, especially with regard to the Saudi invasion, which is being portrayed as a “regional intervention,” in fine Orwellian terms.

    What is your evidence, Mr. Cole, that the pro-d movement in Bahrain never asked for US intervention, and what is your evidence that they would object to it? By demanding that the U.S. use its influence to stop the Bahrain regime? When has a “humanitarian” intervention ever been predicated by a request by the victims? Were the cries for intervention from the victims in Rwanda or, today, the Ivory Coast not loud enough for you? Incredible, wild statements like this with absolutely no basis do nothing for your credibility. If the US wanted to stop the atrocities in Bahrain, there was no tactical or practical impediment to it – only geostrategic.

    As far as your platitudes about the left and “caring about the ordinary people,” well, I think you need to put an asterisk next to a statement like that and qualify it every time you make it.

    How utterly shameful.

    If you spent your energy demanding that your own country cease the atrocities it is either directly responsible for, or that its allies are committing, then your platitudes might have meaning.

    Eli Wurth.

    • So in other words, because we didn’t intervene in Rwanda we shouldn’t intervene in Libya?

      By the way: Libya only has 2% of the world’s oil. Between the Saudis’ ability to boost production and Japan’s disaster-induced cutback in oil usage, it’s not going to be a game-changer if that oil’s taken off the market.

  20. “forestall a threat to democratization in Tunisia and Egypt”

    That’s news to me, I didn’t know that Qaddafi posed a threat to democratization in Tunisia and Egypt. Would you care to provide any evidence to back that up?

    • Gaddafi, Mubarak all the other Middle Eastern dictators extant at the start of the year have fought against the Arab Spring tooth and nail. They have strong shared interests. link to

      That’s why the Saudis wouldn’t do what Obama asked of them and supply arms to the Libyan rebels, even though Gaddafi tried to kill King Abdullah not that long ago. That’s also why the Saudis sent troops to prop up Bahrain’s authoritarian government.

      If Gaddafi goes down — he, who is dug in hard and who (unlike Egypt’s Mubarak, who had to be careful not to utterly destroy Egypt’s lucrative tourist trade) has little reason to want or need approval from the outside world, so long as he has his friends in Russia and Venezuela — then even someone like Syria’s Assad could fall. And the leaders of Yemen and Bahrain, who are far less dug in and far less likely to do things like make bombing runs against largely unarmed and peaceful protesters, are far more likely than Assad or Gaddafi to fall without outside help.

  21. This debate, and the logic that informs it, is silly and impractical. People don’t fight wars becaus they “believe in them.” People join the military RARELY becuase they believe in fighing wars. I served in the Army during Iraq, but I certainly didn’t believe in the war. Was I a coward not to LEAVE the Army?

    Professor Cole, your analysis is one that emphasises the complexity of desicion making. We and our allies have the political will and coilitions, and legality, to carry on this operation – that is to say, the constellation is right. It’s not ONLY a matter of principle, but one of pragmatism as well.

  22. The problem I have with this type of question is that it promotes dualism of the worst kind. I’m not against this war/international police action, but that does not mean I’m for this war and willing to fight in it. Obama used good judgement and sound reasoning when he made his choice to commit US military power, but that does not mean I would have made that choice, nor does it mean that my reasoning would be any less sound. There is also the over simplification of suggesting people should join the armed forces b/c they support an action by those forces. The our military has thousands of policies and it is very easy to like some things, but have major moral objections to others.
    When we impose false, simplistic dualisms on a complex world we fail miserably, case in point, the Bush administration. President Obama is asking us to view the complexity of this world as he explains his decision to use force. So far, this has proved to much for most commontaitors who want to be firmly anti or pro. You don’t have to like it to believe he had good reasons to do it.

    • President Obama likes to pose as a deliberative thinker. Then he makes the same knee-jerk bad decisions that the clueless Deputy Dubya Bush made before him without thinking at all. The top military brass and their right-wing allies in both of America’s right-wing political parties have buffaloed and blackmailed President Obama from the get-go. His interminable foot-dragging getting our military out of Iraq, his stupid (two of them) escalations of the hopeless Afghan/Pakistan debacle, and now his desperate ad hoc gamble on some unknown and obviously overmatched Libyan “rebels” demonstrates conclusively that President Obama can babble bullshit with the best of them, but he can’t think or decide worth a tinker’s damn.

  23. This is somewhat off-topic, but your feedback would be appreciated. There has been some reports about rebels forces including the very same jihadists that were attacking our troops in Iraq. Is there any truth to these claims, and if so, how do we square our support for them?

  24. [Iraq was an illegal war, for no pressing national interest & with no UNSC authorization.
    The Libya intervention is legal and was necessary to prevent further massacres…]

    Yes, legality meaning UNSC resolution and AL approval is important. But is it enough to justify any meaningful support of the dems? It is hardly so.

    For example, by this logic, GOP tax cuts are perfectly fine because they are 100% legal. In fact, Obama admin has extended Bush tax cuts until 2012, and it is very likely that Obama’s victory in 2008 will not kill them after all.

    As for preventing the massacres, that’s generic entry-level pro-war rhetoric. Pretty much all wars are fought to prevent killings by the other side. This language really has no particular meaning!

  25. For what it is worth, I agree with your position on the intervention in Libya in part because the uprising appears to me to be similar to the uprising encouraged by Bush I in southern Iraq. The Shi’ites rose against Saddam Hussein following this American encouragement and were slaughtered by Saddam’s forces while American provocateurs stood by. From what I have observed most of the original protesters were encouraged to rise by examples set by their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt. To have stood by while Gaddafi slaughtered them would have been a replay of southern Iraq in 1991. That said, finding an appropriate long-term solution becomes the next major problem.

    • Really? When did Obama order Libyans to rebel? I don’t recall any “encouragement”. Please link to these statements. You must find Obama’s retoric quite influential to assign to it these powers.

  26. I respectfully disagree. The UN is not and has never been a valid authority for sending the US into conflict, and Libya is in no way a pressing US security interest, much less a danger to me and my fellow Americans. I do not consent to the use of “my” tax dollars by “my” government in this conflict or any other where the united States are not under direct military threat.

  27. Those who don’t like the no fly zone have a big problem viz. the imminent massacre that threatened Benghazi.


    1. Deny there was any massacre imminent. (Vijay Prashad -Democracy Now)
    2. Deny there is any revolutionary upsurge. (Jeremy Schahill – Real Time)
    3. Admit a massacre was imminent but argue
    more civilians ‘could’ be killed as a result of
    the Imperialist intervention. (Pham Bihn – Counterpunch)
    4. Deny the revolutionary upsurge is by the
    Libyan general population and claim it is led by
    shadowy, sinister forces.

    All pretty reprehensible.

