About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bombing Libya

by Massimo Pigliucci
As we all know, an international coalition has begun an air campaign against the forces of Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya. The air strikes are aimed at protecting the rebel civilian population that has been waging an uprising against Qaddafi’s dictatorship. This effort is being led by French and British forces (with heavy American support) and are backed by Arab nations, and authorized by the United Nations. Is this the right thing to do for the international community? Hell yes.
Readers of this blog know that I am no warmonger, I do not support nation building, and I’m generally very suspicious of the motives of any government when it comes to “spreading democracy” and the like. And yes, I am perfectly aware that Libya is a major oil producing country.
That said, it seems to be that in this case — at least so far — the coalition that is attacking Qaddafi is getting it exactly right. First, the goal is to protect civilians from an ongoing slaughter. Second, there is an actual uprising going on within the country, and one that has a decent chance of succeeding with international support. Third, diplomatic approaches have been tried and have failed. Fourth, the coalition is truly broad and truly international (unlike, you know, that other coalition...). Fifth, the United Nations has given a clear imprimatur to military action. Sixth, there is no discussion (at least at the moment) of ground troops or nation building.
While there is nothing ideal in the world of politics, and there certainly isn’t anything clean about any war, the above conditions — it seems to me — make this initiative as clear and close to ideal as possible.
Of course, it is still war. Once European, American and other countries’ planes started bombing Qaddafi’s forces, the world is effectively at war against Libya having fired the first rounds.
It is instructive therefore to look at how the international conflict with Libya stands up to an analysis in terms of just war theory (which is not an oxymoron). The theory has its roots in Roman and early Catholic history, going back to the writings of Cicero, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. In modern terms, philosophers who have written about just war include Richard Norman (Ethics, Killing, and War, 1995), Brian Orend (War and International Justice: A Kantian Perspective, 2001), and Michael Walzer (On War and Justice, 2001).
Broadly speaking, there are seven criteria that have to be satisfied for a war to be declared just: just cause, right intention, legitimate authority, comparative justice, last resort, probability of success, and proportionality.
Just cause: interestingly, and perhaps a bit counterintuitively, this does not include punishment of past wrongs, but does include imminent danger to innocent life, which clearly applies in this case.
Right intention: which means that the war has to be waged in order to stop suffering and injustice, not for material gains. Since the international coalition is going to pay for the cost of the war, and does not appear to intend to occupy Libya or exploit its resources, this criterion is also satisfied.
Legitimate authority: both the fact that this is an effort by a truly international coalition, and the fact that it is authorized by the world’s broadest community of countries, means that the authority here is as legitimate as it gets.
Comparative justice: the idea is that in war there are going to be injustices on both sides, but that the conflict is justified in cases in which the injustices on one side far outweigh those on the other side. Clearly Qaddafi’s forces have committed by far the largest share of injustices in this case.
Last resort: the war is just if all other non violent forms of intervention have been exhausted, or in case the catastrophe is imminent and there does not seem to be a way to resolve the problem without aggression. It is notable that the allies have repeatedly maintained that if and when Qaddafi agrees to a cease fire against the rebels, the air attacks will stop and diplomatic negotiations will resume.
Probability of success: the cause is supposed to be not futile which, given the players on the two sides, clearly is the case.
Proportionality: the benefits of waging the conflict have to be proportioned to the anticipated harm done by the conflict itself. In this case the goals are both to save civilian lives and to facilitate as much as possible the internal movement toward reforms in Libya, both of which justify the hopefully limited casualties (including civilian) that will inevitably result from the attack.
So yes, the international war on Qaddafi is ethically justified, at least as far as things stand right now. But, the skeptic will say, by the same token shouldn’t we also intervene in other Arab countries currently in turmoil? What about Iran? Syria? Bahrain? And so on and so forth. (Not forgetting other evil dictatorships around the globe, beginning with North Korea.)
There are at least two answers to these issues, one pragmatic, the other principled. The pragmatic one, of course, is that even a broad international coalition has limited resources, so that it makes sense to pick one’s conflicts based on the criteria above, as well as on the urgency of the unfolding situation. The more principled answer, I think, is that international assistance of this type is warranted only when there is 1) a widespread uprising inside a country, 2) that uprising has a reasonable chance of succeeding and 3) when it is truly aimed against a tyrant (or aristocracy of tyrants). The first criterion, for instance, excludes Iran, at least at the moment, since the Iranians are not quite at the point of the Libyans (or, recently, of the Tunisians). The second criterion excludes, for example, China during the Tienanmen revolt. The third criterion excludes interventions like the American support of the Chilean coup d’etat that resulted in the murder of President Allende in the “other” 9/11 (of 1973).
Let us hope that things will turn out well for the Libyan people, and that their example, together with those of the people of Egypt and Tunisia, will truly awaken a much needed Arab Spring.

106 comments:

  1. Agree with all of the above, except your second point:"Second, there is an actual uprising going on within the country, and one that has a decent chance of succeeding with international support." Most political conflicts start with an uprising, and the fact that such an action would succeed if given international support doesn't seem to make such intervention morally justified (unless of course supported by the other points, but that doesn't make this a very good argument anyhow)
    //CG

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  2. For once, I fully agree with Massimo's assessment.

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  3. i am in the united states air force and i love serving my country for instances like this!!

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  4. Call me a cynic, but I don't believe for a minute that this countries are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts and with the aim of minimizing civilian losses. I hope that time proves me wrong.

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  5. I agree with Claes

    Would you still support a strike if the rebels were Taliban-like fundamentalists who had wide spread support among the people or is it just that your personal preferences and morals that lead you to believe that the (hypothetical) future regime/government will be better?

    Also, we send men to kill men who are risking their lives for a (maybe unjust) cause and are probably just pawns. If this "intevention" is morally justified, shouldnt it be about taking out the big heads like Quadaffi and his ilk who are the ones actually in control of this situation and thus bear the responsibility?

    That said i really dont like this guy and it was a national shame for Italy when Berlusconi gave him such a "royal" welcome.

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  6. "the above conditions — it seems to me — make this initiative as clear and close to ideal as possible"

    Well i guess that partly answers my question but still is it justified when our morality coincides more with the rebels and not justified when it coincides with the regime? It sounds a bit like might makes right

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  7. A misunderstanding in some of the comments (and to a certain extent in Massimo's post) is that you are not evaluating the "goodness" of the intervention in itself, but in comparison to alternatives. At the present moment, in this particular circumstance, one has to decide whether to intervene or not. Is in comparison with not intervening that the intervention is correct, not against an hypothetical different situation.

    This remembers me of an old joke about economists, a bunch that always evaluates everything against the alternative option. Someone asks the economist, as a pleasantry, "How's your wife?", to which the economist responds: "Compared to whom?"

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  8. Kostas,

    > but still is it justified when our morality coincides more with the rebels and not justified when it coincides with the regime? It sounds a bit like might makes right <

    No, that's why it's called "just" war theory, the idea is that one does it for principled reasons, not simply to help substitute one tyrant with another one. The hope in this case is that Libya would begin to open up democratically. Of course things can always go wrong, but one has to make decisions on the basis of one's best assessment of the ongoing situation.

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  9. I dont agree with bombing Libya for a few reasons...1 - Gaddafi is attacking Rebels who chose to pick up arms and fight their Government, that is known as a Rebellion. And the folks who did that are no longer civilians.

    Which leads to...The west's attempts at deception. By calling Rebels "civilians" we are led to believe that Gaddafi is just killing people at random over there. Sorry but no hes not, he is killing Rebels. Huge difference.

    And the Rebels are losing...So we jump in at the last second to save them. Why ? If you believe the official line, its to "protect civilians" [ie-Rebels]. Why are we protecting rebels ? Better Oil deals ? Who knows at this point.

    Also, the Rebels are allowed to Advance. The coalition will destroy Gaddafi forces...But Rebels are allowed to attack cities as they please. Seriously, how fucked up is that.

    Allowing the Rebels a free hand shows that -
    1- The West already has plans for a post Gaddafi Libya.
    2- Post Gaddafi Libya will be run by a elected "Rebel" leader. Who is likely hand picked by the west.
    3- The above is all obvious, since the Road to Tripoli is going to be strafed by our forces to make it happen. Any Libyan Army group will be wiped out. Rebels only need to advance and claim cities.

    Bottom line, is we are in this for Oil. Europe's Oil in this case, but oil nontheless.

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  10. I have a quibble with the sixth point -- "there is no discussion (at least at the moment) of ground troops or nation building"

    I take it you mean regime change, not nation building. While nation building is ineffective if the invading powers try to impose a form of governance that does not co-opt existing local customs, the worst disasters in recent times (Afghanistan post-1989 and Iraq 2003-2007) seem to be due to regime change *without* nation building, not nation building itself -- for all their flaws, Bosnia and Kosovo are reasonably peaceful these days.

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  11. Just war >THEORY<? How the hell is this arbitrary opinion a ''theory''?


