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History, the National Interest and R2P

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I'm not real hot on US involvement in a third war which will inevitably generate unintended consequences and unacceptable costs. President Obama has gradually and with some care moved to the affirmative column and committed the United States to a mission sponsored by the United Nations, led by France and Britain and even endorsed by the Arab League. Now people may rightfully ask what about the role of Congress and the power of advice and consent? Well, Congress is a constitutional check and an essential player in the development, funding and support of United States foreign policy.   However, there are times when events move rapidly and change just as rapidly and require a President to act as our Commander in Chief and deal with all the questions and concerns of the Congress, the media and the public afterwards and live with the results along with the rest of us because that simply put is his responsibility.

 Now Libya is by no means the only frightening conflict in the world right now and it is hard to define the civil strife there as a matter of national interest to the United States. So the question arises; what makes the fighting in Libya worth risking the lives of American young men and women along with the reputation of the United States and the expenditure of billions more dollars? It is important to recognize that neither the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Secretary of Defense were in favor of this mission until committed by their President.

The theory goes that the President ultimately listened to the voices of three important members of his administration; Samantha Power, who runs the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights in the National Security Council and is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book; "A Problem from Hell," tracing the history of genocide, Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the Clinton Administration and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. These three powerhouses have all been deeply affected by their relationship to genocide, Power in Yugoslavia and Rice and Clinton by believing in retrospect that President Clinton was wrong not to act and stop what happened in Rwanda, (a hundred days of butchery resulting in the deaths of between half a million and a million Rwandans).

History has a role in determining what is in the US National Interest and that of other countries. The US government remembers Lockerbie as the French and British remember other bombings instigated by Muammar Gaddafi. One of the consequences of the genocide in Rwanda was that international parties including the United Nations started asking questions about when internationals have the right to intervene to protect a civilian population. The doctrine known as R2P; Responsibility to Protect; http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/ grew out of these questions. Unfortunately it is a doctrine that has significant international support but not the force of law. As with many civil wars the moment when things go out of control and rise to the status of genocide is unclear and as often as not reported very differently by nations with divergent relationships with the government in question.

A key factor favoring the No Fly Zone in Libya was the agreement of the Arab League.   And a key factor enabling the United States and its Ambassador Susan Rice to assemble a 10 in favor 0 against vote with 5 abstentions in the United Nations Security Council; http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sc10200.doc.htm#Resolution came from the words and threats by Muammar Gaddafi himself.

Does all of this add up to a clear and present danger to the United States? No! But I believe it is in the United States National Interest to stand up in favor of freedom whether in Egypt or Libya or the Ivory Coast. Can we afford to be the world's policeman? No! But to remain the pre-eminent power that we are we must lead and find ways to square our national interests increasingly with human rights or we will become a lesser power in a world that is calling out for freedom and democracy. It must be said again that this path is full of unintended consequences and unacceptable costs. I believe we are looking into the mirror of history and must be willing to act positively to promote our status in the future.

 

Larry Snider is the President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace; ICMEP. He founded New Hope for Peace, a dialogue and educational forum in 2001 and is a member of the Greater Bucks County Peace Circle. He is author of numerous (more...)
 
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It's difficult to focus on one rationale when what... by Larry Snider on Sunday, Mar 27, 2011 at 4:41:08 PM