In Libya, 'History Doesn't Repeat - it Rhymes'


Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya – the United States is involved in two wars and has taken action in Libya that meets international criterion for war. All we hear from intellectuals are questions concerning: What is the long-term strategy and how do we (countries involved in the no-fly zone) know when we have reached it? Absent from this debate is the more important question of: Why are we (the United States) there in the first place?

The only two critics I have seen asking the “why” question are Pat Buchanan and Michael Walzer. They both are critical, as am I, of the intervention in Libya and serve as a crucial reminder about the historically misguided foreign policy decision-making in the region.

Buchanan identified the extremely paradoxical support dynamics that exist in U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East,

“We backed the dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, who were as autocratic as Gadhafi, whom we demand be deposed. We support the dictator in Yemen, the absolute monarch in Saudi Arabia, the king in Bahrain, the sultan in Oman and the emir in Kuwait, but back pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran, though there have been more elections in Iran than in all those other nations put together.”

Even if we were to intervene in the states Buchanan listed, or at least assist in the implementation of democracy, Walzer argued, “the overthrow of tyrants and the establishment of democracy has to be local work, and in this [Libya] case, sadly, the locals couldn’t do it.”

Aside from the criticism, they both have asked the question of where are the Arab nations? One would think that if a no fly zone were to be enacted over a country in the Middle East, it would attract significant support from regional actors; this was not the case. Walzer explained, “There is no support coming from either Tunisia or Egypt, Libya’s immediate neighbors. … The Arab League called for the creation of a no-fly zone, but some of its leaders are already criticizing the attacks required to make it work."

Some Gulf States have offered support, but nothing compared to the role that the lead-nations took on. This will be viewed (by some) as another case of the West attempting to dominate the region, and even more detrimental to U.S. interests, as the killing of innocent Arabs and Muslims.

And for how long? Buchanan argued, “Never strike a king unless you kill him. In for a dime, in for a dollar. If we declare a no-fly zone, we have to attack Libya. And if we attack Libya, an act of war, we have to see that the war is won.” A no-fly zone is a precursor for more war – if we are expected to protect innocent lives from Qaddafi’s forces, there are limits as to how much we can protect civilians from air and naval power. How much further are these countries prepared to go in Libya?

Mark Twain was right about history, wasn’t he?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons