Michael Berube has written a really thoughtful essay regarding some of the issues surrounding, as he puts it, the Manichean Left’s critique of NATO’s intervention in Libya. Basically he warns against the tendency of some on the left to criticize all US foreign policy insofar as the policy is directed by “the entity” that is the US. A more intellectually honest approach would be to assess US foreign policy based on the individual action at issue.
While Berube recognizes some of the justifiable criticisms that can be made w/r/t the intervention – e.g., the extent to which UNSCR 1973 authorized an orchestrated regime change and the difficulty of harmonizing the international legal norms of the inviolability of sovereignty on the one hand and the responsibility to protect on the other – he rightly laments the opportunism of those who refuse to acknowledge even the mere possibility of good intentions in US foreign involvements.
I lost track of the number of times I came across people arguing that the intervention is a flagrant violation of the UN resolution and of international law. A flagrant violation? Certainly the intervention speaks to an ongoing debate in international law, between the advocates of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) and the defenders of national sovereignty who fear that R2P will license yet another form of domination of the global south by the global north, or of small, allegedly failed states by the world’s great powers. And it is possible to disagree about the scope of resolution 1973, and whether “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” might include regime change on the grounds that no civilian would be safe from attack as long as Qaddafi remained in power, or whether regime change is or ought to be beyond the purview of the Security Council. These are real ambiguities, and they will be subject to debate for the foreseeable future. But for some observers, perhaps the mantra “flagrant violation, flagrant violation” has the welcome effect of avoiding interpretive ambiguities and allowing for greater concentration of mind.