By Mustafa Malik
President Obama always makes good speeches, and he gave an excellent one defending his administration’s participation in NATO’s military intervention in Libya.
The coalition bombing has averted, as the president pointed out, a “brutal repression and looming humanitarian crisis” brought on by Muammar Qadhafi’s forces. Even though the Qadhafi forces have halted the rebels’ advance toward his eastern strongholds, the United States and its allies aren’t going to let the dictator prevail.
I’m concerned about the resistance to the mission that the administration is facing from America’s political and intellectual establishments. Republican and Tea Party opposition to the operation was predictable. I’m disappointed, though not surprised, by the Democratic and, especially, liberal resistance to it. It’s hard to imagine more liberal Americans than Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington Post columnist Mark Shields and Rep. Denis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio. They’re leading a range of American liberals and progressives who oppose the U.S. role in the U.N.-sponsored military action. I’m not surprised by their stance because I have known conservative and liberal Americans who profess support for “universal” human rights and freedoms, but view their “universe” to be the West. (The neocons’ “democratization” propaganda about the Iraq war meant to camouflage a clumsy imperial project.)
I was a member of an “International Congress” that was pushing for military intervention to stop the Serbian slaughter of Bosnian Muslims. At our August 1995 conference in Bonn, Germany, my fellow U.S. delegates and I were elated to hear American liberals being hailed as “the bastion” of support for such a campaign. Coincidentally, the NATO bombing of Serbian aggressors began while we were heading back home. I didn’t hear Kucinich, Gelb, Shields or any other well-known American liberals denouncing the Clinton administration for leading that operation. Four years later when the United States led the NATO air raids to stop the Serbian army assaults on dissidents in Kosovo, American liberals applauded it. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are part of the West. Libya isn’t. Neither was Rwanda or Congo.
Kucinich and other liberals are criticizing Obama’s failure to obtain prior congressional approval of the Libya operation. More revealing, however, has been their silence about the morality of the campaign. Shields and others have offered a moral argument, which is equally telling. The administration, they say, didn’t prove how defending the Libyan uprising would serve America’s “vital interests.”
Suppose tomorrow troops loyal to a neo-Nazi dictator begin mowing down protesters in the streets of Berlin or Vienna. Would we hear them denounce U.S. involvement in a NATO military assault to stop it? I believe that Americans, including Shields, would then find it in America’s “vital interest” to support such intervention, just as they did in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
I see defending the pro-democracy upheavals in Libya and other Arab countries serving an over-arching U.S. interest. Most Muslims and Arabs in west Asia and North Africa have been deeply anguished by the United States’ long-standing support for their repressive autocracies. Their resentment is the biggest challenge to U.S. security and economic interests in the Arab world. Embracing the “Arab spring” would help Washington douse the toxic anti-Americanism and court tomorrow’s rulers, generals and diplomats in that region.