    “The truth is revolutionary.” Lenin

    • The only “massacre” that was immanent was among the armed rebels that were fighting the loyalist troops, not the civilians. What is rarely reported is that Gadaffi offered amnesty if they laid down their weapons. Strangely, that is the exact moment that the west jumped into action and decided to intervene. I wonder why… Actually, I don’t, it’s pretty bloody obvious that the west’s actions have nothing to do with protecting Libyan civilians and a lot to do with getting rid of Gadaffi and getting western oil companies back into Libyan business that had been given to China.

    • “All successful revolutions in time put on the robes of the tyrant they have deposed.” Barbara Tuchman

      I have no idea who constitute the “revolutionary” rebels in Libya or what they would do if they ever gained power in that country. I don’t think President Obama knows, either. Yet he has rashly risked our country’s fast-diminishing resources and the prestige of our military upon the dubious prospects of a mysterious mob. Undaunted by debacle, however, he has now seen fit — two weeks after he launched an embarrassingly ineffective war-of-choice against the pigmy potentate, Moammar Gaddafi — to ask the CIA to go and discover just what he has done and with whom. Nice time to start asking.

      Ready? Fire! Now aim.

  28. Prof. Cole,

    Are you troubled by the military mission going beyond the scope of the UN Security Council resolution?

    It seems to me that the decision was made to oust Qaddafi by military force and covert operations. The resolution limited itself to protecting civilians, but the insiders understood it would rapidly evolve into providing military support for the rebels and then attempting to remove Qaddafi.

    If it all happens cleanly, then it’s a victory for Obama and the West who show they can dump an Arab leader they don’t like when he becomes vulnerable. But is it a victory for human rights or international norms?

    And if it doesn’t happen cleanly, would it have resulted in less death and human rights violations to allow things to proceed without interfering?

    • I think that you’ve got to get a color tv, Carl, because you seem to be describing in black and white something that I see very differently with a more diverse spectrum.

      That is, don’t you see it within the realm of possibility- if not probability- that the intervention might cause a stalemate that would force both sides to the negotiating table?

      Or consider this: Gaddafi, a rather unhealthy-looking 69-year old man, dies in his sleep tomorrow night, a victim of coronary arrest. Then what?

    • Iraq and Afghanistan did not happen “cleanly.” And I see no evidence to date that this lamentable and unnecessary war-of-choice will prove any less dirty. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.

  29. The attacks on Libya as opposed to the no-fly zones over LIbya are also illegal since none of those actions were ever approved or authorized by Congress. If you wish to ignore the Constitution and the separation of powers and you feel the UN can sub in for Congress and declare war on behalf of the US, then I can understand why you would consider these attacks on a country that posed no imminent threat to ours legal. But you would still be wrong.

    More sources:
    link to
    The Libyan war: Unconstitutional and illegitimate

    and here,

    link to
    The Imperial President
    by Andrew Sullivan

    and here.

    link to
    The false defenders of Obama’s war in Libya

  30. “if it succeeds in getting rid of Qaddafi’s murderous regime and allowing Libyans to have a normal life,”

    That’s a pretty big IF to build your case around, don’t you think? Look how well we’ve done with that in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    And IF the rationale behind supporting this invasion were sound, you would HAVE to make the same case for intervention in Ivory Coast; Bahrain; Yemen; Syria; etc etc etc.

    Why are the Libyan people more worthy of $600 million a week in American largesse but the people of Syria or Ivory Coast are not?

    Couldn’t have anything to do with oil, could it?

  31. Since when do we intervene in civil wars? By Juan Cole’s standard, Eisenhower should have sent the US military Hungarian freedom fighters were begging for in 1956, but Ike wisely declined on the grounds it was an internal matter, since Hungary, at that time, was part of the Warsaw Pact.

    True, Ike would have provoked a war with the USSR had he intervened and interferring militarily in Libya is not about to set off WW III, but it’s a civil war all the same. Nor is Libya alone in killing its people, but I will forego the litany of other countries doing or having done the same.

    If the US is suddenly so righteous about not killing people, it would get out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya, plus put a stop to Israel killing Palestians and stealing more of their land.

    • It isn’t widely known that the USSR’s meddling in Hungary in 1956, by current American ‘standards’, was NOT an invasion, because parts of the communist leadership actually asked the Soviets to intervene. Just like the rebels in Benghazi have asked NATO/EU (aka the USA) to intervene. I wonder if Prof Cole and other advocates of the bombing of Libya also see the Soviet invasion of Hungary as a humanitarian intervention. Me thinks not. The point is, you can always find local useful idiots who will ask you to invade their country; hence, this is a weak, transparent, and self-serving justification for meddling in others’ internal affairs.

      The fact that the ‘democratic’ rebel leadership mostly consists if exiles and CIA assets is another disappointing sign. Smells like Iraq, where a puppet regime was installed, swarming with people who had lived in the West for decades.

      The sudden vilification of Gadaffi also reminds me of the propaganda war against Milosevic. I lived in neighboring Hungary that time, had relatives in Yugoslavia and can tell you, most of what the Western press spouted about the Serbs was at best exaggerated, at worst outright lies. I have no trust in Western mainstream media any more when it comes to crying genocide, massacres, etc.

      Lastly, big disappointment in Prof Cole’s consulting for the US military, or any military for that matter. I think a true academic, a free thinker won’t help the war machine in its adventures. Cole is not an independent mind for me any more, rather an embedded ‘academic’, or like those sociologists who work for Human Terrain System teams. Or the psychologists at Gitmo. Sad to see how militarized US society has become, including academia. Chomsky grows in my eyes every day.

  32. Well they might since apparently France is now asking us to arm and train the rebels. That’s not going to end up well.

  33. Professor Cole,

    I am, like Mr. Greenwald, usually a “fan” of yours.
    But prior to reading his questions for you today, 03/30/11, I listened to your input on Democracy Now! on 03/29/11.
    I could not believe it was you speaking.
    Your response to Mr. Greenwald not only is inadequate,
    it smacks of jingoism.
    That aside, I believe events in coming days will indicate
    what dire need NATO has of you.
    Pack your kit.
    And may the Hand of God go with you.

  34. Hah! Clinton’s already saying UN Res. 1973 allows the US to avoid the previous US-voted arms embargo.

    Seems like the UN fig leaf is a pretty selective one, Juan, at least for her.

    As for “democritization,” our own government admits it doesn’t even know that much about the composition of the rebels, despite your own poo-pooing of a previous AP story about them.

    Will you answer Glenn, or Salon’s Justin Leonard, on that one? Where do you stand on violating the arms embargo?

  35. What if he doesn’t leave? Does it come down to rebel forces trying to take Tripoli after a prolonged period of siege—with probable civilian losses—or a NATO air assault that turns the city into Fallujah? Again with the losses. Do we pull out the Saddam excuse and say “He was worse”?

  36. It is almost 10 days that US/Nato warships have been bombing Libya. I don’t see any mass uprising in Tripoli. The story was that Qadaffi was using his air force, now the story is that rebels are not well armed. The real story though is that rebels don’t seem to have support in major towns.

    I see people like yourself recalling historical events like Prague Spring to justify the war. It reminds me of the neocons recalling Chamberlain-Hitler analogy to morally justify war.

