Wednesday, March 30, 2011


To fight or not to fight in Libya or anywhere else?

That is, or ought to be, the eternal question. Whether the cost in human lives and national treasure is worth the outcome. And whether the outcome is clearly and transparently defined or is oblique and misdefined. For Americans, after all, it has never been simply a question of whether we support or oppose the clear goals of war, but also whether we have been lied to and mislead. There is a dissonance within ourselves and our country that sometimes cannot be resolved.

In my lifetime, that has been the case in Iran in 1950, in Guatemala in 1954, in Vietnam in 1956 and beyond, in Cambodia, in Chile, in Panama, in Granada, in Nicaragua, and so on and so forth. The same questions do not arise in every instance.

Most often, I am persuaded that American goals are not on the side of justice. When the U.S. intervened in Kosovo in the early '90s, many on the Left supported that intervention. The Serbian Slobadan Milosevic seemed bent on the destruction of Albanian Kosovars. But I didn't support that intervention, despite the fact that Milosevic was almost certainly a war criminal. Earlier the U.S. had left Rwandans to their fate. And been indifferent to the plight of civilians in the Horn of Africa suffering from war, expulsion and famine. How could the same country that did not trouble itself over Rwandans, Congolese, Somalians and Ethiopians be judged guileless and innocent of ulterior motives when it rode to the rescue of Albanians?

But we are another decade along now, and are led by a president whom I genuinely believe wishes to solve conflicts and ameliorate suffering, perhaps even in the case of Palestinians. And I am persuaded that many lives have been saved in Libya by the recent U.S.-led intervention. Still, I remain troubled by the notion that the among the few certainties here is that weapons manufacturers will get reorders and that even humanitarian interventions serve the interests of some who don't give a hoot about Libyans or about Palestinians or about the millions of recent dead for whom humanitarian intervention never came. But how could abstention be the answer?

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