Syria’s Struggle and the Question of Intervention

A member of the Free Syrian Army stands guard as anti-Syrian regime protesters hold a demonstration in Idlib, Syria, Feb. 6. The US closed its Syrian embassy Monday and Britain recalled its ambassador to Damascus in a dramatic escalation of Western pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to give up power, just days after diplomatic efforts at the United Nations to end the crisis collapsed. AP Photo

After nearly a year of civil strife and mass protest, the Syrian regime has still managed to cling to power, killing over 5,000 people in the process. Its brutality and cunning have so far assured its survival, at a great cost to innocent lives, and though violence is nonetheless escalating to a near-civil war, there seems to be no foreseeable end to the bloodshed.

The courage and tenacity of the Syrian people astounds me. Their efforts have been periodically written off every time the army unleashes its artillery, tanks, and snipers to obliterate any demonstration. Yet they’ve continued to reemerge against all odds, no matter how much the regime ratchets up its barbarity. It’s become a battle of willpower, a game of chicken – who will give in first?

I can’t imagine what it would be like to face such overwhelming odds without ever backing down. The choice between your life and oppression is not an easy one to make, and I’m eternally grateful I don’t have to worry about it. It seems that they have so little to lose after decades of despotism, that the risks are inconsequential. How else can we explain this so-far unconquerable urge for freedom no matter the cost?

It saddens me to see a people strive to better their conditions, only to be put down like cattle. So many innocent people have died, and continue to die even as we speak. I’m typing away about their fate, powerless to do anything about it. While I go about my daily routine in my comfortable life, their being starved, tortured, terrorized and massacred, all for the heinous crime of demanding a say in their own future.

This recent video from CNN was particularly heartbreaking. The country looks increasingly like a war zone, and neither side seems to be prevailing with any certain. I fear this conflict will continue to drag on, bleeding the country dry for some time. You can hear the deep sadness and hopelessness of the activist being interview, and most palpably the sense of frustration: while the Syrians get butchered for their efforts, the world is impotent to do anything about it (Russ and China recently vetoed a UN resolution that would have condemned the atrocities).

But what can the world do? Syria is a populous country with a far stronger state and security apparatus. It’s religious and ethnic diversity may give way to Iraq-style sectarian violence once the regime were to be toppled. Getting involved may cause more problems than anything.
Besides, no country is in the position to intervene, even if it were sure to work. Aside from the considerable lack of public support for any overseas venture, any operation effective enough to dislodge the regime would require boots on the ground, and an expensive and long-term commitment that most currently cash-strapped nations can’t afford. Furthermore, many people, me included, would doubt the humanitarian sincerity of any intervention, given the long precedent of strategic selectiveness.
So all we can do is watch and hope? Provide moral support and solidarity, but nothing more practical? Economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation may work, including freezing the bank accounts of state officials and banning them from travel. But will that really bring down a government fighting for its life and privilege? Who’s to say it won’t hurt ordinary Syrians more, given that they’re already enduring food and water shortages due to both government action and economic turmoil.
Its times like this that I wish we had superheroes, someone who could fly in like Superman and pummel those tanks and artillery units. I wish there was a standing UN army that could rapidly deploy to defend besieged citizens from their malicious rulers. Even in an era of increasing globalization and interconnectedness, we’re still unable and unwilling to address the periodic violence that is exercised with impunity. Some would argue that it’s for the better, given the capacity for abuse and mishandling. I sometimes wonder if someday that won’t be the case, and the world as a whole will be a better governed place.
I know that’s just the nature of this complex and disunited world; I know that there are too many dynamics and factors involved, across economic, social, political, diplomatic, and military spectrums. But that doesn’t make me any less saddened, no matter how many times I’ve had to see and study it over the years. All I can do is watch, wait, and hope. My heart goes out to the people of Syria. I think the regime is weakening, and that its fall will be inevitable. But it’ll come at a heavy cost, and there’s no telling what will come after. Syrians will have no choice but to press on. They’re fighting for their own fate after all, so perhaps it’s ultimately fitting that they do so on their terms.
Be grateful for your freedoms and comforts. Never take any of it for granted. I should be so lucky to be sitting here, in comfort and stability, upset about the fate of others fighting for what I was so fortunate to have, by mere accident of birth.

Amigo: The Forgotten Phillipines-American War

Of all the myriad military interventions we’ve been involved in – and there’s quite a lot of them – our conflict in the Phillipines is perhaps one of the bloodiest and most complex. It’s also one of the least known, given brief mention in history textbooks and little to no acknowledgement in popular culture. In fact, very few films, books, or television series have been made about the war, and any knowledge of it’s existence seems limited only to historians and academics. I can attest by personal experience how few people, especially in our generation, realize the depth of our involvement in Phillipines.

Thankfully, a film has finally been made that gives this dark and mysterious chapter of our history some well-needed cinematic attention. Amigo, set in the early years of the war, provides an even-handed account of all the factions involved: American troops, Filipino rebels, collaborators, sympathizers, and all those stuck in the middle of it. Unfortunately, I’ve only seen some excerpts of it, as small films like this don’t make it to very many theaters (it’s an Independent film, go figure). But from what I’ve seen, as well as heard from other accounts, it captures the bleakness, ambiguity, and convolution of a conflict we should have never been involved in (sound familiar?). NPR had a pretty good episode about it, including an interview with the director, on Talk of the Nation.