    I see rebels and tribes fighting in civil war. We have take a side on this conflict and regardless of the outcome I expect the winner to take a revenge on the losing side. We have triggered a civil war in Libya and we are responsible for the death and destruction that follows. Just as neocons were responsible for the ethnic cleansing that happened in Iraq.

    I see right wing in Europe needing a rallying cry, and Libyan conflict was see easy target with huge monetary reward. To that end, from the start the rebels were encouraged to go for the kill (as oppose to civil right movement). Qaddafi was not given an exit strategy.

    Libyans have to choose between the lunatic Qaddafi or “rebels” that have invited foreign forces to bomb their own country. I have no doubt that Qadaffi’s military is no match for Nato. But I also have strong feeling that the outcome will be yet another disaster. This time thanks to the Liberals.

    • This is a common refrain from the left, and it is very curious. Why the tender sympathy for this ruling elite? Why is a dictator elevated to an equal party in a ‘civil war’? And why suddenly now is everyone so convinced that Libya is just a ‘collection of tribes’ a point of view no one expressed a month ago? And we “triggered” this war? Because no Arab can do anything without us? What about the weeks and weeks of massive protest before we got involved?

      And the list of unsupported claims just goes on and on. What is the “huge monetary reward’ available here? What possible ‘exit’ strategy did we neglect? And why would that be our duty to a horrible dictator? Why are “rebels” in quotes? Who and what evidence is there that any sort of “civil rights” movement was going to work against a man bombing his own citizens and on the verge of wiping out the “rebels”?

    • Obama just said the US killed “thousands” in Iraq, so using his math, I’d say we prolly broke and arm or two. No biggie. The election is the important thing, have to keep our eye on the ball!

      • FTW!

        Please tell me where to find the quote. I believe you, but help me find it. That sanctimonious shepherd and his sheep anger me endlessly.

  37. Who are you to make this statement?

    Are you:
    1. making this statement as a member of the human community who believes you must fight for goodness and justice in all ways?
    2. making this statement as a US citizen who believes you are obliged and required to fight against all tyrannies when they threaten “democratization” and/or are simply “murderous regimes”.
    3. making this statement as a man who believes he has the right to kill in the name of “intervention”.
    4. making this statement as a man who would allow himself and his children to be used as fodder for the machine of war and national interest.
    5. making this statement in the face of all global atrocities wherein your conscience might call you to action in order to prevent starvation and dehydration when it might be forced on a population via embargoes?

    When do principled people stop making these kinds of choices in the face of unending violence in support of the machinery and economics of war. Please do stop talking and go act in accordance with your beliefs if indeed you feel it is just and right to do so.

  38. “If NATO needs me, I’m there” isn’t the standard you set in the part of your writings that Greenwald is quoting.

    You wrote:

    “Although I do not believe that everyone who advocates a war must go and fight it, I do believe that young men who advocate a war must go and fight it.”

    Leaving aside the issue of why females and older men get are excused from this obligation, for you to still hold the above view, then you must believe that any sons or (male) students you have who back the war are then obligated to go and sign up.

    Is that the case?

    • This argument is a distraction. Only fighter jet pilots are even in harm’s way, and few US ones as time goes on. Iraq was different. But there may be a chance for on site consultation not entirely withoit danger.

      • If this is a distraction, it’s of Dr. Cole’s making. Greenwald asked a question concerning the above quote, and Dr. Cole only half answered it.

        The real distraction is making chicken hawk arguments in the first place. They’re ad hominem attacks that aim at the arguer and not at the argument being made.

        This isn’t some attempt at a gotcha’ argument. As with Greenwald, it’s a real question: does he believe that any sons, nephews, (male) students, etc. that believe as he does in the war against Libya but who don’t enlist now are hypocrites?

  39. Is there a vital US interest to take sides in Libya. I respect Professor Cole’s analysis, have read it carefully, but I fail to see a vital US interest in war in Libya or Iraq, or what clearly differentiates the two from the moral perspective.

    My other problem with Professor Cole’s latest post is his reference to Tunisia and Egypt. My reply would be yes and yes. He is correct, but does not ask is there a hidden or subliminal action here to stabilize Algeria? If so, why?

    From the left or from the right, an interventionist, militaristic foreign policy always has a moral or ethical argument in favor of action and against inaction, but there are always innocents who die. There are always unintended consequences. There is rarely a vital US interest, let alone a tangential US interest.

  40. Fair enough, but:

    1. Does that mean you’re okay with a ground invasion?

    2. The legality is questionable. “UN resolution” does not equal “legitimate”. And what about Article 51? Was Libya a definite threat to anyone’s security?

    3. Does your support extend the the former members of Qaddafi’s military? Do you think now that they’re labeled “rebels” that they’ve become benevolent friends of Jeffersonian Democracy? What about the Salafists that may or may not be involved?

    4. Why Libya? Everyone seems to think it’s the “most urgent” situation and R2P and etc., but I’ve seen plenty of pictures and video of dead protesters in Bahrain and the Ivory Coast. More video than I saw of “slaughtered civilians” in Libya previous to the U.N. bombing.

    5. Will you apply the same standards of behavior to the new Libyan leaders that you do to Iran’s? Lebanon’s?

    6. Is there any consideration in your argument of the West’s true intentions? Or do the ends justify the means? Do you trust the ‘humanitarian’ impulses of Obama and Sarkozy? I seem to recall many, many people justifying the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq based on 9/11. You should know better and perhaps you do. Explanation?

    7. Which is a bigger threat to Egypt’s attempts at true democracy: Qaddafi or Omar Suleiman? The people arguing against the former seem to have no issue with the latter. I don’t think Libya was pushing for Suleiman to have a leadership role. Who was? What did NATO or the US do for Tunisians again? Which brings us back to #4.

    8. Are you okay with CIA involvement? Are the Raymond Davises in Benghazi somehow more trustworthy in their intentions than the one in Pakistan? I’m sure you’d also support Mossad interference in Iran’s affairs so please explain how you square these particular contradictions.

    9. Finally: what is a “normal life”? The “Recalcitrant Arabs” kept down by the West for decades would suddenly be allowed to do their own “thing” with no interference? They would suddenly embrace our foreign policy and turn into an oasis of Secular Modernity? Or do you mean “normal” as “beneficial to our interests”?

    I’ve read your work for many years and agree with you on many points but I also spot the occasional inconsistency or hypocrisy here and there so I figured I’d try and get some clarification. Keep up the good work.

  41. I think you were wrong back then, Professor. Bush and Cheney weren’t just advocating that the war in Vietnam be fought; they were advocating that unwilling men be drafted into the military to fight it. In other words, they were advocates for the position that it was the duty of every young man in the country to subject himself to the war, while working to exempt themselves. That is gross hypocrisy.

    Take away the draft, and the moral calculus changes. You are now advocating that people who volunteer to fight this nation’s wars, do so. The “Why don’t you fight it yourself?” argument now becomes the equivalent of saying that only people who become professional teachers can advocate for public schools, only people who become nurse’s aids can advocate for universal government health car (or even, any government health care), or that only people who work in homeless shelters can advocate for housing programs.