    If the Libyan people haven't specifically asked for help, you've got no right to be there, no matter how ''just'' the outside world would consider it to be. It's interesting how national
    sovereignty suddenly flies right out of the window as soon as it comes to bigger countries intervention in smaller countries, and how it's suddenly okay to go after an ''end justifying the means'' morality. If you support this you should at least be consistent and happily support USA getting bombed for whatever outside forces considers a ''just'' cause.

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  12. Gentlemen of the rational blogosphere! (my fellow humanists)—does Massimo actually believe that the coalition is being waged "in order to stop suffering and injustice, not for material gains"? does he, in all seriousness, think that the coalition will "pay for the cost of the war"? does Massimo truly think -- all joking aside -- that the coalition has no intention to "occupy Libya or exploit its resources?" Does Massimo really expect us to believe that the coalition has sought to "protect civilians from an ongoing slaughter" at the expense of safeguarding it's profitable investments and strategic interests? Does he expect us to believe that the coalition's goals, "in this case", are to "save civilian lives and to facilitate as much as possible the internal movement toward reforms in Libya" at the expense of re-establishing U.S. and European domination in the wake of two revolutions? How is it that Massimo plausibly thinks the coalition will confine itself to missile strikes and air patrols? Does he expect us to to take him seriously when he says that the coalition "in this case" is any different than "that other coalition"? Massimo acknowledges that Libya is a "major oil producing country" -- telling is his disregard of what "we all know", namely that U.S. oil companies have spent decades conducting operations in Libya — at the invitation of the Gaddafi regime; evidently Massimo believes that capitalists are willing to forego the pursuit of profits -- achieved in "this case" only after painstaking efforts -- without compulsion, and in the name of "comparative justice" no less. Since when have "diplomatic approaches" been unguided by motives of domination and profit-maximization? No doubt capital's military intervention will precipitate a "diplomatic" breakthrough, following which it will contentiously withdraw, severing in the process it's economic lifeline. No doubt the coalition is an indication that capital is disposed to forego it's de-facto prerogatives for the sake of a "principled" ethics! Indeed, and Massimo 's is not the rhetoric of a war-monger?

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  13. Massimo, the U.S. is trillions of dollars in debt. Given this, how can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Libya?

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  14. As I stated before, I fully agree with Massimo's assessment, i.e. his conclusion that the intervention is justified. I am not so sure I agree with the "just war" reasoning behind those conclusions. As I hinted in my previous comment, I justify this intervention as more correct than not intervening, and not as "just" in itself, something I do not know what to make of. Doing it is "juster" or "less unjust" than not doing it. Is it "just" in itself? That's a different story.

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  15. I'm not convinced that this is entirely for material gain. Let's face it, we are coming up on an election year and conflicts are a proven way to unify the country while rallying support behind the incumbency. The fact that this action can be philosophically justified is icing on the cake.

    The bottom line is, Libya can be liberated from Qaddafi, President Obama can be reelected, we can potentially get more oil, and the citizens of the countries involved can rest easily knowing that this is the right thing to do; everybody wins.

    Although, Michael De Dora makes a very good point. Financially, we cannot afford it.

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  16. I apologize, the preceding comment by Michelle@sweetsomethingdesigns was actually made by me. I did not realize that my wife had logged in to her blogger account using my laptop. Therefore, I inadvertently made the comment under her name.

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  17. Every country uses force to put down rebellions. Obama would be no different and I wonder what Massimo would do if he were president of Italy and whole bunch of rebels started attacking his forces to push regime change. Would he fight back? Should the international community force President Pigluicci out of office?

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  18. Just war may not be an oxymoron. But, this action is not just.
    How is Lybia a threat to the US? I find this action to be unconstitutional and objectionable. Lybia has done nothing, recently, to earn US involvement.

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  19. Savvy ways to save time and designs that are sweet. Just thinking about these things takes my mind off the troubles of the world in places I am not in.

    I found it interesting that the US turned against the weakest dictators in the Mideast. In Mubarak's case, he wasn't even running Egypt, his sons were, and already sufficiently allied with military interests. In Libya's case, G/Qadaffi's mental illness made him a pariah among the Arab elite.

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  20. ''The bottom line is, Libya can be liberated from Qaddafi, President Obama can be reelected, we can potentially get more oil, and the citizens of the countries involved can rest easily knowing that this is the right thing to do; everybody wins.''

    I like how everyone just completely ignores the fundamental question of what right you have to invade a country without the consent of it's people to begin with. I am going to have to call this a supremacist and imperialistic worldview, and before anyone goes ''ad hominem, mister'', I must say that it's way more insulting to be deemed not worthy enough for self-determination just because your country is weaker and don't live up to ideals set outside.

    ''It's a win-win''? According to you, but if it's not considered that for the people who actually lives in your country, it doesn't matter how much of a ''win-win'' you consider it. Now, if there is an overwhelming support from the Libyan people to want the (supposedly selfless) help from the west, then the question of invading or not could at least be a legitimate discussion, but where is that support? Does anyone have *any* evidence for its existence?

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  21. ''As I stated before, I fully agree with Massimo's assessment, i.e. his conclusion that the intervention is justified. I am not so sure I agree with the "just war" reasoning behind those conclusions. As I hinted in my previous comment, I justify this intervention as more correct than not intervening, and not as "just" in itself, something I do not know what to make of. Doing it is "juster" or "less unjust" than not doing it. Is it "just" in itself? That's a different story.''

    Al-Quada considers it ''more correct'' to bomb you than to not, but is it relevant? No, and neither is your opinion of what is ''more just'' if the Libyans are not open for the suggestion.

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  22. Whether or not Allende is a tyrant "depends" upon whom you speak to. Personally, Allende was as tyrannical as Pinochet, regardless of his popular support.

    But yes, as a member of the armed forces (Army) it warms may heart when perhaps it is the case that a particular instance of military intervention is justified. I'm tired of regretting U.S. foreign policy.

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  23. Michael De Dora

    >Massimo, the U.S. is trillions of dollars in debt. Given this, how can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Libya?<

    If we are trillions of dollars in debt (and we are), then hundreds of millions of dollars won't mean much whatsoever. It doesn't cost much to launch fire missions from naval vessels.

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  24. I think whether this is a just war is a close call for us armchair generals. But like other philosophical (and some ethical) arguments, it and $3.50 will buy you a medium mocha. The day that just war theory is employed by the world's hegemon will be a great one, but don't hold your breath.

    Question on one point, I believe the action was approved by the UN Security Council, not the General Assembly, as is implied in this post.

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  25. The hope in this case is that Libya would begin to open up democratically.

    Ah Massimo I seem to recall you recently being very despondent about the current state of a certain American democracy so I can't see how encouraging democracy in Libya would be desirable. Would your hopes for a Libyan democracy be more than for our own because you think the democratic feedstock is better there or would it simply be a step up from tyranny but still likely to be deeply flawed because it involves people and people are generally a disappointing bunch?

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  26. RE UN vote, I was wrong about the forum, but not the sentiment, that the intervention is not a worldwide phenomenon. From Daniel Larison, who is the must read non-interventionist.

    Update: Christopher Caldwell makes a similar observation about the lack of international consensus:

    One must say “western” because the consensus for action against Libya extends only to a North Atlantic order that John Foster Dulles would have recognised. The five countries that abstained from the resolution vote – Brazil, China, Germany, India and Russia – account for almost 3bn of the world’s people and are the core of tomorrow’s global economy.

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  27. Whoops, I was right, only ten nations endorsed the attack.

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  28. Ah, damn blogspot software ate my lengthy post. I hate when that happens.

    So I'll sum it up: you guys are all wrong, and so am I. :-)

    If I get in the mood again I will come back and say why I think so, but maybe I should just have mercy on you. Sigh.

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  29. Additional benefits expected to result from an otherwise "just" war don't negate the arguments that initially satisfy the criteria for taking action. We might at some point need to balance those with the possibilities of adverse consequences, but otherwise a bonus by any other name is most often just a bonus.

    Remember, this is the bastard that ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. We can have secondary motives that don't necessarily undermine the integrity of the primary motives.

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  30. Why am I not surprised at your support? I predicted that there would be a sudden support for war on the left since the right President is doing it.

    "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." ~ Senator Barack Obama

    Here is something with which I agree wholeheartedly. Someone should alert Senator Obama about what President Obama is doing.

    Though I must say that anything that rallies the opposition of Hugo Chavez, Castro, Michael Moore, and other such contemptible supporters of evil does almost tempt me to support it.

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  31. One quick response to Jonaos - recall that back in Feb. Libyan security forces under Qaddafi's control were killing what were, at the time, peaceful protesters. They didn't become rebells until after they had been attacked and their legitimate concerns ignored.

    To Simon - sovereign nations don't have the right to kill their own citizens or to permit their citizens to be killed. Sadly, we don't intervene as often as we should - Rwanda, Burundi, etc.

    I'm not excited about this intervention & I worry about ulterior motives. But it still doesn't strike me as an obvious case of an inappropriate intervention. I'm still cautiously optimistic.

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  32. Jeff McMahan has written well on these matters and I would encourage everyone to read his work. As far as I can tell, much of the commentary above hinges on the trusting information on offer by various "powers" with interests. Parsing motivations becomes a very easy way to create a "just" position. The interventionist position must be immensely more persuasive than a nation acting in self-defense against an aggressor simply because the "actor" is reversed and the one who claims the action is "just" is the aggressor.

