By Armon Saied
Imagine you’re walking through an alley late one night and you hear somebody scream. The distressed voice, crying for help, belongs to an unfortunate victim of a brutal mugging. Of course, your moral compass begs you to get involved, but the voice of reason within you suggests it may not be a smart fight to get into. Not alone at least.
A similar mode of thinking plays out when one nation is in the midst of a violent crisis that its government is either guilty of perpetrating or incapable of stopping. In Libya, Operation Odyssey Dawn represents an intelligent collaborative endeavor to enforce the no-fly zone. From a humanitarian standpoint, most people would agree with any efforts to stop Muammar Gaddafi from massacring his own people. But the essential question lingers on everyone’s mind: is it prudent or even necessary for the U.S. and other nations to intervene in Libya? And what is the incentive for the international community to intervene? Some have been quick to point to oil as the motivating factor for Western support of the opposition in Libya. But this is a shallow explanation. European oil companies, in particular, have been making business deals with the Libyan dictator for years now. Engagement in expensive military operations to oust Gaddafi and endanger your supplier of oil does not seem like adequate inspiration for such a military response.
Of course, however, the concept of national interest should not be ignored entirely. President Obama justified his decision for military intervention in Libya, “I firmly believe that…when someone like Gaddafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives — then it’s in our national interest to act. And it’s our responsibility.“
While Defense Secretary Robert Gates, doesn’t think “it’s a vital interest of the United States,” Libya represents the sort of tyranny that the United States and every other able nation has the duty to prevent. Gaddafi and his military killed more than 1,000 civilians with heavy artillery and aircraft before the no-fly zone was implemented, and he is responsible for countless more deaths from throughout his reign. If the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia provided any lesson to the world, it is that the international community has a responsibility to protect populations that are no longer safe from their governments.
Indeed, a no-fly zone does represent an act of war by most definitions, but in the case of Libya it is relatively simple to maintain, so it can yield profound and long lasting benefits. After the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution allowing military action in Libya, British, French, and American aircraft bombed key air defense sites and have effectively hampered Gaddafi’s assault on the opposition forces in Libya. These actions will prevent a prolonged civil war and humanitarian crisis, and subsequently avoid an exodus of Libyan refugees into Europe. Furthermore, the no-fly zone can potentially deter other dictators from continuing crackdowns on protestors in Yemen, Syria, and other countries in the Muslim world experiencing unrest. In addition, the collaboration of Arab nations, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates with NATO nations makes Odyssey Dawn not only an international operation to prevent the loss of innocent lives, but also a symbol of the potential for improved relations between the West and Muslim nations.
Now that NATO is assuming control of military aerial operations, Obama has made clear the intentions of the United States and the path for the successful campaign he initiated to prevent further massacre in Libya. Criticisms of Obama’s decisions, from Congress especially, have pointed to his administration’s lack of planning and failure to consult the legislative branch before initiating military operations. A strict interpretation of the law would brand the president’s engagement in military action as unconstitutional, but one cannot deny that the spirit of the law was heeded. The framers of the Constitution judiciously left the war-declaring power to Congress, in order to prevent expensive, hasty, and unnecessary military engagements. Even though Obama did not confer with the entirety of Congress, he consulted with congressional leaders from both parties and waited for the U.N. resolution before initiating fighting. Surely, the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law is insignificant compared to the number of lives Operation Odyssey Dawn has saved in Libya. Though much work remains to be done in that country, Obama’s sound judgment at a crucial juncture and leadership in spearheading an international collaborative effort should be commended.