    • Good points, Joe. As a Vietnam Veteran myself (one who joined the Navy nuclear power program to avoid going to Vietnam), it pains me to have to agree with you, but with the change to an all-professional military, America ceased to have a “citizen” army. Now — no matter how misused and abused by their feckless, hot-house-orchid “leaders” — venal war criminals like Dick Cheney can simply sneer at them: “They volunteered, didn’t they?” So they did and have. Private Jessica Lynch explained: “I joined the Army to get out of Palestine, West Virginia, since I couldn’t even get a job at Wal-Mart.” Poverty Draft, we call it these days. No more personal involvement by the privileged elites today than back during the days of official conscription. Professor Cole will never have to worry about NATO taking him up on his offer, however sincerely tendered.

      As heartless and “unpatriotic” as it may sound, the United States Military now fights for a regular monthly paycheck, career advancement, government-paid health benefits, and a pension after twenty or more years on the imperial job. The American people — and especially their elected “leaders” — want it that way. War no longer concerns the American people. Someone else will handle that sort of thing. And what military professionals America cannot obtain willingly from its own population, it can hire as mercenary Hessians from all over the globe. In fact, in Libya at this moment, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that America has more hired mercenaries on the ground than Moammar Gaddafi. The rag-tag Libyan “rebels” lost this fight two weeks ago, according to retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, and only foreign military forces, uniformed and non-uniformed, can keep President Obama’s desperate gamble afloat and floundering for a few more days.

      America’s “Best and Brightest” never learned the lesson of Vietnam, namely: “Never intervene militarily in the internal civil conflicts of foreign nations.” Too clear and simple for such august and innocent intellects (such as President Obama’s) to comprehend, they and their lineal successors have proceeded to launch one Vietnam after another after another. The certifiably insane always keep doing the same thing while expecting different results.

      As we used to say back in Southeast Asia: “No matter how you voted, you got more of Vietnam.” And the beat goes ever on and on …

  42. Greenwald’s right. To say that a theoretical objective is a good is one thing. To actually obtain it by allowing men that we know have no principles and an anti-humane overriding agenda is entirely another. I deem this the Hitchen’s Fallacy.


  43. I had not at all encountered the argument that a victory by
    ‘the forces of oppression’ in Libya would render less robust the very welcome progressive changes underweigh
    in Tunisia & Egypt.

    So that’s very new.

    I wonder what information it is that (you have that) provides substance to such an allegation?

    from gg’s blog…jamesT

  44. Professor Cole,
    I have read your open letter to the left and felt it was both honest and fair. As for Glenn Greenwald’s reply, it seems as if the integrity of your statements have been put in question and I find that quite curious. The questions I would like to see your critics answer would be: Of the the two options of either UN/NATO intervention (which clearly succeeded in saving Benghazi) or perhaps no UN/NATO intervention which almost certainly would have resulted in the massacre of thousands, what was the preferable course of action? Is a preventable massacre worth letting occur in order to hold on to progressive principles? You have been criticized for your support for this decision however I have yet to see any of your critics offer an alternative solution.
    Its unfortunate that the price the Libyan people might pay for the assistance in thwarting Qaddafi may be western involvement in their affairs, but that would have been likely with or without western intervention. I would surmise that the Libyan people would prefer to have avoided this massacre and are satisfied with the outcome.
    I think that western involvement will have to be judged as time unfolds. The efforts thus far appear to have been helpful and much needed. Future efforts may prove to be quite different and should be judged accordingly.
    Thank you for your tireless efforts. Your insight and wisdom is greatly appreciated.
    All the best,
    Zig Zag Cafe (Seattle)

    • Then you had better read Greenwald’s reply with a less jaundiced eye. Glenn has repeatedly made clear that he has the utmost respect for Juan Cole, as do I. The fact that he disagrees with him on this means nothing.

  45. Mr. Cole

    You comment:

    “Iraq was an illegal war…no pressing national interests”

    Are you really saying this war in Libya, that Congress did not vote on per Constitutional requirement, is legal?

    And are you implying that there are pressing national interests in Libya that were not present in Iraq?

    What are they exactly? And please don’t claim that Democracy in other countries is what America cares about and wants.

  46. how can the intervention (by the US) be legal (insofar as US law is concerned) when Congress did not authorize it? Is the US Constitution not clear that Congress, and ONLY Congress has the right to authorize military action (by US military)

    while you are correct, that the UNSC did authorize military intervention in Libya, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the US military can intervene (legally) until our Congress authorizes it…. and conversely, in Iraq, even though our congress dubiously did authorize the use of force, it was still illegal, since there was no UNSC authorization…

    my 2 cents anyway…

    • You do understand that the US is a signatory to the UN charter and that it is US law? The War Powers Act has been explained by many commentators. Look into the Korean War, by the way.

      • The UN Charter is an extra barrier to governments wanting to go to war legally. Nothing in the Charter says that domestic legal concerns have been overrided. Nothing in the Charter says that the UNSC can declare war in place of the US Congress.

        And there’s no reason to suppose the War Powers Act to be constitutional.

        • “Nothing in the Charter says that domestic legal concerns have been overrided. Nothing in the Charter says that the UNSC can declare war in place of the US Congress.”

          True, but moot.

          There’s a piece of US legislation on the books known as the United Nations Participation Act of December 20, 1945, in which Congress delegated war powers acts to the POTUS when the UNSC has passed what’s known as an article 42 (Chapter VII of the Charter, iirc) resolution. Which leads us to…

          “And there’s no reason to suppose the War Powers Act to be constitutional.”

          That’s an issue of faith, I suppose. Neither the War Powers Act nor the UN Participation act have ever been ruled unconstitutional by the SCOTUS. Until such time that they are ruled unconstitutional, they are parts of the law of the land, as legal as federal laws dealing with theft on federal property.

  47. Whether or not Iraq was an illegal war is open for debate. If you think it was illegal because it lacked UNSC authorization, then I must assume you thought the 1999 war against Serbia equally illegal, as it, too, lacked UNSC authorization.

    I certainly agree that the “Libya intervention” (really a war to dislodge Gaddafi) is legal, both in terms of UNSC Resolution 1973 and President Obama’s adherence to the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Nevertheless, it is no more a “War of Necessity” than was Serbia or Iraq. There is no compelling U.S. interest to intervene in Libya. The United States has no obligation to “forestall a threat to democratization in Tunisia and Egypt.” Nor does it have an obligation to “allow Libyans to have a normal life.” Noble goals these may be, but they are neither obligations nor claims on U.S. treasure that go beyond one’s own subjective viewpoint.

