War Is Not the Answer to Libyan Protests
The non-violent protests that ousted authoritarian governments in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired people across the world demand political change. As readers of this blog will note, many people in the FCNL community were particular delighted by the reaffirmation of the power of nonviolence.
Yet the power of nonviolence seems lost to some policymakers here in Washington. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that as soon as the protests in Libya turned violent there were calls for military intervention. What amazed me is that even before some of the groups (and certainly not all) in Libya began calling for international military intervention, some individuals in Congress, in the administration, and in the policy making community began arguing for a no-fly zone over Libya. Has the United States really learned that little?
Ah, say some pundits, a no-fly zone is not intervention, it’s an international humanitarian operation. Yet speaking at a Congressional hearing yesterday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seemed to dispensed with that argument: “Let’s just call a spade a spade,” said Gates. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya.”
Yet the United States is at least threatening just that. The Navy has publicly announced that several ships are steaming to the area around Libya and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken supportively of the idea of a no-fly zone. Responding to the apparent contradiction between Gates and Clinton, White House spokesman Jay Carney told the Wall Street Journal “The fact that the no-fly zone idea is complex does not mean it’s not on the table.”
In the twisted logic of Washington, some policymakers and analysts have suggested to me that the “threat” of military force is a good way to avoid military force. Hmm. I would be very cautious.
The United States has some very well-informed State and Pentagon officials who are following events in North Africa very closely. Yet part of the failing of U.S. policy in North Africa is that as soon as a situation like Libya develops, the senior people making policy know very little about the region and they tend to fall back on the tools that they know — the military tools. (My colleague Bridget has written extensively about the tools for preventing violent conflict).
To my mind, the first thing the United States needs to do is stop playing a negative role in the region. The United States backed authoritarian governments in Egypt and Tunisia for decades because stability trumped democracy and freedom at every turn. That backing created a perfect breeding ground for violent, extremist groups. I draw some hope from the reality that, despite decades of U.S. support for repressive regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, there are signs that many of the protesters that are now calling for new openings are not violently anti-U.S. I hope that I could be that open if I were in their position.
Ironically again, it seems the U.S. military is the one service that is seeing the limits of war in the region. Last week, speaking at West Point, Secretary of Defense Gates said
“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or onto the Middle East should have his head examined.”
PS: For those of you looking for more, Bill Minter has put up some good contextual analysis of the undemocratic and repressive nature of the Libyan regime. One problem in our society is we continue to look for simple solutions to complex problems.