    Please review McMahan particularly this piece:
    http://www.fas.rutgers.edu/cms/phil/dmdocuments/Humanitarian%20Intervention,%20Consent,%20&%20Proportionality1.pdf

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  33. Michael,

    > how can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Libya? <

    On two accounts: first, the cost of a limited engagement like this is puny compared to our standing defense budget. Second, hmm, I'd say to simply repeal the Bush tax cuts, which would solve a hell of a lot more problem than just funding the effort in Libya.

    Swed Simon,

    > Just war >THEORY If the Libyan people haven't specifically asked for help <

    But they have, except of course for those loyal to Quaddafi. Do you need an actual majority vote before intervening to stop the slaughter? Oh, right, they are not a democracy, so you ain't gonna get a vote.

    Neal,

    > I wonder what Massimo would do if he were president of Italy and whole bunch of rebels started attacking his forces to push regime change <

    That is remarkably disingenuous, considering that Italy is not a dictatorship, last time I checked.

    mac,

    > How is Lybia a threat to the US? <

    The US has plenty of international obligations, moral and legal, toward other countries. It is the mark of civilization that we don't do things only when our interests are directly threatened.

    Thameron,

    > Massimo I seem to recall you recently being very despondent about the current state of a certain American democracy so I can't see how encouraging democracy in Libya would be desirable. <

    I don't see the contradiction. The response here is the well known quote from Winston Churchill: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

    Troy,

    > Why am I not surprised at your support? I predicted that there would be a sudden support for war on the left since the right President is doing it. <

    Bullshit. I was in favor of air strikes in Afghanistan to retaliate against al-Quaeda. But I opposed a ground war. Same here.

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  34. I don't have the intuition that democracy is inherently more legitimate than dictatorships, which is what I assume your response is presupposing.

    The reason is simply that what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular.

    If I lived under a king/queen who was fair, just, kind, and enacted good policies I would see him/her as more legitimate than a democracy that was ruled election after election by a majority of ignorant voters who's beliefs are unfair and harmful.

    The best you can say about democracy is that it is risk adverse. That is, it's more likely to prevent large losses but in doing so also large gains.

    I don't see any form of government as being necessarily more legitimate than another, it just depends on the circumstances.

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  35. Wow! In this case, you should rename your blog Irrationally Speaking. I don't remember you laying out the whys and wherefores for attacking Libya in such detail in any of your previous posts. Maybe I missed them. Or was this an afterthought? Reads like BS to me, as though you're making it up as you go along, like the Bush administration used to do (and continues to do). How about Cuba next? Or pick the countries of your choice. There are plenty we can bomb without the use of ground troops (making it easier to justify "collateral damage"). Since the US (and Massimo) knows best, could you provide us with a list beforehand this time?

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  36. Pablo, wow, your comment seems to me to rank as one of the most irrational comments ever posted on this blog. And that's no easy feat.

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  37. Will Massimo (or someone else supporting his position) please respond to Jonaos post above. I am not saying I disagree with Massimo's and the West's justification of war here, but I, too, am confused by the lack of details about the humanitarian crisis that is being constantly reiterated without being qualified.


    What is the reasoning for calling this an "humanitarian crisis"? Are civilians threatened or are civilian rebels? I had the feeling that Gaddhafi would be smarter than engaging in the wiping out of mass number of civilians, but that was only what I was gleaning from news reports.

    The rebels went and stowed up in a city for protection, as armies and rebels are known to do. I thought Ghaddafi forces were at least showing a little restraint in not blowing the city to bits, but I could be wrong there.

    Anyways, somebody please give me information or a link about what the danger to civilians was in this case and why the talk of humanitarian crisis is being constantly stated without question.


    Jonathan,

    Thanks for at least addressing the issue, but, again, that is a rather vague assessment that I have not heard any considerable evidence for (though it is probably accurate to some point, but perhaps no more so than is happening in Yemen, or Syria, or Bahrain), and I have been watching the news pretty regularly since the Japan thing.

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  38. I was actually hoping for the most irrational comment ever. Oh well; it's not my day. Massimo, I'm generally a big fan, but in this case, I'm simply responding in kind. One of your weakest arguments ever, and I've read & heard them all. More rationalizing than rational, a confirming strategy, methinks. (Although my comments are those of a high-ranking irrationalist, I should hope that you'd still sign my copy of Nonsense on Stilts one of these days.)

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  39. Pablo, I'll be happy to sign Nonsense on Stilts ;-) but I am genuinely puzzled by your attack. I did lay out an argument, which is based on a solid ethical theory. You are more than welcome to disagree with the argument, but labeling it a Bush-type rationalization isn't an argument, it's an ad hominem.

    Lyndon, there have been several reports in the NYT, BBC and NPR (easy to look up links via Google) about Qaddafi's forces attacking civilian demonstrators (not armed rebels) and threatening retaliation against the civilian population once (if) they retake control of the country. I have no reason to doubt these reports, and apparently neither did the UN.

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  40. Massimo, you aver that "The US has plenty of international obligations, moral and legal, toward other countries. It is the mark of civilization that we don't do things only when our interests are directly threatened." Are you denying that the U.S.'s economic and strategic interests are not directly threatened? Do you mean to suggest that the protection of investments is a strictly ancillary consideration? Do you truly think that the objective in this case is to defend the rebellion against Qaddafi's regime? and what evidence do you have for this claim in hindsight of Afghanistan, Iraq, and other, similarly "principled" ventures?

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  41. Thanks for the response Massimo, I am looking and will continue to look, perhaps I do not know how to "google" well.

    I was probably using the wrong words. I accept that there is an "humanitarian crisis" of people trying to cross the border and perhaps of other hardships in the country. And this probably has to do with Khaddafi and fear of what he may do.

    There is also language by some, including Ban today, that the strikes are to prevent Khaddafi from committing attrocities, but that seems like a dangerous stance to start taking. We are going to destroy you and your government before you start slaughtering civilians.

    I am looking for something to back up this statement, your first premise:

    "First, the goal is to protect civilians from an ongoing slaughter."

    Which I assume means that he is slaughtering people now, also being stated by many people as justification. I have not found a good article to back that up, any direct links would be nice.


    I have just found some stuff talking of the killing of civilians in Bhengazi, but from what I see, it would pale on the scale, for instance, of Israeli bombing of Hamas among Palestinian civilians. In other words, nothing of grotesque violence (at least on our own acceptability scale) of an army trying to fight another army in a city. Certainly, we, the U.S., have probably done as much damage in towns across Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I'll keep looking though.

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  42. Lyndon,

    here is one such article: http://goo.gl/M9DVs

    The charges were made by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which is obviously not a US government branch.

    aharrell,

    I really don't understand that argument. The US has gotten oil from Qaddafi for decades, which means that protecting his regime would actually make more sense than to open Libya to an uncertain political future, one consequence of which might be oil related trouble for the US.

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  43. Massimo — right, as if it were even a possibility that the U.S. would now act against it's own interests by supporting Gaddafi. Are you suggesting that supporting Gaddafi was actually an option in the face of the U.S. losing two of its key allies in the region? in the face of a mounting region-wide revolt and and with armed opposition now in control of the bulk of the country's stockpile of oil reserves? You say that "clearly Qaddafi's forces have committed by far the largest share of injustices in this case", that "the hope in this case is that Libya would begin to open up democratically" — why is Washington not applying the same "forms of intervention" in Afghanistan and Pakistan? (where, ironically "the people" would have more trouble meeting your criteria because the regimes we back employ brutal violence against any opposition)

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  44. About the Libyan people "specifically asking for help" you say "but they have, except of course for those loyal to Quaddafi" yet there is not the slightest indication that the coalition was supported by the Libyan population -- on the contrary, "the entire Libyan population is insisting against U.S. intervention or any involvement of foreign powers within Libya" where is the evidence Massimo? If this is not the hubris of a "war-monger", I am not sure what is.

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  45. Massimo, an ad hominem attack? Sure. However, once in awhile, especially as it relates to such an emotional issue (as well as being war weary), it's not a bad idea to merely shoot from the hip, Twain-like, just to stir things up. We gotta lighten up on occasion. As for your seven criteria, there are limitless variables and "ifs" within those categories, especially: last resort (that's wide open to debate), just cause (a "just cause" can mean different things to different people, even to decent people), probability of success (look at our recent track record), legitimate authority (Is everyone "on our side" motivated by humanitarian purposes?) and so on. In some ways, I do believe you're simplifying an extremely complex, unpredictable, potentially dangerous situation. Nevertheless, as a fan I look forward to your always-thoughtful opinions, as well as having your signature added to my Nonsense on Stilts (one of my favorite reads from last year) some day.