    We have no idea who the rebels are and what they represent. We have no idea what their agenda is (if they even have one). Moreover, there is reason to be wary of at least a segment of the rebels. Various reports indicate that one of the rebel leaders, Abdel-Hakim Al-Hasidi, went to Afghanistan in 2002 to fight against the “foreign invasion,” as he called it, i.e. against U.S. forces. A 2007 report published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, based on biographical information on jihadists seized in raids in Iraq, revealed that Libya contributed 19 percent of the foreign fighters in Iraq, second only to Saudi Arabia in absolute numbers, and in terms of per capita, number one.

    In short, were we to dispose of Gaddafi, we would simply create a vacuum which would be filled by…we know not what. Perhaps Libya is a case in which the wisdom of John Quincy Adams would apply: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

    • John Quincy Adams was in the White House, and in the US House, when US naval forces were involved in an international effort to suppress the slave trade in West Africa — a no-sail zone, if you will — including the occasional use of US Marines in ground operations.

      So he might not have been quite as absolute in his practice as he was in his theory.

  48. It seems that most of the rhetoric here is based on emotion. When we wanted revenge for 9-11, we allowed a phony justification for a war on Saddam Hussein to replace reason and restraint, and now that we are tired of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we allow for phony echoes of restraint to prevent a justified and well reasoned action. Professor Cole’s addition to the argument is just to say that whenever “we” demand military action, then “we” should be willing to assume personal responsibility for dressing in a uniform, picking up a rifle. etc., lest we become replicas of the journalist also known as “doughy pant load.”

    Personal responsibility, i.e. the willingness to do military service, does not make an argument right, it only removes the hypocrisy given out by our leaders from 2001-2008.

  49. How can this war forestall any threat to democratisation unless rebels in other rebellions believe NATO will intervene to help them too?

    • Because it will discourage other tyrants from rolling tanks and artillery on the protesters.

      And, it will remove from the scene a multi-billionaire mafia regime determined to undermine democratizing neighbors.

      • “And, it will remove from the scene a multi-billionaire mafia regime determined to undermine democratizing neighbors.”

        And what proof, pray tell, do you have of this?

        There is none. Your arguments are becoming more emotional and less logical.

        And what of the multi-billionaire mafia regime of the US (determined to undermine anything in the way of its controlling corporate profiteering, people be damned?

      • I get it. This time its different. Its the war to end all wars. There will be no murderous dictators after we bomb Libya. So you now think that the US is out for democracy? How about this administration on Ecuador? How about at home? You like Obama’s strong stand on the rights of people in Wisconsin for rights of free association? I know its a bit of an intellectual shortcut but do you honestly expect the USAF to be playing a constructive role here? The argument makes it sound like you were born yesterday.

      • I don’t think that attacking unfriendly tyrants (Libya) for using tanks to suppress dissent while turning a blind eye to friendly tyrants who use tanks to suppress dissent (Saudis in Bahrain) sends any message to Mid East tyrants except that so long as they’re deferential to the US we don’t care about all that democracy blather.

  50. Would there have been more of a human cost had the intervention not happened? link to
    There are still undetermined outcomes in terms of damage inflicted on civilians and the final outcome of intervention. What plans do the rebels have for unification of the country and democracy?

  51. I am generally very much in agreement with Professor Cole’s view of Middle Eastern/North African affairs — but certainly not on this one. What the Obama-led air strikes have done is clearly way beyond enforcing a No-Fly Zone: they are actively providing aggressive air support for one side in a civil war. Now there are reports that the Libyan rebels are massacring and raping Black Africans. link to — These reports are maybe true, maybe not — but civil wars notoriously involve massacres perpetrated by both sides. Are the liberal supporters of “humanitarian intervention” in reality enabling further massacres and other horrors?

  52. Where was Obama (and UK and France) as Israelis were killing civilians in Gaza? Where was the no fly zone? Talk bout hypocrisy…

  53. does the arming of the rebels and CIA intel to rebels change your ‘this is a legal action’ stance?

  54. I think it’s safe to say that the projected massacre has been avoided. Benghazi is safe. So now what?

    According to the news, the CIA boots have been on the ground since almost day one. You know they can’t sit still.

    NATO is attacking the Libyan military wherever it happens to be and whatever it happens to be doing. An occasional wild round hits Qaddafi’s house.

    Close air support for the rebels, and for further destruction of Qaddafi’s forces, is now in being.

    Clinton says NATO will keep at it until regime change.

    Considering the feebleness of the rebel forces, the only role they play is to march into towns where NATO has destroyed the Qaddafi forces. So why even call it a civil war. We can just use Clinton’s own position statements to define this military activity – the mission of the NATO forces is regime change. Oh, and Clinton also mentioned that the UN has no say so in this action.

    Being that’s what it is, all the debate and arguing should be focused on the pros and cons of regime change, and the quantity of death and destruction we are willing to meat out to achieve it (Iraq and Afghanistan could be used as baselines, because we know our capacity for inflicting remorseless death and destruction is quite ample).

    My recommendation to the leadership is that Obama toss his copy of “Doubletalk for Dummies”, and Clinton go through the trash to find her copy of “Diplomacy for Dummies”.

    Most of the “kinetic” action will take place hundreds of miles to the west of the peaceful city of Benghazi and its safe civilians.

    The impending 100% inevitable massacre got our foot in the door, then defense of the hapless rebels got the door open, and now regime change will keep us going for quite a while.

  55. Still think Digby has the best response to your letter to the left:

    Juan Cole makes many good points in his piece and I can’t fault him. I still disagree overall because I think that the motives are much more complex and opaque than the government is admitting and that we aren’t particularly good at this and usually make things worse. Most importantly, I think we are fighting wars in this region mostly because we are engaged in a Great Game over oil and that it needs to be discussed so that we can start having a rational discussion about energy.To the extent that there are other strategic reasons, the most important is around keeping nuclear arms out of the hands of extremists and rogue states and this latest adventure is probably counter-productive for the reasons Steve Clemons and Jonathan Schwartz raised above. I still feel quite strongly that “humanitarianism” is really far down the list of official concerns even as it’s being raised as the main motive for our actions. It’s a delusion that no populace in a mature nation, much less a military empire, should have — raining bombs for “good” is a dangerous concept even in the clearest situation.

    • oh my goodness I am always back and forth on this issue, like i haven’t been for a long while. I read Juan and largely agree with him, then read Digby and see her points, then read what a good number of third world leaders in latin america, where I live, are saying and agree with them. then i read Richard Falk and agree with him and over at al jazeera there are quite a good number of points of view being presented, many of them against the war and some in favor.

      I don’t like to get into legalistic interpretations either so I rather leave those aside except to say that the US hasn’t entered into a congressionally sanctioned war since WWII. and that says a lot right there about how failed our so called democracy is. and even if the present congress approves this one after sixty days what does that really mean in the current state of the Nation which for all intents and purposes is an oligarchy of the rich and powerful? Those guys on capitol hill don’t represent any of my interests nor do they represent the interests of the people of Libya or Yemen or Egypt when they make all their momentous decisions to intervene this way or that, or say this and that etc. The elites are always the ones who make these international decisions which then costs hundreds of billions and disrupt the lives of millions of people. To me almost all these post WWII wars and semi-wars and interventions fought by the US have clearly been wars for one Reason of State or another or an Imperial design or a conglomeration of international economic-politico interests, of Empire.

