Libya, Egypt and Tunisia as seen from New Jersey
Why not set them at war with each other?
… The point of calling in an army would be to overthrow the dictator and help move Libya toward a democratic transformation. And that is just the kind of intervention that [John Stuart] Mill opposed and that international law rules out….
What if it looks as if Qaddafi is going to win? Would we be willing to go all the way with Mill and say that if the rebels lose, it’s because the country isn’t ready, isn’t “fit,” for democratic government? I don’t think I am tough enough for that. But if there is to be, somewhere down the road, a military intervention, let it not be an American intervention. Ideally, I suppose, it should be an Italian intervention. According to post-colonial theory, the Italians are responsible for everything bad that has happened in Libya since they left. But if they tried to fix things, it wouldn’t be a post-post-colonial effort; it would look very much like the old colonialism. In any case, they could act effectively only as part of a NATO force, and NATO is second-worst to the United States as a potential intervener. United Nations auspices would provide a little cover, but it would almost certainly be vetoed in the Security Council. So why not call in the Egyptian and Tunisian armies? A high-tech force isn’t necessary here; with logistical help, these two armies could do the job. And who knows? Promoting democracy in Libya might push them to do the same thing, a bit more eagerly than they are doing now, in their own countries.
When intervention is necessary, neighbors are the best substitute for insiders. But when does “necessity” kick in—when the rebels have been utterly defeated, or when they are on the brink of defeat, or when too many of them are being killed? I would like to say, we will know necessity when we see it—except that so many people see it too soon, and so many never see it. We should begin that argument right now.
Michael Walzer is co-editor of Dissent. A professor emeritus at Princeton University in New Jersey, he is the author of many articles and books–including Just and Unjust Wars, Spheres of Justice, and On Toleration. He is also a contributing editor to the New Republic.
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