Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly: Moral Questions and Libya Intervention

[BOB] ABERNETHY: You have described a theory that you call “preventive humanitarian intervention.” Would you describe what that is.

[WILLIAM] GALSTON: Sure, it’s not that complicated. In the 1990s, there were two episodes of genocidal ethnic cleansing: one in the Balkans, the other in Rwanda. In both cases, the international community waited too long to intervene, and the result was a disaster. Many people in the White House remember that. Some of them were there in policy-making decisions. They were determined not to repeat it. When the Libyan forces were on the edge of Benghazi and Colonel Gaddafi issued a bloodcurdling threat to hunt down the dissidents alley by alley, the administration thought that it had no choice but to act to prevent an impending blood bath, and I think they were right.

ABERNETHY: You’ve also spoken of our two objectives. Spell those out.

GALSTON: We have a humanitarian objective and political objective. The humanitarian objective is to protect innocent civilian life. The political objective, which President Obama articulated some weeks ago, is to secure the exit of Colonel Gaddafi from power.

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2 comments on “Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly: Moral Questions and Libya Intervention

  1. Br. Michael says:

    Yeah right. Only if the Democrats do it. Then it’s ok. If Bush does it then it is not.

    And then the problem is getting into war around the globe on the Presidents sole authority and not getting declarations of war from the Congress. It may be that We the people don’t want them or to pay for them.

  2. carl says:

    The difference between “preventive humanitarian intervention” and “preventive war” is found in the motivation for the fight. The former is presumed to be altruistic. The later is self-interested. We have come to the point where war is being justified by lack of national interest. Soldiers are expected to fight and die for peoples and causes and colors to which they have no direct connection. This is a dreadfully dangerous situation because the support for such operations will be a mile wide and an inch deep.

    We have in fact already traveled this road in Somalia in 1993. The American public turned against that operation the first time it saw American bodies dragged through the streets live on CNN. At precisely the moment the US developed a vital interest in finishing the conflict, the American public (well, and a gutless President) demanded withdrawal. The consequences are all around us. Arab Terrorists learned from Somalia that the US would run away if hit hard enough in the face. If the US has committed a large force to Somalia, and killed every Aidid soldier it could find, there would have been no WTC bombing, no Embassy bombing in Kenya, no attack on the USS Cole, no 9-11. Instead, we ran away, and brought about the War on Terror.

    This is why you don’t squander political and military capital on military operations motivated by purely humanitarian concerns. You sacrifice the ability to operate at some future date when it is really vital that you be able to operate. Does that mean that the fate of Benghazi must be considered less important than the US national interest? Yes, it does.

    The US military does not exist to protect foreign civilians. The President is responsible for the lives of the soldiers he commits to combat. He is not responsible for lives in Benghazi. If certain European countries disagree, and assert a ‘duty to intervene’ then I suggest they spend the large amounts of money required to develop an independent capability to fulfill that duty. It means nothing to me to hear such carping from nations who are safe from the burden because they do not have an Air Force large enough or capable enough to operate without US support, or because they do not have the ability to move and sustain an Army on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. The ‘duty to intervene’ is not a de facto American duty. Not when there is a rich continent of Europe that is more than capable of developing such a capability on its own – assuming it would want to stop spending all that money on itself, and start spending the money on behalf of all those victims who impose the ‘duty to intervene.’