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  46. Massimo, your response to "how can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Libya?" makes me giggle. It would suffice if you simply declared you do not give a damn that labour will be stuck with the bill (in the face of increased taxation, contractual "concessions", slashed wages, pensions, and health coverage no less!) but in asserting that the coalition will "pay for the cost of the war" you succeed only in compounding hubris with mendacity (or sheer naivete, I am not sure which). Why in the name of common sense would you think that the "cost of a limited engagement" would repeal the "Bush tax cuts"? On the contrary, as the battle for control of Libya escalates (and it will), taxes (already going to "defense" spending) will only be raised, leading to the further immiseration of labour (there is delicious irony in the fact that the amount we've already spent blowing up Libya could have been used to defray the tuition hikes facing CUNY students as a result of the "budget deficit" caused by Wall Street). You say "Bush tax-cuts" so as to ignore the extension of "Bush's" cuts by the Obama administration -- a typically liberal preoccupation: blame the Republicans, excuse the Democrats role as apologists for corporatism. Essentially Massimo, you are saying that, even though our domestic agenda is half the size of our "standing defense budget", the $ is better spent on an murderous incursion — is this your position?

    —Attlee

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  47. Walzer in TNR against:

    http://www.tnr.com/article/world/85509/the-case-against-our-attack-libya

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  48. Pablo,

    > it's not a bad idea to merely shoot from the hip, Twain-like, just to stir things up <

    Well, I prefer to stir things up in other ways. But I'm definitely looking forward to sign your copy of NoS!

    aharrell,

    > as if it were even a possibility that the U.S. would now act against it's own interests by supporting Gaddafi <

    It certainly is a possibility, but you were arguing the other way around! Can't have it both ways man.

    > why is Washington not applying the same "forms of intervention" in Afghanistan and Pakistan? <

    How exactly is this an argument against intervention in Libya? Besides, as you well know, the US has intervened in Afghanistan (too much, I'd argue), and it's non intervention in Pakistan is the result of a completely different political situation there (no nationwide uprising, for one thing).

    > there is not the slightest indication that the coalition was supported by the Libyan population <

    I beg to differ, at least according to reports in the NYT, NPR and BBC. Which sources are you looking at?

    > your response to "how can we justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Libya?" makes me giggle <

    Glad to help, but you completely misread what I wrote. I did NOT say that the Bush tax cuts will be repealed because of the air incursions, I was simply saying that if we really wanted to pay for things we need to pay for we could find the money easily (as in repealing the Bush cuts).

    > You say "Bush tax-cuts" so as to ignore the extension of "Bush's" cuts by the Obama administration -- a typically liberal preoccupation: blame the Republicans, excuse the Democrats role as apologists for corporatism <

    Bullshit my friend. The term "Bush tac cuts" is what everybody uses, the Dems as a criticism, the Republicans because they are proud of it. I wished the Dems had not extended the damn thing, but I don't often get my wishes in politics.

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  49. Massimo,

    I'm curious. Can you point to a single incidence of sustained areal bombardment that *didn't* result in a sizeable increase in civilian deaths, and moreover, in which these increased casualties weren't anticipated by the strategists?

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  50. Blinn,

    that seems to me a rather disingenuous way of putting the bar so high that nobody can meet it. Ask yourself whether you'd prefer *some* casualties as the result of targeted strikes at air defenses, or *a lot* of civilians slaughtered by Qaddafi in his continuous mad pursuit of power at all costs. Seems to me like an obvious choice...

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  51. Massimo, did you know you're making a very similar argument to what Hitchens has made in supporting the Iraq War? And that's not a jab--I agree with your argument.

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  52. peel, I don't actually think the two arguments are close at all. I absolutely do not support a ground intervention and occupation in Libya, only a limited air based intervention with specific military targets. The rest is up to the Libyan people.

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  53. Massimo, I'm curious, how would you summarize Hitchens' argument?

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  54. It has been some time since I read Hitchens on this. My point is that there very rarely is any argument at all for ground invasion and nation building, and certainly not in Iraq. Did you have a specific point in mind?

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  55. Massimo, Hitchens' argument is very similar to yours except in its premises and conclusions (of course). Concluding that a ground invasion and nation building is beneficial doesn't require different logic from what you're using in your own argument.

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  56. peel, not trying to be fiticious here, but in what sense are two arguments similar if both the premises and the conclusions are different?

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  57. Massimo,

    You made a (I'd say, charitably, superficial) case for bombing. Let's look briefly at each element:

    Just Cause: On this score, you count Qadaffi and his supporters an "imminent danger to innocent life." Agreed. Of course, so are the rebel forces. And so are the military interventionists. The pertinent question then becomes that of proportionality;

    Right Intention: Your analysis here is superficial in the extreme. The dollar cost of making war on Iraq has fallen pretty squarely on the American population; but that's often a big motivation for war--it is a very easy means of conjuring socialized support of arms-makers and a variety of other elite arms-service industries; but of course the primary goal, as always, is the maintenance of oil supply lines, most notably for European nations (that small patch of the world that you deem "the world's broadest community of countries." The coalition doesn't "intend to exploit its resources" only in the very narrow sense that it intends to keep its current levels of exploitation as steady as possible. (There's a reason we tend to like compliant tyrants in the middle east.)


    Legitimate authority: One would think that this analysis would need some support from innocents being protected, but apparently not. In this case, as in many others, the UN Security council acted as a mouthpiece for a narrow consortium of western industrialized nations, again ignoring the fact that the leaders from the majority of the world's population abstained. And, unsurprisingly, the vast majority of people in the region--all of the middle-eastern countries, strongly oppose US presence in the coalition, for what should by now be obvious reasons. Earlier in the month, a clear majority (63%, Pew, March 14) of the US population also opposed intervention.

    Comparative justice: Again, it depends on how you count. Qadaffi didn't arm himself, or single-handedly create his larger military infrastructure. Nor do we yet know what will result from the attacks. Most experts on the region are already deeming the situation a civil war; toppling one nasty regime does not necessarily improve the conditions for innocents on the ground--I would have thought that, well, geez, roughly every American intervention since the Second World War would have proved that point.
    I'll skip the antepenult and the penult;

    Proportionality: Again, the problem is that there are not two clear "sides" here; the situation is, in essence, a regional war; the effect of the bombing campaign is simply to destabilize the (previously US-backed and armed) Tripoli pole. Nobody has any clear perspective on what the aftermath of that will be. But the point of my comment in the prior post wasn't that bombing raises the bare number of casualties--though of course it does; the point is rather that I know of no case of bombing intervention that didn't result in a post-bombardment escalation in violence by the attacked power, in every case I know of resulting in much higher post-bombardment casualties for the innocents upon whose protection the bombardments were justified.

    Moreover, so far as Libya fits these criteria--at least as you've spelled them out, (apart, of course, from the strained notion of "authority")--so do a number of so-called "moderate" nations, most notably right now (but far from alone) Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen. A cynic might suspect that their relative neglect in our major media might have something to do with their steady oil supplies.

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  58. Massimo, the logic that connects the premises with a conclusion is similar. Specifically, inputting premises into the just war theory to support a conclusion.

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  59. Blinn, thanks for your comments. There clearly is room for disagreent here, though frankly, if you expected a much more in depth analysis on my part in a blog post I think you were expecting too much.

    Still, two points. First, the fact that one can argue that we should intervene elsewhere is simply not an argument against intervention in Libya, at the very least because of practical limitations and geopolitical considerations.

    Second, I really don't see why oil is a reason to intervene in Libya and, say, not in Saudi Arabia. Qaddafi has been selling us oil for decades, why risk it?

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  60. On blog posts, fair enough. The further two remarks merit brief comment.

    First, my remarks were silent on the separate question of whether meeting the proposed criteria is sufficient for intervention. As it happens, the criteria are so often trotted out and distorted to advance interventionist causes that I doubt they have any particular substance apart from their function as propaganda. That was my broader point. When you see criteria being invoked that do not distinguish between relevantly similar cases in any meaningful way, odds are that the criteria have precious little to do with the actual intentions of the parties invoking them.

    Second, the problem with Qaddafi is that he has effectively lost control of a large region of his country. The driving question, when it comes to oil, is always the smooth operation and protection of production and exports. The Saudi royal family, depite suffering fairly broadspread domestic dissent, still controls the oil. Qaddafi's internal regime has largely been overthrown outside his Tripoli stronghold; relations with Q have always been complicated, but now that he is crippled, he can no longer serve his appointed function. The US has a similarly long and troubled history with a number of its client regimes.

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  61. Massimo + Peel,

    The Massimo case for Lybia and the Hitchens case for Iraq are similar in that they both make a moral case for intervention premised on the abhorrent/criminal actions of a dictator, and the desire of the people for change.

    However, they differ somewhat with regard to the circumstances. Saddam HAD been a serious threat against his own people, but was much less so at the time of the intervention. Qaddafi is a current threat and in the process of carrying out further atrocities. I think urgency is the critical difference between the two situations.

    Also, I suspect that Massimo would argue that Iraq was not very pragmatic, while Hitchens would certainly argue that it was and is pragmatic - relative to the alternatives.

    And of course, most of Massimo and Hitchens' just war argument employs pretty standard just war theory, so there's really no reason for comparison there.

    ...that's the most I can make out of a comparison.

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  62. James, that is correct, but another major difference is that I would not condone a ground intervention, occupation and nation building effort. Not a small detail.

