Dunsmore: The Intervention Debate

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(HOST)  It’s been six days since an international coalition led by the United States began its bombing campaign against the forces of Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi; and in that time, a bi-partisan movement in Congress opposed to the intervention has been building. Commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore offers his perspective.

(DUNSMORE)  As recently as two weeks ago it appeared that before the United States got into a shooting war with Libya, some minimum conditions would have to be met. A United Nations resolution with at least Russian and Chinese abstentions would be highly desirable if not mandatory. A no-fly zone would need the backing of the European Union and NATO -and- some significant form of Muslim approval preferably by the Arab League.

During the following week, such UN and Arab League support remained most unlikely. But suddenly Qaddafi’s main force of planes, tanks and artillery was bearing down on the rebel’s stronghold in Benghazi in eastern Libya. And the prospect of a major massacre of civilians – that had been promised by Qaddafi – looked very real. Under that threat, the Security Council passed a robust resolution in record time, calling for a no- fly zone and air attacks on Libyan troops threatening the lives of civilians. The Arab League added its full support for such action.

If,  in the face of such a major threat to thousands of Libyan civilians – and now having full international backing to take military action to prevent it – President Obama had decided to stay on the sidelines, what do you suppose his critics would be saying today?

Opponents of intervention argue the United States has no vital interests in Libya. But with revolutions for freedom currently sweeping much of the Arab world, if Obama had raised the white flag in Libya leaving tens of thousands of civilians to the mercy of Qaddafi – that would have dealt a stunning blow to America’s interests and image.

I understand people feeling uneasy about the Libyan intervention which might, in the end, leave Qaddafi in power. I share that unease. But the U.N. resolution on Libya does not include approval for Qaddafi’s assassination or overthrow. Still Obama has other significant weapons. It’s just come to light that the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S and Europe a couple of weeks ago, have frozen nearly two hundred billion dollars in Libyan assets – far more than expected. Loss of access to these funds will certainly threaten Qaddafi’s long term prospects.

Yes, there has been disagreement among Europeans and NATO members about how to proceed. But that is to be expected in multilateral coalitions when each member acts according to its own narrow interests.

No one knows how things are going to work out in Libya. It may end in stalemate which would not be good. But when military actions are taken under rapidly changing circumstances, some ambiguity is inevitable and perhaps desirable.

This is preferable to false clarity. When President George W. Bush announced the invasion of Iraq eight years ago we were told the when, the why, the likely costs and duration of the war. Unfortunately almost none of that very specific information – the kind that critics are now demanding regarding Libya – came even remotely close to being accurate or true.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Barrie Dunsmore at VPR-dot-net.

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