This Friday is a deadline for the Obama administration in the war in Libya. The sixty day limit on the use of military force without Congressional approval imposed by the War Powers Resolution will be reached on May 20th.
Not only does the Obama administration have, as The New York Times reported last week, “no intention of pulling out of the Libya campaign,” but it is diligently seeking to do so through loopholes and technicalities. One such consideration is to officially “pause” the engagement, and then “rejoin the mission with a new 60-day clock.” Another is to stop using Predator drones for bombing, but continue for reconnaissance, giving the appearance of a non-military participation in this fundamentally U.S.-led NATO war.
Sure to regain prominence in what will become Part Two of the debate on the Libyan intervention, is the humanitarian justification. On May 8th, Obama’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon reiterated this justification, saying “we need to continue that civilian protection mission and continue to put the pressure on Gadhaffi.”
The humanitarian justification for the bombing campaign has been sufficiently refuted elsewhere, so I’ll spare readers further myth-busting. Less discussed, though, is whether preemptive strikes to protect civilian populations is even the acceptable route.
Obama promised in his presidential campaign to significantly intensify the war in Afghanistan. The year 2009 saw record numbers of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, with a 24% increase from the previous year. Those records were broken the following year, with deadly night raids becoming more and more common. The military offensive in Marjah brought catastrophes to innocents, and on the whole more innocents were killed by the U.S. and its allies than by insurgents.
Obama also made clear in his campaign that he would readily disregard Pakistani sovereignty by conducting Predator drone attacks which consistently kill innocent men women and children. Numbers vary on this, but well over 1,000 civilians, and possibly a few thousand have been killed by such attacks.
These were policies that were expected of Obama. The consequences for civilians were likewise predictable. Would it thus have been acceptable for China to unleash a bombing campaign on Washington in response to Obama’s election?
Is anybody in the mainstream establishment arguing for that intervention? The answer is no and the reason is that the dogma of nationalism, American Exceptionalism, and imperial culture is so deep in the mindset of our policymakers, that they can’t even perceive the contradiction. None of the principles they apply to the United States apply to any other state, and vice versa.
In one of America’s first imperial adventures – an 1895 intervention over a territorial dispute between Britain and Venezuela over Venezuela’s Guiana – President Cleveland declared in rhetorical defense of so-called humanitarian intervention, “There is no calamity which a great nation can invite which equals that which follows from a supine submission to wrong and injustice.” An applicable addendum for both then and now might be: “except when said injustice is carried out by us.”