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  63. Your support of attacking Afghanistan proves nothing. Someone said that if Ralph Nader had been elected President, he would have attacked Afghanistan. Such reflects the fact that we were attacked, and we responded. This falls within the realm of legitimate military action on our part. Libya does not. If Bush had done what Obama is doing, you would be outraged. More often than not I merely find partisanship here, not philosophical consistency.

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  64. Troy, sorry you are disappointed by the level of philosophical discourse at Rationally Speaking, but I find it simply amusing that you seem to know with certainty what I would have written under counterfactual circumstances. How do you do that?

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  65. @Troy
    I understand your frustration. I can see how the progressive view of president bush vs. President Obama with regard to foreign policy could seem like a double standard. What you have to realize is that the underlying motives are different. You see, when bush launches a unilateral crusade against a Muslim country it is seen as an outrage. When President Obama launches a TRI-lateral effort to bring justice to an oppressed people, it is begrudgingly accepted.

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  66. It is a bit funny that the link to "Just War Theory" does not exist. ;)

    That being said, good essay. As well thought out as I could expect. News of military actions is always fraught with heavy emotions and malformed opinions. This one was logical and well though out. I found it helpful in my analysis of the situation.

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  67. peel, the logic may be structurally similar, but if the premises are different (and they are), the similarity ends there.

    Vic, sorry about that, I fixed the link!

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  68. "It certainly is a possibility, but you were arguing the other way around! Can't have it both ways man."

    No, I merely stated that Gaddafi was a convenient ally until he stopped doing what we wanted him to. You have yet to explain: why would the U.S. back Gaddafi in the wake of an uprising that threatens his rule, and with anti-Gaddafi forces already in control of the brunt of the country's oil installations?The quote is from a journalist in Benghazi; it appears on various left-wing websites --for one who claims to be "suspicious of the motives of any government when it comes to 'spreading democracy'" it's unclear to me why you would grant the BBC, NYT, NPR any credence, or alternatively, why you would confine your "sources" to a collaborationist main-stream media. Massimo, your position is a morass of conflicting and inconsistent opinions. You oppose the tax-cuts enacted under Bush, yet you support air incursions which are now costing U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, you were "in favor of air strikes in Afghanistan to retaliate against al-Quaeda" and "opposed a ground war" yet we now know that these were not acts of "retaliation" but measures aimed at establishing a protectorate, which is true of Pakistan as it is true of Iraq, so again, what evidence do you have that this is not the case with Libya?

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  69. aharrell,

    > I merely stated that Gaddafi was a convenient ally until he stopped doing what we wanted him to <

    As far as I know Qaddafi didn't stop doing anything that might have threatened US or European interests. Can you be more specific?

    > with anti-Gaddafi forces already in control of the brunt of the country's oil installations? <

    The intervention started when Qaddafi was about to retake the last rebel stronghold, so once again it would have been easier for the US to stay put.

    > why you would grant the BBC, NYT, NPR any credence, or alternatively, why you would confine your "sources" to a collaborationist main-stream media <

    "Collaborationist" sources? Oh give me a break. We are not talking Fox News here.

    > You oppose the tax-cuts enacted under Bush, yet you support air incursions which are now costing U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars <

    Yeah, the difference is trillions vs. hundreds of millions, it's easy math to do.

    > you were "in favor of air strikes in Afghanistan to retaliate against al-Quaeda" and "opposed a ground war" yet we now know that these were not acts of "retaliation" but measures aimed at establishing a protectorate <

    And where exactly is the contradiction? I was in favor of X, they did Y, so I'm perfectly consistent in opposing Y. That's the way logic works.

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  70. Massimo,

    I am just wondering if you just jumped on the pro military intervention bandwagon without fully thinking things through. Its almost like you were looking for an opportunity to say "look, I am not always against foriegn intervention" and jumped on it.

    I found this more persuasive. But then again, it may be my own selection bias.

    http://dissentmagazine.org/online.php?id=462

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  71. Furthermore, you say that "a civilized nation has obligations that go beyond its own boundaries" -- why is the coalition protecting the "rebel civilian population", if not to further U.S. strategic and economic aims?, indeed, if not to afford the U.S. an opportunity to quash the revolutionary wave emanating from Tunisia-Egypt? You say that "the goal is to protect civilians from an ongoing slaughter" yet try telling that to the families of civilians, blown up not at the hands of Libyan government forces, but as a direct result of U.S. air strikes. As reported in such diverse sources as the NYT, BBC, and NPR the coalition appears to be slaughtering the very people you claim they made it a "goal" to protect — is this surprising? (apparently the military doesn't keep a tally of civilian casualties caused by drones). You claim this is not the prelude to a ground-war—is there no lesson to be gleaned from the "humanitarian" (or "retaliatory") interventions of Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.? It is most amusing that in the case of one who pretends to be "suspicious of the motives of any government when it comes to 'spreading democracy' and the like'", "justification" proceeds by way of invoking capital's own rhetoric -- you say that their (most recent) intervention enjoys a "truly broad and truly international" coalition. Well! following this logic, capital's intervention in Afghanistan must certainly be "justified" since -- in Obama's own words -- they are "joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognize the legitimacy of our action." Hey Massimo, how is Afghanistan's "broad coalition" government going? I guess there is less hope for Libya since this is a "truly broad and truly international" coalition of four (as opposed to 43). Yes, the situation looks quite different indeed since, this time round, the 'broad coalition' is comprised only of "oil companies, defense manufacturers and well-connected lobbying firms" (it helps when you've got Tonga on your side).

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  72. "As far as I know Qaddafi didn't stop doing anything that might have threatened US or European interests. Can you be more specific?"

    Massimo, it's clear from this comment that you're running out of arguments. Recourse to left-wing sources is unnecessary -- just type in "Gaddafi threatened US and European interests": in Obama's words "Left unaddressed, the growing instability in Libya could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States" Gaddafi stated "We do not trust their firms, they have conspired against us. Our oil contracts are going to Russian, Chinese and Indian firms." See "Qaddafi Advance Poses Eni Expulsion Risk from Libyan Oil" (Bloomsberg, BusinessWeek). Considering the sheer ignorance suggested by your question, the following is worth quoting in extenso:

    "Qaddafi may expel western energy companies from Libya should he snuff out the month-old armed rebellion against his regime, draining money from the economy and hurting exporters such as Eni SpA and Repsol YPF SA . . . Qaddafi took control of Ras Lanuf and Brega oil facilities and moved near Benghazi, the center of the rebellion, as the United Nations Security Council voted to establish a no- fly zone over Libya . . . 'If Qaddafi wins, Libya will look to the east for support,' said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar, in a telephone interview. 'Western companies won’t get back in any time soon and won’t be able to invest. The Libyan economy will be devastated for years . . . Even without outright expropriation, a Qaddafi victory may lead to Western sanctions that would roll back almost 10 years of European and U.S. investment in Libya. The 2004 reprieve from two decades of trade restrictions allowed companies such as BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc to invest in Libyan fields, boosting output to about 1.6 million barrels a day, most of which was sold to Europe . . . Libya’s oil output slumped to a “trickle” by last week, according to the International Energy Agency. The conflict, which has left hundreds dead, has helped push up Brent crude prices by about 20 percent this year. Libya’s crude exports may be halted for “many months” because of damage to oil facilities and international sanctions, the IEA said this week . . . Qaddafi threatened to replace western oil firms with companies from India and China in a March 2 speech and more than 10 days later discussed possible investments with the ambassadors of the two countries and Russia, state-run television reported."

    In short, Gaddafi threatened capital's monopoly on oil exploitation, thus he is getting the liberation treatment.

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  73. Massimo misses the most basic point of foreign policy realism vs. Wilsonian idealism —

    Why are we intervening in Libya and not elsewhere?

    Is it like Iraq, with the root being that three-letter word, O-I-L?

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  74. Justin,

    There may be some truth to that, but it's likely more like rationalization. What was the left's attitude toward Bush I's multilateral attack on Iraq in Gulf War I? I remember heaing a lot of "no blood for oil" talk, though in that case that was one sovereign country attacking another, in direct violation of the U.N. charter.

    Massimo,

    I do it by through the use of observation. I read little if anything from you that is not partisan. What is villany by one side, is just by the other. Your economists tends toward creationist and intelligent deisgn theory rather than to sicentific, rational economics. I do not see philosophical consistency, but mere partisanship. I wish I could believe that I'm not wasting my time writing this, but I do not believe that anything I say challenging your approach and world view is going to cause even a moment's reflection on your part. And that is quite unphilosophical.

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  75. Sheldon,

    > Its almost like you were looking for an opportunity to say "look, I am not always against foriegn intervention" and jumped on it. <

    And why on earth would I do that? Besides the fact that of course you are committing a logical fallacy by questioning my motives rather than my arguments.

    Gafly,

    > Is it like Iraq, with the root being that three-letter word, O-I-L? <

    Yes, this is the standard argument from the left, but it simply doesn't hold water, or oil. If the US were only interested in Libyan oil the rational thing to do would have been nothing: Qaddafi would have crushed the rebels and continued to sell us oil in exchange for protection and weapons. Does anyone have *any* evidence at all, other than paranoia, that this is about oil?

