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Butchery vs. Surgery: A Political Health Plan for the Middle East

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Tim McGettigan
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As far as I am concerned, the sooner Muammar Qaddafi is gone the better. Forty-plus years of his malignant tyranny is more than enough. The only misgivings that I have about deposing Qaddafi is the inordinate time that it took for the global community to unify against him.

That said, it is interesting that so few people have elected to use the "W" word in connection with the current US military intervention in Libya. Arguably, given the hostile nature of the US incursion, it seems reasonable to characterize such trespasses as acts of war. However, from the moment that the US began its assault on Libya (as of March 19, 2011), President Obama has worked hard to emphasize that the US is not now, nor will it ever be, at war with Libya. Instead, President Obama has insisted that US military operations in Libya are only intended to prevent Muammar Qaddafi from butchering his rebellious citizenry.

OK. Even though I tend to be an advocate of peaceful diplomacy, I support the spirit of the US military intervention in Libya. Given the available alternatives, I would vastly prefer to see the US and NATO providing military support for Libyan rebels than standing idly by while Qaddafi exacts brutal revenge on his enemies.

In part, the Obama Administration has eschewed the term "war" with regard to the US action in Libya because, technically speaking, only Congress can declare war. Nevertheless, commanders-in-chief can exercise a great deal of latitude in the deployment of military personnel for the purposes of achieving strategic diplomatic objectives. Therefore, so long as he does not usurp the power of the US Congress (i.e., using the term "war" when a well-chosen synonym will suffice), Barack Obama retains the necessary moral and legal authority to intervene in Libya on behalf of its democracy-hungry rebels.

Another tactical reason to avoid the term war is that, having been embroiled in two other interminable wars, the US public has no stomach for involvement in yet another foreign war. But, perhaps more important than that, I daresay President Obama wishes to avoid calling the Libyan imbroglio a war because, at least from the US perspective, it really isn't a war -- and Obama wants to keep it that way.

Recall that Barack Obama's predecessor declared war on Iraq largely for the purposes of deposing Saddam Hussein. The problem with that particular military campaign, apart from all of the claptrap about WMDs, is that the US declared war on an entire nation in order to terminate the vile regime of one single miscreant. Certainly, the war in Iraq achieved that particular mission objective, but at what cost? Arguably, the US war in Iraq has created at least as many problems as it has solved. Worse still, after almost ten years, trillions of dollars, and untold loss of human life, there is still no end in sight.

What a mess.

With all of the above in mind, Barack Obama has plenty of reasons to resist identifying the US intervention in Libya as a war. For starters, the US does not want to repeat the mistakes that it made in Iraq. There's no point in declaring war on an entire nation in order to depose one dratted trouble-maker -- especially if the citizenry of the nation in question are similarly committed to ousting their local despot. Sometimes war is not the answer.

Fortunately, there is more than one way to fight tyranny. In spite of the missteps that the US has taken in Iraq, the US can still fight the good fight for democracy. We just have to be smarter, and more precise. If Qaddafi is the problem in Libya, then US military operations should concentrate on surgically intervening against Muammar Qaddafi. Period. Bolstered by such interventions, the Libyan rebels will be in a better position to win their (not our) civil war.  By taking this approach, the US is more likely to inspire the enduring friendship, rather than the enmity, of the Libyan people, while also avoiding the pitfalls of another foreign military quagmire. Genius.

In sum, the current US military operation in Libya is an illustration of the fact that surgical operations offer the advantage of dramatically improving social health and welfare with a minimum of bloodshed. Can we build on that success? In other words, can we use the tools and techniques of the surgeon in order to do away with butchery once and for all? That may be too much to hope for, but at least with Obama's more fine-tuned military strategy in Libya, we have a start.

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Prof Tim teaches sociology at CSU-Pueblo and he writes books about social change, such as... A Formula for Eradicating Racism, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/113759974X

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