      I think the bar has to be pretty darn high for me to even condone this kind of violence, even if it purportedly is going to prevent further bloodshed (and it does seem that some of the air strikes have prevented some massacres or massive civilian casualties, so there we go again…). and also the bar is high to even consider that the US is entering into an international conflict where it will do some good – why? because the historical record is just absolutely dismal! It’s one ruined nation after another, not to mention the eventual blowback. US absolute national interests are not at stake here nor is it facing imminent attack. nor is NATO either. In fact, Gates himself was talking like that just several weeks ago. One can always discuss again the authority of the security council to even take such actions….whether it’s moral and ethical to intervene in the internal affairs and start air strikes on another sovereign nation. These are not small matters. I like what Uruguayan President José Mujica said, “…This business of saving lives by bombing is an inexplicable contradiction.”

      so to me there are many arguments against the intervention and the bar has to be extremely high for me to condone any military action by the US as being “humanitarian” given the historical record, which to me is pretty darn clear.

      Still, I as I said, I am back and forth because I do want to get rid of Qaddafi and I do want to see this Arab-moslem liberation movement succeed throughout the whole region – hell, I’ve been waiting for this for 30 years, and am now cheering it on from Morocco to Yemen and Bahrain. I can’t wait for it in saudi arabia and syria. but I am also personally a rather peaceful person so the use of any violence is questionable and troublesome….

  56. Professor Cole’s support for this intervention is predicated on his apparent belief that our motives are pure, that ‘we’ are there for the reasons stated.

    Never mind that UN Resolution 1973 is already being forgotten. What if this about bases in Libya, what if Libya is going to be a staging ground for an attack on Syria? What if the new regime is a hard core Islamist regime? What will ‘we’ do then?

    When has America’s stated reasons and intentions for intervention ever been accurate and true? We know our history.

    I hope Professor Cole does not have to eat his hat on this one.

  57. The “freedom fighting” rebels are foreign fighters from Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc. and indentified as the same people who fight our soldiers in Iraq, i.e. AlQaeda. hmmm why are we biw supporting AlQaeda?

  58. “…Afghanistan, which has morphed into a war I can’t support.”

    What does it take for a war to ‘morph’ into something you can’t support? At what point did that happen in Afghanistan?

    • I would have thought that was entirely obvious. At the point when you realize that the government has been lying to you.

    • I would have thought that was entirely obvious. At the point when you realize that the government has been lying to you.

      • That’s not about the war (‘morphing’) then its about personal realization. If they lied last time why would we assume they won’t/aren’t lying again?

  59. The fear and conspiracy mongering from those opposed to this action are curious. To just take the previous poster. Who has claimed our motives are ‘pure’ – all that’s being claimed is that we can affect some good. Is there any evidence that Libya will be a staging ground for a country it has no border with, any evidence of ambitions by the rebels to do that? “What if the new regime is a hard core Islamist regime?” Any evidence at all that the rebels are ‘hard core’? And what do you mean by ‘hard core’ anyway – put a little more pressure on Israel?

    What is going on across the Middle East is a once in a generation opportunity to sweep away a massive roadblock to history – a moment as significant as 1989 in Europe. And yet, the lack of excitement from the left over this is just amazing. It is as if the left actually prefers the status quo. There is the constant “but who are these people?” lament, and too often strains of “they aren’t ready for democracy”. Instead we should be working to get on the right side of this movement.

    • Why is it that the idiots (I’m sorry, but there is no other word) on the right always seem to think they’ve got everything sussed, despite all the evidence that they have been consistently completely wrong on every single international issue in the last ten years?

      Perhaps those of us on the left have just a bit more inclination to actually research and debate the facts? This comments section is a case in point. Lots of discussion and dissent here, not so much in right wing blogs. There, the decision is made from above and you must agree. Think about it.

    • Did you know that the “massive roadblock to history” in the M.E. is Western intervention and the fact that their borders were created by said intervention? Is it now “your responsiblity” to correct that by more of the same? Don’t ever “help” me please.

      • Wow. What a totally fine example of “inclination to actually research and debate the facts.” Gatner calls me a right-wing idiot and thus can conclude that since some group of people were wrong about everything that therefore whatever I wrote, which isn’t responded to, is wrong.

        Todd points out that because Westerners (mostly not the US) aided and abetted lots of bad things in the 30, and 40s and then more westerners (including the US) did other bad things later that therefore …. we should keep the bad things! And certainly to be happy the roadblock is being swept away, no reason for that.

        Again: I still don’t get the left’s ambivalence to the fall of all these dictatorships.

        And again: if you’d actually READ Prof. Cole’s blog you’d see that the emerging evidence is that rebels are not hard core Islamists. They are Arabs, however.

  60. Dear Prof. Cole,

    You wrote ten days ago that the western intervention in Libya “should not be a war on the Qaddafi regime.”
    (link to

    Over the last several days, we’ve had statements from Hillary Clinton and William Hague that they believe arming the rebels to overthrow Qaddafi authorized under UNSC resolution 1973. We are now learning of covert CIA operations in Libya. And it is plainly evident that western airpower has been used to help the rebels military advance to the west.

    From all this and more, it is clear that western military forces have been indeed been engaged in a war on Qaddafi’s regime. Using force, they are supporting the rebels and trying to create the conditions that will precipitate Qaddifi’s departure from the country

    It seems to me that this is a matter that you have yet to face up to. I can see that there was a strong moral case to be made for preventintg a Sebrenica-like massacre. UNSC resolution 1973 was a response to that emergency. However, western powers are no longer abiding by resolution 1973 (if they ever were). They are engaged in regime change. This is contrary to UNSC 1973 and the limited intervention that you have advocated.

    Given this course of events, you can bet that resolution 1973 will be the first, and last, experiment in UN-approved humanitarian intervention. The next time around, expect China and/or Russia to veto.

    • Hi, Patrick. I share your concerns, but I think you are rather rushing to judgment. It will be next year this time that things will be a little clearer.

  61. I’m curious about the opinions of people who deem the intervention in Libya illegal because of the lack of congressional approval.

    Do they regard the intervention as legal, perhaps even morally exceptable, for other nations to participate in? And would they retract their opposition if congressional support were given?

  62. To me it is illegal if a country breaks a law. If congressional support were given then I could focus my opposition on the non-legal reasons it’s a nightmare for good people from both countries.

  63. As always, you provide a thoughtful and intelligent and informed comment. I always appreciate and applaud that. Thanks Juan for your always intelligent perspective and the respectful way you are jousting with Glenn who I always admire as well.