    Troy,

    > I do not believe that anything I say challenging your approach and world view is going to cause even a moment's reflection on your part. And that is quite unphilosophical. <

    Well, that's your opinion, and I'm sorry to hear that. I spend much too much time on this blog for not approaching my readers' comments seriously.

    aharrell,

    First of all, where does your extended quote come from? And ore importantly, what the hell is the logic behind the bizarre assertion that "Qaddafi may expel western energy companies from Libya should he snuff out the month-old armed rebellion against his regime, draining money from the economy and hurting exporters." And if China and Russia are the big beneficiaries in all this, why did they not vote against the UN resolution (they abstained, likely so that they can play both sides, regardless of who wins)?

    > if not to afford the U.S. an opportunity to quash the revolutionary wave emanating from Tunisia-Egypt? <

    That is pure and simple paranoia of which you have absolutely no evidence. Would you like to bet real money on it?

    > As reported in such diverse sources as the NYT, BBC, and NPR the coalition appears to be slaughtering the very people you claim they made it a "goal" to protect <

    You must be listening to NPR from a parallel universe.

    > how is Afghanistan's "broad coalition" government going? <

    Another example of a non sequitur. I said several times that I don't support ground invasions and nation buildings, so your question is entirely irrelevant.

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  76. Massimo:

    I think your seven criteria are reasonable, which (at least coming from me) also means that they strike the right emotional chords for moral decision-making. Of course, that still leaves a lot of room for debate about the relevant facts, or how well they meet those criteria in this case, which (unfortunately) happens to be extremely time-sensitive.

    It's clear from Sheldon's reference that Michael Walzer, whom you cited above as one of the sources for those criteia, arrived at a different conclusion than you did. That makes me wonder why; e.g. is it because Walzer's criteria differ somewhat from yours? or is it because you and he disagree on the facts? or a combination of both?

    In any case, it seems to me that the US imperialism narrative is so deeply ingrained in leftist circles that, on the "right intention" criterion alone, you're bound to run into an impenetrable wall of skepticism (analogous to the Big Government narrative in libertarian circles, as it relates to the global warming issue).

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  77. Massimo ... it's at least a question to be raised more, the oil question. And, it is not just about control of oil, it's about turbulence in oil futures. TO me, it seems pretty clear that the U.S.'s preferred solution is the air strikes get Gadhafi to accept a decision to peacefully step down.

    Beyond that, especially if it is NOT the oil, you didn't even answer my other question — why are you being a Wilsonian and trying to justify intervention in Libya and not Bahrain or Yemen? Or Chad, Uganda or any of a couple dozen other countries?

    All the arguments you've made for intervening in Libya apply elsewhere.

    This post may work as an exercise in Logic 101, but as reasonable realpolitik, it's a #fail.

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  78. To follow up to my first post:
    1. If a $10/bbl price twitch in oil is a "compelling national reason," then we should be doing more than just air strikes. That said, I don't think it is, and therefore, we4 have no more business in Libya than in Yemen, Bahrain or elsewhere.
    2. If that price twitch is a compelling national reason, there's other ways of addressing it besides air strikes in Libya.
    3. As Afghanistan and Iraq have shown, air strikes can win a battle but not a war.

    So, what then, Massimo, if you favor intervention?

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  79. jcm, I'm afraid your analysis is right on target. And you know my low opinion of libertarians, precisely for those reasons...

    Gadfly,

    > especially if it is NOT the oil, you didn't even answer my other question — why are you being a Wilsonian and trying to justify intervention in Libya and not Bahrain or Yemen? Or Chad, Uganda or any of a couple dozen other countries? <

    Because the local situations and agreement among the international community is not good enough; because one has to pick one's battles; because there are additional considerations that are not primarily humanitarian (I have certainly never painted a picture of the US as a knight in shining armor).

    > This post may work as an exercise in Logic 101, but as reasonable realpolitik, it's a #fail. <

    Well, I'm a philosopher, not a politician. Besides, I take a bit of personal pride at "failing" realpolitik.

    > If that price twitch is a compelling national reason, there's other ways of addressing it besides air strikes in Libya. <

    Right, but isn't this undermining your own skepticism about the current intervention?

    > what then, Massimo, if you favor intervention? <

    I think I made that clear a dozen times on this thread. I favor a limited and targeted air intervention. Period. That is NOT an endorsement of anything else the allies may be doing now or will be doing in the future.

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  80. Sorry, Massimo, but, this is a matter, ultimately, of politics, since you're using philosophy to try to justify a political action.

    As for battle picking, there's, again, plenty of places, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the human rights issues, and the downright killing, have been worse.

    Or, look at our "allies" in the War on Terror, like the leaders of all the "-stans" of Central Asia.

    As for further action in Libya, since we don't have a real "exit strategy" now, it's a legitimate counterpoint to bring up the issue of possible future intervention.

    And, if it's not oil, or oil prices, what, pray tell, ARE the "non-humanitarian" reasons for intervention? I really don't see any.

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  81. Gadfly,

    one more time: I am not attempting a philosophical justification of any and all actions, past, present and future, of the US in the geopolitical theater. Please.

    Yes, the situation in sub-Sahara Africa is much worse, but frankly I haven't seen any other country being too worried about that. Yes, probably because there are no economic interests at stake. This is shameful, but my analysis is strictly applicable to the current situation in Libya. If you apply just war theory to, say, Sudan, you may as well conclude that an intervention is justified there too. (Though remember that by "intervention" I mean a no fly zone, which I doubt would actually change the situation in Sudan. Nothing probably would short of a ground invasion.)

    > since we don't have a real "exit strategy" now <

    I keep hearing this, and I don't get it. The mandate is to enforce a no fly zone to protect civilians, period. The term "exit strategy" doesn't even apply, since we haven't "entered" anything, certainly not in the same sense in which we have entered into Afghanistan and Iraq. (Again, see my opposition to any kind of ground operations.)

    > if it's not oil, or oil prices, what, pray tell, ARE the "non-humanitarian" reasons for intervention? <

    For instance the willingness of other international partners to intervene, which itself is probably a result of economic, political, AND humanitarian considerations. Once again, I support a UN-backed action, not a rogue US-led assault.

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  82. Well, even with a UN intervention, I'm not sure I see a compelling reason.

    Re "exit strategies," remember the first Gulf War? No-fly zones a decade later; cheating on UN sanctions; no international consensus on what to do about the cheating.

    That said, per the bottom line, I don't apply "just war" theory.

    Several other counterpoints:
    1. Per the Chinese proverb of "could be good, could be bad," neither you nor I know if intervention in Libya is good or bad right now. I'm not saying you're "wrong"; I am saying, to riff on Arlen Specter and Scottish jurisprudence, that you're at "not proven."
    2. Per multivalent logic, it may be neither good nor bad. Much of the world refuses to fall into neat categories,anyway.
    3. Per Hume, things like this probably are good examples of reason (especially that of Continental-style rationalism) needing to be slave to the passions. I can prove the logic, moral or otherwise, of all sorts of things, based on what warrants I exclude as well as include,and how I frame the structural parameters of the argument.

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  83. Prof. Pigliucci,

    This dialog has been interesting and informative and I acknowledge the reasons for intervention. I’m glad we are protecting civilians and I hope this turns out well for the Libyan people. But, doesn't it seem a bit to easy to intervene? I realize that there is plenty of precedence for direct executive control of our military in situations such as this and therefore we can assume that you are correct in your assertion that this intervention is justified, but what is to stop an unjustified intervention? Sure this is a U.N. operation, but as President Bush proved, this power can be invoked without any international consent. Doesn’t it seem that President Obama would serve us better by ending this dangerous precedent instead of wielding it?

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  84. Oh, and my final thought on the issue: I reject the idea of "just wars" in general because I reject the idea of "justice" as an abstract, one-size-fits-all concept for the same reasons, largely, as Walter Kaufmann did.

    Some actions may appear to be more just than others, by our best lights at the time of decision making, but that's about all we can say.

    So, to your "hell yes" I respond, "heck maybe."

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  85. "Would you like to bet real money on it?"

    Sure, how about, say, $25,000? (just enough to defray my tuition fees). Or, alternatively, if it turns out i'm right, you could buy me this chocolate sundae:

    http://www.luxist.com/2007/11/08/serendipity-3-creates-the-worlds-most-expensive-dessert/

    Massimo, was it not capital who armed Gaddafi to the hilt with the weaponry he is now using to murder Libya's population? Do I really have to rehearse the history of U.S. humanitarian intervention (Somalia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, East Timor, Kosovo, etc.)? don't escapades like these (and their various, well-prepared pretexts) offer a clue as to the kind of regime that would be ushered in, should Gaddafi be defeated? Yet even after these and other incursions, you would actually have us believe that capital's motivation is devoid of self-interest, and that the entire game-play in Libya isn't a mere exercise in profit and plunder, but rather, indeed, an exercise in disinterested "reform". You say that mine is "pure and simple paranoia" of which I "have absolutely no evidence" -- "give me a break" Massimo, the "evidence" in question is determined by brute economic facts: again, why Libya? if the underlying principle is, as you aver, to "protect" the Libyan opposition, why doesn't the U.S. apply the same standard in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, and most of all, Saudi Arabia -- all of which are seeing "rumbles of protest" by disaffected people? The fact that capital does not apply the same standard clearly bespeaks the overriding economic and geo-strategic interests at stake here. For one, it's in capital's interest to be perceived as on the side of Libya, second, for capital there is more than oil at stake, since we now value Egypt and Tunisia as potential "democratic" models, while Saudia Arabia is a crucial energy supplier and "bulwark against Iran", so "Washington is unlikely to do anything that might fuel instability or undermine the ruling Saud family" (Reuters). After losing Egypt and Tunisia, capital cannot afford to lose Libya -- and in turning Libya into a neo-colony, there is so much that is profitable!

