Standing up to bullies

At least a UN resolution.  It’s hard to suppress a certain elation.  Rather than stand aside or be utterly ineffectual, as it has been in the past, the UN has chosen to act to protect civilians.

Looking back on the Srebrenica massacre it’s hard not to blame European spinelessness in the face of Bosnian Serb bullying.  Gaddafi’s behaviour has been almost identical to that of Karadzic and his comrades; he’s tried to calculate just how far he could go without provoking an international response.  Srebrenica was the point where the Serbs miscalculated.  Gaddafi has arrived at the same place.

So should we drag out the royal wedding bunting a month early?  Before this is over there’s every chance we may find ourselves asking whether this is the right course of action.  British and French planes may be shot down, the pilots captured and held hostage.  If the rebels gain the upper hand there may be reprisals.  Gaddafi supporters may face the same sort of treatment as they dished out to the their opponents.  We may yet find that we like the stripe of a new government little more than that of the old one.

While the UN is sending an important signal; that Arab lives are as precious as any other and that the wholesale abuse of its civilians by the state will not be tolerated, it’s hard to believe that it would have acted against many other states if they behaved equally egregiously.  Without the support of the Arab League it’s unlikely that intervention would have been approved, and had Gaddafi done less to royally p*ss-off the Arab world over the years it’s likely he would have pretty much have gotten away with most anything.  China could do worse and, even if word got out, action there would be almost none.

Moreover the impact of intervention on the wave of protest that has swept the Middle East is hard to call.  Libya is where the wave broke.  The no fly zone may see the revolution home but the rebels won’t be able to claim to have been installed by people power in the same way as they can in Tunisia and Egypt.  Dissidents and governments elsewhere will be looking to Libya to calculate what it will take to avoid or provoke international action.

Is any of that an argument for standing aside?  No.  Democrats everywhere should feel no shame at promoting human rights and freedom wherever they can, even if sometimes that means, as a last resort, deploying proportionate force.  Just don’t count on a street party at the end of it.

UPDATE: 1300 GMT

After threatening to make the lives of its population ‘hell’, the Libyan government has now declared a ceasefire.  There is bound to be huge scepticism.  Had the Gadaffi regime really been concerned about civilian casualties it wouldn’t have pursued it’s bloody course of action of recent days.  However the mere threat of action, once the Libyans decided it was serious, seems to have had an impact.

Nevertheless concerns have been expressed that the current UN mandate both allows for mission creep yet precludes international action to resolve the situation in Libya.  There are still no easy answers, just a proliferation of choices.

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