  64. You’re 100% right on this one, Juan. Greenwald and his amen corner don’t make a convincing case when it comes to this topic. There has been such an extraordinary rush to judgment by some on the left to dismiss this as yet another Bush-like caper (but in Democratic garb.) Sigh. I get tired having to point out the myriad distinctions between Iraq and Libya to my far-left friends. For whatever reason, they refuse to accept the concept of gradation. Instead, they’re content living in a black & white world where – naturally – their dainty hands remain clean and they can afford to pontificate from the safety of the Upper West Side or Berkeley or some other comfortable spot. I thought that your open letter a few days ago pretty much summed up the reasons why – ever so tentatively – we were right to aid the rebels. No, I hate the idea of war and don’t want to wind up as one of those libs that Randolph Bourne lacerated in his writings during WW1. But there are times and places of our choosing where force is the least worst of the options on the table.

  65. “It’s just not true that one a hypocrite would be willing to start or support a war in which he is not willing to serve.”

    Agh, that should be “It’s just not true that only a hypocrite would be willing to start or support a war in which he is not willing to serve.”

  66. war is always a failure of diplomacy
    nothing to be proud of

    on the contrary

    it only brings shame to the participants
    and needless suffering to the aggressed

    do we really want force
    to be the answer, again ?


    ‘an eye for an eye…’
    [makes all of us blind]

    so easy to fight the battles
    over there

    if you don’t think there coming here
    study a little history

  67. My dear Professor:

    You are suffering from temporary insanity and you should examine that component of your debate…

    This whole MENA question (upheaval) is just a generational transition…. And the reality is that there is no need to panic and in reality, no need for war…. I find it humorous that we are even debating with those illusive patriotic impulses…. The West’s involvement in this is a transparent fools errand that will bring severe unintended consequences as it relates to our relationship with entire MENA region….. It’s implementation is expensive, when we can least afford it, It’s outcome will not be manageable in any sense of the word and the benefits will be reaped by those who abstained…. I say NO…! NO….! and NO…! again….

    Not my blood, not my families’ blood, not my communities’ blood, not my enemy, not my inquisitor, not my oppressor, not to our benefit in any way form or manner… If it’s oil we want we can BUY IT….!

    Best regards,


  68. Mr. Coles, as a veteran of the Iraq War, and friend to Iraqi refugees, I don’t doubt the sincerity of your reply to Glenn Greenwald, or of his own motives in asking the question of a man he knows would not actually be able to enlist and fight. But the fantasy of this rhetorical “Q&A” in some ways is a bitter contrast for those who must face the actual choices and consequences of our government’s decision to go to war, whether soldier or civilian, whether we inflict or suffer deadly force.

    While I understand what I believe to be your true concern for “allowing Libyans to have a normal life,” I would ask you and other readers here how that goal squares with the long-term damages we are inflicting not just on Libyan civilians today, but on generations to come by using depleted uranium bombs:

    From an article at

    “Depleted uranium: a strange way to protect Libyan civilians”

    by David Wilson

    “In the first 24 hours of the Libyan attack, US B-2s dropped forty-five 2,000-pound bombs. These massive bombs, along with the Cruise missiles launched from British and French planes and ships, all contained depleted uranium (DU) warheads.

    DU is the waste product from the process of enriching uranium ore. It is used in nuclear weapons and reactors. Because it is a very heavy substance, 1.7 times denser than lead, it is highly valued by the military for its ability to punch through armored vehicles and buildings. When a weapon made with a DU tip strikes a solid object like the side of a tank, it goes straight through it, then erupts in a burning cloud of vapor. The vapor settles as dust, which is not only poisonous, but also radioactive.

    An impacting DU missile burns at 10,000 degrees C. When it strikes a target, 30% fragments into shrapnel. The remaining 70% vaporises into three highly-toxic oxides, including uranium oxide. This black dust remains suspended in the air and, according to wind and weather, can travel over great distances. If you think Iraq and Libya are far away, remember that radiation from Chernobyl reached Wales.

    Particles less than 5 microns in diameter are easily inhaled and may remain in the lungs or other organs for years. Internalized DU can cause kidney damage, cancers of the lung and bone, skin disorders, neurocognitive disorders, chromosome damage, immune deficiency syndromes and rare kidney and bowel diseases. Pregnant women exposed to DU may give birth to infants with genetic defects. Once the dust has vaporised, don’t expect the problem to go away soon. As an alpha particle emitter, DU has a half life of 4.5 billion years.”

  69. When people feel that a certain military interaction is right they are often told that unless they are willing to fight themselves they should be silent on the matter for they are not going to experience the distress that will result due to the decision that they are supporting.

    However couldnt the same be said for those that oppose a certain action, if they had their way distress may also be caused, shouldnt they be willing to experience the distress caused by the option which they supported.

    Shouldnt those opposing an action say that they are perhaps willing to move to the location to see the affects of the decision which they supported.

    For example, greenwald opposes the intervention in libya,lets say if he got his way would he have moved to benghazi to experience what the citizens of that city would have experienced.

  70. Juan Cole hopes the lions and jackals will protect the wounded fawn. As I recall, he originally had the same hope for the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions. I admire Cole’s good heart…

  71. This article in the Telegraph makes it clear that (as many commentators had already speculated) there was a clear connection between Bahrain and the Libya intervention:

    link to

    A deal was done between the US and Saudi Arabia. The US promised the Saudis to mute any criticism of the Bahrain government attacks on its own citizens (plus Saudi intervention on behalf of that govt) in exchange for Saudi cooperation in the Libya intervention. Which is now a war, actually – the CIA has been there for weeks and Obama has started arming the rebels despite any UN legality issues (as if that would stop the US govt, under ANY president, from arming anyone).

    In other words, the US intervenes only against its enemies – while its friends can go on massacring at will. Rewarding friends for atrocities, punishing enemies for the same.

    And pontificating about human rights and morality along the way.

    You have been entirely dishonest in every single thing you’ve written about this Libya intervention, glossing over pertinent facts and refusing to take up serious questions made by a variety of people from all sides of the political divide.

  72. “…whether I categorized the Libya intervention as I did the 2001 intervention against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and my answer is yes.”

    “…Afghanistan, which has morphed into a war I can’t support.”

    Yup, no lesson to be learned here.

  73. “Likewise for telling people to enlist; unless they are going to be fighter jet pilots, they wouldn’t get to be involved in Libya.”

    Except, of course they will. Quick, go sign up for the CIA, whose “boots” are already “on the ground.” It’s always been a technological fantasy that this will resolve with air power. The odds are that we will have to “arm the rebels,” which, as Reuters is now reporting, of course, already means “covert action,” and then next overt military advisors, and so on and war without end, amen.

    I’m a regular reader with great respect for your intellect and passion. But you’ve fallen victim to a hustle.

    In my view, the appropriate place for intervention on behalf of democracy is Bahrain, where our weapons, our money and our buddies are massacring and disappearing protesters. We have influence that could be exercised without blowing things up. Congress could have done as much for democracy by voting to suspend military aid to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as it has by sitting by and cheering our almighty Commander in Chief as he gins up another regime change with a pack of lies and tons of flaming steel.