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  86. In all seriousness, you might want to brush up on the facts: "Since it entered the pro-U.S. fold, Libya has become a model of pro-corporate 'neoliberal' policies, with rapid privatization of formerly state-run industries and various trade liberalization measures. In Washington, a wide range of conservative figures--including those now calling for war--went to bat for the regime as lobbyists. All this explains why the U.S. was perfectly happy to do business with Qaddafi, despite the embarrassment of its ties to a government it once denounced--and in spite of the Qaddafi regime's record of violent repression and human rights abuses. And it also explains why Washington is searching for some section of the anti-Qaddafi opposition to back now--in the hopes of preserving the Qaddafi regime without Qaddafi . . . A pro-U.S. regime in Libya--or a pro-U.S. regime in the eastern half of a partitioned country--would slow the tide of democratic revolts taking place across the region, especially if it seems that the likely outcome of a rebellion is the recreation of pro-U.S. puppet regimes." Alternatively, we could consider what the U.S. Ambassador to Libya has to say: "We have core equities at stake in Libya, in the areas of nonproliferation, counter-terrorism, military, economic, political, and public diplomacy cooperation, and we consider Libya a strategic ally in the region." Or, one could consult NPR: "a brief review of Libya's history demonstrates that Britain, France, Italy, Russia, the United Nations, and the United States have long had a great deal at stake in Libya, even before oil was discovered in 1959. Today, it is a paramount American interest that Libya not return to being a rogue state or descend into civil war. If Libyan leader Muammar al-Gadhafi reasserts control over the east or even if he fails and the country is cleaved in two, U.S. interests in the region would suffer a major setback. What makes Libya so important? Any real estate agent could tell you: location, location, location. Control of the country has always been a remarkably effective way to project power into Egypt, the Mediterranean, and beyond. Similarly, denying a hostile power (be it the Soviet Union, Muammar al-Gadhafi, or terrorists) the ability to destabilize surrounding countries from Libyan territory has been a consistent thread in U.S. policy since the end of World War II." You accuse me of paranoia, I guess this NPR journalist must be suffering from delusional disorder-- I am afraid, Massimo that your Newspeak litany of "stability, etc." is just an innocuous-sounding laminate for the overriding imperative to strategic reorientation, to profits, and to securing access to resources (such as, above all, oil).

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  87. OK, I lied. As I blog about this issue myself, I have one more thought.

    Iranian philosopher Idries Shah uttered the aphorism, "There are never just two sides to an issue." While that itself is a bit too black-and-white for me, it nonetheless has a large kernel of truth.

    Take the air strikes against Libya.

    There is:
    1. The tribal rebels' side (or sides, depending on how much or how little coherence they have;
    2. The U.S. side;
    3. The Franco-British side;
    4. The Turkish side;
    5. The Arab League side;
    6. Gadhafi's side;
    7. The Russian side;
    8. And, though we've not heard from Beijing yet, surely, the Chinese side.

    Even if we narrow the issue of "justice" here, rather than play realpolitik, at least the first three, if not the first five, are all legitimate "sides." And, all with different definitions, at least in narrow particulars if not major strands, as to what might be "just."

    And, also, since "just war" ultimately has religious roots, shouldn't we be careful about it for that reason, too? Monotheistic religions deal in black and white; I prefer my philosophy with more nuance.

    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-do-secularists-make-just-war.html

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  88. Massimo,

    If I am wrong, I apologize. I base my statement, though, on what appears to me to be your tendency to engage in discussion with those who only moderately disagree with you on a few details, but who fundamentally agree with you, but dismiss those whose world views are quite different from your own. I may be wrong, but that is the impression I have gotten from daily reading your blog and the comments. As I stated before, I particularly object to what I perceive as your blind partisanship, something which I discussed over on my lwn blog:

    http://zatavu.blogspot.com/2011/03/passing-off-partisanship-as-reason.html

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  89. Gadfly,

    > I reject the idea of "just wars" in general because I reject the idea of "justice" as an abstract, one-size-fits-all concept for the same reasons <

    That, I'm afraid, is simply bad reasoning. Just war theory is a sophisticated, if far from perfect, philosophical analysis of justice and war. And if you disagree with its implied concept of justice it would seem more logical to provide alternatives than to reject it entirely. Unless you prefer moral relativism.

    > since "just war" ultimately has religious roots, shouldn't we be careful about it for that reason, too? <

    Another example of flawed reasoning. This is a genetic fallacy, rejecting something because of its origins. Go on and apply that to pretty much everything, including science, and see where it leads you. Modern just war theory has nothing to do with religion, despite its historical origins.

    Troy,

    > I particularly object to what I perceive as your blind partisanship <

    I'm not sure what exactly you are referring to. If you want me to apologize for being a liberal progressive, sorry, can't do. If you want me to apologize for occasionally making fun of the most extreme positions showcased by the other side (e.g., Palin's or Beck's idiocy), I defend my right to a sense of humor. Everything else I try to criticize, not dismiss (unless you think the two are one and the same).

    Justin,

    > what is to stop an unjustified intervention? Sure this is a U.N. operation, but as President Bush proved, this power can be invoked without any international consent. <

    Right, but that is one of the differences between Bush's war and this intervention: UN and truly international support. Just this morning the news is that the United Arab Emirates has committed planes to the effort.

    aharrell,

    I'm having a hard time taking seriously someone who personalizes "capital" as thinking and wanting things, but I'll try (otherwise Troy is going to accuse me of dismissing people I disagree with).

    > it also explains why Washington is searching for some section of the anti-Qaddafi opposition to back now--in the hopes of preserving the Qaddafi regime without Qaddafi <

    That sounds to me like mental gymnastic of a fairly high degree of difficulty. We are trying to preserve the Qaddafi regime without Qaddafi? Wouldn't it be easier to preserve the Qaddafi regime *with* Qaddafi?

    > one could consult NPR: "a brief review of Libya's history demonstrates that Britain, France, Italy, Russia, the United Nations, and the United States have long had a great deal at stake in Libya" <

    Yes, there as well as in hundreds of other places in the world. Has anyone ever denied this? But since the same exact phrase could apply to, I don't know, Saudi Arabia, it clearly has nothing to do with reasonable explanations for why we are bombing Libya and not Saudi Arabia, does it?

    > was it not capital who armed Gaddafi to the hilt with the weaponry he is now using to murder Libya's population? <

    Here we go again with personifying "capital." Yes, it was. One more time: nobody denied this, certainly not I; the same goes for a lot of other places in the world; which means that it has precious little to do with explaining the current situation. Indeed, why not leave Qaddafi in place and sell him even *more* weapons to put down the rebellion? Do you see the utter lack of logic here?

    > Somalia, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, East Timor, Kosovo <

    It is interesting to me that all the failures in those cases correspond to ground troops invasions, while in the former Yugoslavia we got the best (albeit certainly not perfect) results. Why? It was air strikes only, letting the locals then figure out what to do. I also cannot refrain from pointing out that that episode also happened under a Democratic President, and the action was also international and UN backed. Hmm, perhaps I see a pattern here...

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  90. @Massimo Pigliucci

    >that is one of the differences between Bush's war and this intervention: UN and truly international support.

    I do not disagree; I fully understand and respect the fact that President Obama is supported in his actions by the United Nations. I also concede that he is invoking his authority in a responsible way, by engaging in airstrikes, avoiding a ground assault, and leaving it up to the Libyan people to provide the necessary governmental correction. What disturbs me is that a U.S. President does not need international approval (as President Bush proved), nor does a U.S. President require domestic approval (as every conflict since the second Great War has proven). The U.S military is the most powerful armed force the world has ever seen. It can accomplish great things in the hands of a responsible and compassionate President, but do we not role the dice every election cycle? We would be foolish to dismiss the trend toward right wing nationalism that is pervading “Jesus Land” in the form of anti-immigration and isolationist sentiment. The 2010 election has proven that the right wing propaganda machine is effective.

    Wouldn’t you agree that this power would be disastrous in the hands of a right wing fundamentalist? Shouldn’t the 2010 election be a wake up call? In all probability, we will have a strong right wing government at the end of 2012. Like it or not, this is the direction the pendulum is swinging. We cannot afford to overestimate the intelligence of the impressionable masses any more than we can afford to underestimate the strategy currently being deployed by the right. It is my assertion that this power is too dangerous for a President to wield. If a military action is just, it will survive a congressional vote.

