Libya

I don’t have any special expertise about international diplomacy, the culture and history of the Maghreb, or revolutions in general, but something has to be said about what’s happening in Libya.

News is scarce but it now seems reasonably certain that the government has unleashed widespread death by air attack, and by invited foreign forces (the mercenaries), on its own people.  Sort of like Spain in the 30s, actually. The aircraft are French, Russian, and American, and Libyan special forces were trained by the British Special Air Service.  Europe and the US are in this up to our elbows, especially as Europe has happily been heavily addicted to Libyan oil, which of course nourishes Ghaddafi’s exchequer.The response of European governments, and ours, has been a truly awesome and concerted explosion of Regretting and Deploring; even Berlusconi has finally figured out that events in Libya are Very Bad Things and Should Stop.  Some have even used the words condemn, urgent and oppose! The latest from the White House is that Ghaddafi Jr.’s speech is Being Analyzed.  Ban Ki-Moon is quoted as saying “the violence has to stop and stop now,” but obviously he was mistaken.  How Ghaddafi can stand up against this barrage of frowning, and the heartfelt desire of his customers that he desist forthwith, is hard to understand, but resist he does and the carnage continues. This is not a few thugs with whips on camels and horses, it’s a high-tech bloodbath. Admittedly, the Brits have cancelled several export licenses for weapons, so the massacre of 2013 will be somewhat inhibited for want of hardware.

I don’t know whether this sort of thing bothers Putin or entertains him, but I cannot understand that we and the French need more than about an hour to inform Ghaddafi that all military air operations will stop at once, either by orders from him or by force from the Sixth Fleet: that we did not sell him these toys to kill his people with.  We have bombed Ghaddafi’s headquarters in the past, and it would not be out of order to light it up again if the killing doesn’t stop.

Of course, things like a no-fly zone over a sovereign state needs to be set up very carefully, with lots of bargaining and debate over who would actually enforce it, under what rules of engagement, with what ample warning.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be legitimate. Days of diplomats doing their thing, I expect. Perhaps the foreign ministries are thinking about preserving their influence with the regime in the future, as though it had one; that seems to be a reflex in that community.

Maybe it’s time to revisit the rule that oil belongs to whoever happen, through no effort of their own, to live on top of it, and make possession and disposition of natural resources conditional on compliance with basic principles of humanity and decency.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

10 thoughts on “Libya”

  1. that we did not sell him these toys to kill his people with

    So whom *did* we mean for him to kill, then?

    .. But, yes. This is happening in Europe’s back yard. There is no reason to tolerate it. If the UN meant anything, troops in blue helmets would be occupying Tripoli at the moment.

    But then, their next amphibious operation might be directed at Guantanamo Bay. So where does one draw the line? One day we will have a generally-agreed answer to that question (one that I would happily see drawing the line to include “torture dens” as occasion for international intervention).

  2. “[I]nform Ghaddafi that all military air operations will stop at once, either by orders from him or by force from the Sixth Fleet: that we did not sell him these toys to kill his people with. We have bombed Ghaddafi’s headquarters in the past, and it would not be out of order to light it up again if the killing doesn’t stop.”

    And “we” [i.e., the United States government] would do that because …?

  3. “I cannot understand that we and the French need more than about an hour to inform Ghaddafi that all military air operations will stop at once, either by orders from him or by force from the Sixth Fleet: that we did not sell him these toys to kill his people with. We have bombed Ghaddafi’s headquarters in the past, and it would not be out of order to light it up again if the killing doesn’t stop.”

    Seriously? You can’t understand why the US and France would hesitate to begin military operations against a country with which they are not at war? Human rights violations happening = casus belli ? Wow, and here I thought that the world was a very complex place where involvement in other countries civil wars is a chancy business and that the use of force should be used only as a last resort after other options clearly failed …. But no, this principle would make our foreign policy so much simpler – bombs away! (By the by, what the heck is the basis for saying that the US is “in this up to our elbows”?)

    “Maybe it’s time to revisit the rule that oil belongs to whoever happen, through no effort of their own, to live on top of it, and make possession and disposition of natural resources conditional on compliance with basic principles of humanity and decency.”

    Maybe it’s time that everyone have a pony and a 3-day work week, too, eh?

  4. I wish questions like this were best decided by bright-line rules. Brennan, is a “country” anything with boundaries drawn by deals between colonial oppressors that has a flag and a tinpot dictator? Human rights violations can mean anything from some political prisoners and inadequate press freedoms to military full-force assault on civilian populations, which is what we’re seeing in Libya now. Is forbidding Libya to fly military aircraft, when it faces no external threat that would require it, an act of war even if it meets a legal test? Are we proud of the UNs forbearance in Rwanda? Genocide is an agreed justification for UN intervention; how many Libyans need to be killed on the street because they are Libyans (this is the only criterion in use for the savagery currently under way; neither the mercenaries nor pilots are asking for party membership cards, nor discriminating in any other way) before it is a genocide and not just “human rights violations happening”?

  5. Again, I’m sympathetic to Michael’s argument; seeing the realist reasons why we’re not intervening is not the same as justifying non-intervention.

    It’s odd how postcolonialism affects the analysis. Consider Rwanda, where mass killings were allowed to go on far too long, in part because much stronger states that could have reined in the massacres were hesitant about violating sovereignty. 100 years ago, Europe had the will to intervene in weaker states, but not always the good intentions to motivate intervention. (But cf. the Turkish massacres that exercised Gladstone.)

    For the “great powers” of today to intervene in Libya requires a mutual understanding among them that there are great powers and lesser powers, and that different rules apply. (Otherwise they will fear interventions betwixt themselves, see “Guantanamo Bay” above.) But just this understanding is unspeakable in the United Nations era where, to paraphrase the Monty Python song, every state is sacred.

  6. Michael, I am actually quite sympathetic to the idea of intervening in Libya to the limited extent of a no-fly zone to protect the civilian protesters. But it is certainly something that should be considered very carefully and there are valid concerns about doing this – something that your post does not appear to acknowledge.

  7. You can understand why the FDA is very conservative when it comes to approving new drugs. If they drag their feet on or block the approval of drugs that could save 10’s of thousands of lives, they get criticized by policy wonks in various libertarian publications and other places most people don’t pay much attention to. But, if they approve a drug that causes obvious harm like birth defects, it’s front page news.

  8. Maybe it’s time to revisit the rule that oil belongs to whoever happen, through no effort of their own, to live on top of it, and make possession and disposition of natural resources conditional on compliance with basic principles of humanity and decency.

    I’m amazed that our resident glibertarians have been all over this like a turkey on june bug. This is a really radical thought…

  9. Dangerously radical, the sort of thought people have when they don’t have to face the repercussions (and amazing how soon after the Iraq disaster). You may be able to get some agreement among nations that they will not engage in genocide, but you’re kidding yourself if you think a norm of dictators not repressing uprisings is going to sail. Once you start floating that as a justification for outside intervention, prepare to see uprisings appear wherever a nation would like such a pretext.

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