Just Intervention: Libya and Iraq Compared
As the U.S. takes military action in a third Arab country, it’s important to evaluate the moral considerations of our engagement in Libya. Just War Theory, a centuries-old tradition rooted in Catholic social teaching, can help guide our ethical analysis. As outlined below, just war theory lays out the following key criterion for intervention: just cause, proper authority, right intention, reasonable hope for success, proportionality and last resort. Over at U.S. Catholic magazine, managing editor Bryan Cones is skeptical:
Less than a week into this operation, I worry that what we have is another intervention by Western colonial powers to secure the natural resources of a weaker nation. Muammar Gaddafi, like Saddam Hussein before him, may be a bad man who does cruel things and oppresses his people. But the world is filled with those kinds of people, and we aren’t bombing them.
Other critics, including Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, have made stark comparisons between Bush-era unilateralism and the Obama administration’s rationale for intervention. However, as we evaluate this conflict through a moral lens, we should acknowledge its complexity and pay attention to careful nuance. Using just war theory, it’s helpful to put Libya side-by-side with the Iraq War.
|VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz||
The Architects of Intervention
|Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; NSC Senior Director for Human Rights, Democracy, and Multilateral Affairs Samantha Power; US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice|
|Weapons of Mass Destruction, Global War on Terrorism, 9/11, Iraq’s history of hostility toward the US, especially in the first Gulf War, and Saddam Hussein’s repression of civilians||
|Preventing attacks on innocent civilians and potential genocide; Removing dictator Muammar Gaddafi|
|UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the war as illegal, saying in a September 2004 interview that it was “not in conformity with the Security Council.” In lieu of UN Security Council authorization, Bush claimed authority from a “coalition of the willing,” which included troops from the UK, Australia, and Poland.||
|UN Security Council Resolution 1973, authorizing “all necessary measures” to enforce no-fly zone and protect civilians – called for by the Arab League, France, and the UK; full support of UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon|
|Highly debatable: Cheney and Co., all part of the Project for the New American Century, called for increasing the U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and specifically for invading Iraq as early as 1998. Blighted track record on supporting human rights and unilateral march to war against the will of the UN.||
|Consistent and proven over time: Samantha Power, the world’s leading expert on genocide and Founding Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard; Susan Rice, Senior Director for Africa on the National Security Council during the Rwandan genocide, has vowed not to see that tragedy repeated and Hillary Clinton (whose husband called not intervening in Rwanda the greatest regret of his Presidency) all have strong track records of supporting human rights.|
|Defeating the Iraqi Army was easy for the US, but invasion led to occupation, which led to nation-building, which has had mixed results. US still in the country 8 years later.||
Reasonable Hope for Success
|Enforcing a No-Fly Zone has been successful; preventing genocide seems to be initially successful; pro-Gaddafi forces have stopped their advance on Benghazi.|
|Shock-and-Awe, full-scale invasion, followed by 8 years and counting of occupation.||
|Surgical strikes to disable Libya’s air defenses to allow the French and Qatari planes to patrol the No-Fly Zone and the protection of civilians; the mission is limited to enforcing the UN Resolution, which explicitly rules out direct ground intervention that could lead to occupation.|
|The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was responsible for inspecting Iraq for WMDs, wanted more time. President Bush did give Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave the country, and only then used force to remove him.||
|Pro-Gaddafi forces were closing in on rebel stronghold in Benghazi, meaning it was no-fly zone or a very good chance of Gaddafi taking back the entire country and having “no mercy;” continuing the apparent genocide he already started.|
On CNN, President Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya may look similar to President Bush’s march to war in Iraq, but a closer examination reveals important differences.