  74. Prof. Cole,
    I am a great fan of yours, but I must respectfully disagree with your statement, for various reasons, set forth in detail by other commenters, with no need for repetition. I just have a question for you:
    Given that we have no idea who the rebel leaders are, and our attempts to arm “rebels” to further aims we agree with has worked out so well for us historically; given that France and Britain are the nations which actually have an oil based “interest” in Libya, and therefore this looks like some sort of “payback” for their support of our other adventures; and given the fact that any provisional government set up by the rebels will be accomplished under the direction of the CIA (the presence of which has been verified), to vindicate the capitalist interests of our European allies: When these rebels want to nationalize the oilfields, what sort of massacre will we pretend to be preventing when we blow them up a few years from now?

  75. Since so many of my fellow people of the left are trying to justify this intervention on humanitarian grounds let me point out a key difference between Lybia and cases in the past in which humanitarian intervention was more justifable.
    There is a huge difference between Serbineza or Rwanda on one hand and Lybia on the other. The Bosnians in Serbineza were SURROUNDED. THEY COULD NOT FLEE UNDER THEIR OWN POWER TO CROATIA. (Who were killing them too only more slowly). The Ruwandans would have had to flee through jungle on foot to escape thier killers. Same story under Pol Pot.
    In Lybia their are fluid but clear front lines. I for one do not beleive that Libyans would have difficulty making it to the Egyptian or Aligerian border if they feared that they would be massacred.
    Now does Qudaffi need to be overthrown by OUTSIDE FORCES because he is killing his opposition? Is he killing them deader than Franco or Pinochet or who ever happens to be in charge of Columbia or Honduras at the momement? Is he killing them deader than the US leaders who used soldiers to kill Iraqi Freedom Fighters?
    Rest In Peace America

  76. I can’t read all these messages, but I haven’t seen discussion of whether for this specific country, Libya, this was a doable intervention (as apart from whether interventions in general are a moral, etc.)

    There was a distinction made recently, I think by T. Friedman, between the coherent nation-states like Egypt, Tunisia and Iran, and colonial creations consisting of competitive tribes like Iraq, Libya, etc. Perhaps Libya cannot be a viable country without a dictator. Unless we are willing to assist in its devolution to a pre-nation ‘state’ of competing tribes, should we be involved in this? Are we willing to not have a country as the end result? Or one cobbled together by force again, just with someone other than Qhadaffi?

  77. I don’t understand the logic of requiring people who support a war to fight in it. I think firefighters are important and courageous, their work is extremely dangerous, and I would strongly defend their training and funding. Does that mean that I’m a coward if I don’t want to become one myself? What’s the difference? If there was a war that I thought was morally justified — not likely to happen, but possible — would my only options be 1) become a soldier and completely change the lives of my family members and end my career, 2) never say out loud that I support the war effort, or 3) be a logically handicapped coward?

  78. Going into Libya to protect unarmed protesting civilians emulating their neighbors in Tunisia and Egypt was as valid as was the effort to protect the Kurds from further aggression from Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, with the CIA, MI6 and other unscrupulous players being involved (from who knows when) this is now an entirely different and criminal ball game.

  79. Perhaps a better, more fundamental question is: what, exactly, does the United States expect to accomplish in Libya?

    from this basic question a great number of other questions, with some, rightfully, disturbing answers arise.

    “Will imposing a no-fly zone actually stop Qaddafi’s ‘murderous’ regime?” Lessons learned from American intervention in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s suggest, well, no, not necessarily. The Serbs proved quite capable of killing Bosnian muslims without air superiority.

    “Are Qaddafi’s actions actually ‘murderous’?” We simply do not know. Frighteningly we know very little about the “embattled civilians” in Libya. Who are they? What are they fighting for? What would they do if given the sovereign power? There is a great possibility that radical Islamic fundamentalist groups have an influence in what is unfolding in Libya. We have no idea just HOW influential radical Islam is in this case. What role is Al-Queda potentially playing? Who knows. Is the Muslim Brotherhood involved? Maybe. Libya has provided an alarming number of bodies for the insurgency against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Qaddafi is currently fighting an insurgency that would seek to install Sharia Law and pursue anti-Western and anti-American policies, then the United States and NATO0 have engaged our ally in a multiple theatre war against radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, or atleast broken neutrality. Making this an illegal intervention.

    “Who is the terrorist, Qaddafi or the insurgents?” If the rebels are fighting on behalf of the Libyan people why don’t the rebels have a broader base of support? Furthermore, if Qaddafi is the terrorist then the American intervention being conducted from 15,000 ft. is quite morally dubious, its a cause worth fighting for but not worth dying for. More troubling, if the rebels are influenced by Islamic radicals then, according to American foriegn policy, we are aiding and abetting a terrorist insurgency.

    “If Qaddafi falls, and the rebels are installed to sovereign power, what then? Is there a chance that the new regime could be even more hideous than the current regime?” Yes, there is. We don’t know what to expect if the rebels win, which, practically speaking, casts a dubious light on President Obama and his policies. Is Obama deciding with the best interest of the United States in mind? No. He has acted without knowing what the United States possibly stands to gain.

    “Is there a chance the United States could now be fighting, long term, a three front war in the Islamic world?” You bet.

  80. You would think the splintering of the left within the left and the right within the right on Libya would be a clue that the situation should not be viewed as a binary in/out choice.

    Non-intervention is not a win/win answer. Aside from the certainty of strengthening Khadafy and giving him a free hand for a killing spree within Libya, it confirms the widespread Arab perception that the U.S. is unwilling to exert pressure on Mideast tyrants. Even if you ignore democratic principles and consider nothing but U.S. economic interests, we have a long-range problem if al-Qaida is more helpful to anti-dictatorship forces than is the West. Of course, escalating the Libyan war is even riskier, for reasons only a fool could miss.

    And so we muddle. But I can’t say that the Obama-Clinton policy thus far has been wrong. There has been no loss of U.S. life, minimal loss of civilian life, and it’s very obvious the U.S. is looking to others to do the heavy lifting. Considering the willingness of the UK and France in the recent past to button their lips and follow the U.S. into rough quarters for questionable benefit, I’d say the U.S. owes them one.

    And yes, we should be concerned at our deploying CIA agents in Libya – we know how that’s laid the groundwork for invasions before. On the other hand there is no place on earth where solid on-the-ground intelligence is needed more than in Libya right now. How vulnerable is Khadafy? How hard would it be for Libya to establish a democracy? I don’t know and you don’t either. But I’m glad somebody may actually be checking. Likewise, it makes sense to rattle our swords a bit to spook Khadafy, even if we don’t intend to take them out of their sheaths.

    I say we give it a week or two, but not much further.

  81. If it was wrong for wars to be begun without Congressional authority in Iraq, it’s wrong in Libya. What do we even think the mission is in Libya anyway? You mentioned securing the area in order to bolster gains achieved in Tunisia and Egypt but just how were those goals to be achieved? How are the rebels to be supported? Did we have a plan? Obama gave a speech AFTER military action had already begun seeking support for something he had already undertaken. He might as well have saved his breath.

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