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  91. Justin, to remove that power from the Presidency would put the US in more potential danger than not removing it decreases the potential danger to others of our use of it.
    Obama would likely not have had the option that he exercised here, in my opinion (and apparently yours) a correct and timely fashion, had he needed congressional approval here.
    And your prospective right wing President likely with the same prospective right wing Congress would have no problem doing something as incredibly stupid as Bush had done regardless.

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  92. Why is the U.S. so keen to hand over control?

    There are a number of reasons according to analysts -- the potential financial burden and the fears of a public backlash at home, especially if the operation extends over a long period of time and is expensive.

    "From the beginning it was always on the cards that the U.S. would come in early with its (military) specialty and then hand over control. Uncle Sam is quite entitled to step back," says Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at ArmedForces.co.uk.

    "Libya is on the fringes of Europe and the reality is that you can't expect the U.S. to pay for Europe's defense. The U.S. is under all kinds of pressure... the U.S. defense budget is sucking $712 billion from the economy every year. It is also facing pressure over its presence in Afghanistan."

    http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/03/25/libya.nato.fly.zone/


    This doesn't quite strike me as a humanitarian intervention.

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  93. "I'm having a hard time taking seriously someone who personalizes "capital" as thinking and wanting things"

    Massimo, are you familiar with the Oxford English Dictionary? Capital = "people who possess wealth and use it to control a society's economic activity, considered collectively : a conflict between capital and labour" etc.

    "That sounds to me like mental gymnastic of a fairly high degree of difficulty. We are trying to preserve the Qaddafi regime without Qaddafi? Wouldn't it be easier to preserve the Qaddafi regime *with* Qaddafi?"

    Now you've run out of arguments. You base your question on the petitio principii that, in the aftermath of his falling out with the U.S., capital's agenda actually entails the possibility of "preserving" Gaddafi. I pose again the questions you've endeavored to evade: why would capital want to "preserve" Gaddafi when Gaddafi is no longer useful (as a puppet)? why, after the scale of the atrocities carried out by his troops, a refugee crisis, and disruption of oil supplies? why, when now is a propitious moment to wrest control of Libya's oil infrastructure? Once more, if capital has intervened for humanitarian reasons, why then is it that the U.N., Obama, etc. say and do nothing about unrest in the other Gulf states? Recall, Massimo, that it was advantageous for capital to engage with Gaddafi as he opened up after Iraq and up to the present, but it was always preferable to be rid of him if opportunity arose, so, again my questions: "preserve" him, in the wake of two successful uprisings? "easier to preserve the Qaddafi regime *with* Qaddafi" in the face of several hundreds of thousand insurgents?

    "Yes, there as well as in hundreds of other places in the world. Has anyone ever denied this? But since the same exact phrase could apply to, I don't know, Saudi Arabia, it clearly has nothing to do with reasonable explanations for why we are bombing Libya and not Saudi Arabia, does it?"

    Massimo, obviously capital's motives for bombing Libya "clearly have nothing to do" with why we are NOT bombing Saudia Arabia since Saudia Arabia is a neocolonial puppet, which, at present is in no danger of being usurped by anti-government insurgents. My claim was not that "anyone ever denied" that the capital has a great deal at stake, my claim was merely that they have a lot to lose and possibly even more to win in the game in which they are now forced to participate -- obviously, with vital strategic and business interests imperiled, the U.S. had no choice with Libya. This "reasonable explanation for why we are bombing Libya" has nothing to do with Saudia Arabia -- you evade the issue by shifting the discussion to Saudia Arabia, but I see little point in being sidetracked into a discussion of capital's investments in Saudia Arabia with one who has yet to demonstrate even the slightest acquaintance with the nature, logic, and history of imperialist intervention (aside from its rhetoric).

    "Here we go again with personifying "capital." Yes, it was. One more time: nobody denied this, certainly not I; the same goes for a lot of other places in the world; which means that it has precious little to do with explaining the current situation. Indeed, why not leave Qaddafi in place and sell him even *more* weapons to put down the rebellion? Do you see the utter lack of logic here?"

    The fact that capital armed Gaddafi has "precious little to do with explaining the current situation"? Does it not suggest -- gee, I don't know -- that they'd sooner see Gaddafi supplanted by a puppet regime than "awaken a much needed Arab Spring"? Do you see the utter lack of coherence here?

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  94. "It is interesting to me that all the failures in those cases correspond to ground troops invasions, while in the former Yugoslavia we got the best (albeit certainly not perfect) results. Why? It was air strikes only, letting the locals then figure out what to do. I also cannot refrain from pointing out that that episode also happened under a Democratic President, and the action was also international and UN backed. Hmm, perhaps I see a pattern here…"

    Massimo, the following excerpt is from a recent editorial which you can read at socialistworker.org: "U.S. and NATO launched a war on Serbia in the name of protecting the Albanians in what was then the Serbian province of Kosovo. Since then, the Kosovo war has been held up as the model for 'humanitarian intervention'--a war that cost no lives on the allied side and eventually gained independence for an oppressed people. In reality, the U.S. and its allies manipulated the legitimate struggle of the Kosovars to their own end. The bombing campaign was a prelude to the use of ground troops by the U.S. and NATO to forcibly separate Kosovo from Serbian control, expanding the U.S. military's presence in the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo became the location of Camp Bondsteel, the biggest U.S. military outpost in Southeastern Europe and the location of a secret prison during the 'war on terror' that a European human rights official called 'a smaller version of Guantánamo.' Kosovo today remains desperately poor, with 40 percent unemployment and 45 percent of the population living under the official poverty line. It is a corrupt client state of the U.S. and European powers, run by Mafia-style politicians who have been implicated in a scheme in which Serbian prisoners of war were murdered in order to sell their organs for transplant. But at least the NATO intervention in Kosovo saved lives, right? Not according to University of Arizona professor David Gibbs, author of a book on Western intervention in the former Yugoslavia: 'Another myth regarding Kosovo is that bombing improved the human rights situation. In reality, it made things worse, and augmented the suffering. Prior to the NATO campaign, the total number of people killed on all sides in the Kosovo conflict was 2,000, approximately half of whom were killed by Serbian forces. After the bombing began, however, there was a huge spike in Serb-perpetrated atrocities, which caused almost 10,000 deaths, combined with widespread ethnic cleansing. The Serbian forces were furious that they could not stop the NATO air attacks, so they took out their frustration on the relatively defenseless Albanians, causing a huge increase in the number of killings. The NATO bombing itself directly killed at least 500 civilians. When viewed from a humanitarian standpoint, NATO intervention was a disaster. There is a danger that the current intervention in Libya could produce similar results.'"

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  95. Propaganda from the left may serve a better purpose than propaganda from the right, but propaganda by definition is still bullshit.

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  96. correction: Gaddafi was not a "puppet", he was a client, Saudi Arabia is not a puppet-state, it is a client-state

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  97. For the record, Baron, I have no sympathies with the Left; however, Massimo's account of Kosovo is just as inaccurate as his account of Libya -- the editorial I quoted from doesn't depart from recent scholarship.

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  98. Absent from the editorial is the consideration that the "recent scholarship" has had no accurate way to compare what has happened since "Kosovo" with what most likely would have happened in the long term without that NATO intervention.

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  99. @Baron P

    >"Propaganda from the left may serve a better purpose than propaganda from the right, but propaganda by definition is still bullshit."

    Tell that to the masses.

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  100. Make no mistake, we are not immune to the "bullshit" being spread by the left and the right. There are very intelligent people on both sides of this chess game we call politics. I'm not sure who initially generated the propaganda that led the left to believe that the right were un-evolved Neanderthals, but it was very effective. From my vantage point, the right has been grossly underestimated. Every time President Obama invokes an executive power, such as the one discussed throughout this thread, he is setting a dangerous precedent for the right. Michael De Dora pointed out in his latest post, "Liberalism, conservatism, and tradition" that the American founders were liberal. His conclusions are correct, but the question remains; Why would our founders set up such a restrictive constitution? Certainly they must have known of the restrictions this would place on our government's ability to act. I submit to you that they understood that centralized power is a double edged sword that cuts both ways. We are both naive and foolish to believe that we can maintain a progressive government forever. The impressionable masses will inevitably be swayed to the other side. We have seen the beginning of this in 2010 and we will see more of it in 2012. The more power we give to the executive office today, the more power they will have tomorrow.

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  101. "There are very intelligent people on both sides of this chess game we call politics."
    There are also very differently motivated people on either side. And chess is a game of relatively honest strategizing, while politics is not. The more progressive tend to make honest if ultimately mistaken projections, while those with protective interests in the status quo are the most consummate liars, and publicly (Gingrich, Rove, et al.) proud of it.

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  102. Why is a war ginned up by the CIA so the NWO can initiate regime change justified for the USA to commit resources we cant afford when this is a phony humanitarian crises and NONE of our business?

    I see the war hawks for insanity are out in force here demanding blood for the NWO because it told you to?

    What a bunch of war mongering lemmings we have here!

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  103. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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