"cleanse Libya house by house"
On Facebook, recent Boonville Blog commenter Grant posted an analysis of President Obama's Libya speech from Monday, March 28. Here's the speech if you haven't seen it.

While I was reading the analysis I came across this paragraph (my emphasis):
Finally, Obama is not the realist people think he is. As much as the national interest is vital to him, the President was also driven by a humanitarian concern for the lives of Libyans jeopardized by a dictator who promised to "cleanse Libya house by house." A hard-core realist may have opted to turn a blind eye to a country that does not pose a direct threat to the security and prosperity of the United States. American power and resources could after all be better saved for or expended at more strategically significant countries (such as Syria, North Korea or Iran).
The quoted text stopped me in my tracks. Did he really say that? Admittedly I have been slow on the news cycle of late. Was I evaluating this war without a piece of information like that, or was it an exaggeration? I searched for "cleanse Libya house by house". Sure enough, a BBC article from a month ago quoting Gaddafi as saying just that. On top of that he called his people "cockroaches".

My initial reaction was, despite the prospect of eliminating the Gaddafi regime, to oppose the war in Libya. The stated reasons for attacking were to protect civilians, but I didn't see anything to show that the danger to civilians was anything more than a typical war that could be happening anywhere in the world. Even if I took those stated reasons at face value I didn't see enough of a danger to human rights to intervene. It didn't look like Rwanda or Kosovo.

I have to admit that I've been delinquent in keeping myself abreast of what is going on - and I think I'm changing my mind slightly. Two books that shaped my thinking on genocide were Samantha Powers' A Problem from Hell and Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands with the Devil. Both authors make the case that in Rwanda (and, in Powers' book, other situations) signs of an impending genocide existed. Two such signs were that of eliminationist rhetoric and dehumanization of a group of people. Gaddafi has done both and has a history of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of terrorism. It is astonishing to see a leader express such extreme intentions when the international community is watching. Most leaders of past genocides were not as open about their intentions, or were certain the international community was not watching or did not care. I think that based on his past and recent statements and actions Gaddafi was about to commit crimes that came close to or exceeded the international definition of genocide.

Now genocide is defined as "...any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group..." The convention goes on to describe the acts that constitute genocide. The Libyan opposition is not strictly a "national, ethnical, racial or religious group", that is, unless the vast majority of the country opposes Gaddafi's despotic rule. I don't think that's a bad assumption, though, because we have so little intelligence to look at, it is an assumption nonetheless. In that case Gaddafi's promise to "cleanse Libya" affects a great number of Libyans.

I once, and still am to some extent, a liberal interventionist at heart. The wars of the 21st century and a better than high school level understanding of history have hardened me to the realities of why the United States goes to war. Iraq, and its co-opting of humanitarian rhetoric, made me a deeply cynical person when it comes to US foreign policy. That said, with the intent to save innocent civilians, I think the initial action in Libya was justified and necessary. It feels so frakin' scary to say that and put my approval on a military action after Iraq.

I was not a person who went from supporting to opposing the Iraq War because Bush screwed up the execution. The issue of Bush's incompetence had a minimal effect on my opposition during the run-up to the war in 2002 and 2003. I opposed it from the start, and I think those who changed positions in the manner I have described were simply changing their position after the fact because things didn't turn out well. It's a dodge and, frankly, I don't find it intellectually courageous. I want to be clear that this is not the position I will be taking. On moral and legal grounds I think we were justified in the initial phase of this war. Obama has staked the United States and NATO to a limited role in this conflict. I don't completely believe this, but that's what he said. In his speech he somewhat tips his hand about trying to get rid of Gaddafi. He clearly wants it and it's possible that he will break his promise and commit to that action. I don't support that. Maybe I'm naive to think we can protect the civilians without committing to a greater war. We are, in fact, already at war. If that ends up happening, I will say that I did not support that, but I will also have to face that fact that support for a limited defense of human rights may have made it easier to wage a broader war for regime change.

For now I will hope that we can accomplish the goal of possibly averting a genocide, while not engaging in another war of regime change in the Middle East.

I really can't believe I just wrote that post.
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