Comparisons to Vietnam – the same type of warfare, the jungle setting, the moral ambiguity, the lack of popular support – certainly abound, and with the benefit of hindsight, the war seems to be an ominous foreshadowing of the same sort of conflicts we’d later find ourselves in after World War II. The famous struggle between isolationists and so-called internationalists – themselves split from within along numerous philosophies – would start to form, as our Phillipines war would be the turning point marking heavier involvement in global affairs (though some would argue that the Spanish-American War that precipitated it, or even the Monroe Doctrine of decades before, would really be the watershed).

If there is any consolation about this imperialist venture, it’s the push-back and criticism that the war met at home. Though nothing on the scale of what we saw in response to the Vietnam War, and similar conflicts since, the Phillipines intervention saw the beginnings of outspoken pacifistic advocacy, foreign policy scrutiny by citizens, and journalistic criticism that would soon become definitive in later conflicts. Perhaps the most well-known reaction was Mark Twain’s  famous founding of the Anti-Imperialist League, uniting a politically and ideologically diverse number of figures devoted to keeping the US out of such conflicts. He summed up the sentiments of his fellow anti-imperialists rather well in this public declaration:

There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it—perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands—but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector—not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now—why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.

Dishearteningly, the League and other opponents to the conflict were never as influential as they aimed to be. Public opinion was either indifferent or supportive of the conflict, and the men that were coming to power in government were increasingly in favor this and other foreign escapades. Twain and his colleagues came from an older generation rooted in more traditional and romantic notions of American liberty and freedom, the kind that should be defended and allowed to flourish outside the country, not suppressed due to geostrategic and economic interests.

What’s most tragic is that many Americans had no intention of colonizing the country or being mired in some sort of conflict – it was something that escalated quickly, often with the connivance of less-well-intentioned elements, as well as by circumstance, misunderstanding, and confusion. Some saw this as a chance to “enlighten” the Filipino people and provide humanitarian assistance, while others believed it to fulfill America’s rightful Manifest Destiny as a global power. Still others saw riches and an opportunity for prosperity. There were so many overlapping and conflicting goals, interests, and actors. Once again, I see many parallels with contemporary history.

I’d love to get into greater detail about the timeline and nature of the conflict, as well as important events and figures, but as always I remain pressed for time. I’ll leave you all to check out some great source material if you care to do some research about it on your own. As long as people are at least aware that this war happened in the first place, I’ll feel satisfied. Otherwise, here is where you can get more information:

Blowback: The Coup of Mohammad Mosaddegh

On this day in 1953, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was deposed in a coup orchestrated by the CIA and Britain’s MI6 (with the knowledge of both agencies’ governments). This covert act of regime change would become the catalyst for the foundation of the Iran we know today: the oppressive regime of the Shah that we had  re-established in place of the country’s fledgling democracy would create conditions that allowed the noxious predecessors of today’s Islamic Republic to take power.

We attempted to shape a foreign nation so as to suit our interests, and in doing so inadvertently helped make a monster just two decades later, a country that is – for obvious reasons – vehemently anti-American.  It’s even more cruelly ironic to imagine the self-styled leader of the free world bringing down a democracy in order to reinstate a monarchy. It would appear that in some cases, especially during the paranoid power politics of the Cold War, a free nation was only as good as it’s capacity to not get in the way of our geostrategic and economic interests.

Unsurprisingly, this intervention is the poster child for the concept of blowback, in which covert operations lead to unintended and often horrific consequences that often manifest many years later. It was an arrogant and shortsighted attempt at manipulating the world order to suit America’s preferences,  and something the country’s intelligence agencies – ostensibly tasked with protecting the nation – would go about perpetrating numerous times throughout the world.

It is perverse that the national security of this nation would somehow be contingent on friendly dictators and oppressive authoritarian regimes; that assassinating undesirable leaders, overthrowing unfriendly free governments, and imposing destructive economic policies could all be framed as beneficial to the interest of the world’s preeminent bastion of freedom, liberty, and democracy. I wonder how many Americans are truly aware of how many destructive things our government and military did for the presumed good of the public? Given our track record with learning about – and from – history, u’s probably not enough.

I often try to imagine what would’ve happened had Iran been allowed to pursue it’s democratic course. Would it have still ended up as the prominent “rogue” state it is today? Would it have eventually turned into a beacon of democracy in the region, a rare example of a secular democratic Islamic nation? How many lives would’ve been saved through the aversion of the bloody revolution that emerged to overthrow our virtual puppet dictatorship?

Mosaddegh’s administration was by no means flawless or even secure, given it’s brevity, but it was undeniably far better and more progressive than what was imposed in it’s place. Iran’s first relatively freely elected leader was an interesting figure: an author, administrator, lawyer, well-established parliamentarian, and leading politician. His tenure was marked with the initiation of a wide range of progressive social reforms, including things we take as a given in developed states like our own: the introduction of unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation, and sick pay; the banning of virtual slavery that existed for land tenants under their landlords; and the creation of  a program, funded from 20% of the landowner’s rent payments, to develop public works such as public baths, rural housing, and pest control.

He was, and remains, most famous for instituting the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had until then been under British control since 1913,  through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later to become British Petroleum, or BP). Controlled directly by the UK’s government, the AIOC was barred from receiving any more concessions and had it’s assets seized, much to the obvious chagrin of the British, who lodged a complaint with the UN and established a de facto blockade of Iranian oil exports. Mossadegh explained the purpose of his nationalization policy, which was widely popular, as follows:

Our long years of negotiations with foreign countries… have yielded no results this far. With the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people. Another important consideration is that by the elimination of the power of the British company, we would also eliminate corruption and intrigue, by means of which the internal affairs of our country have been influenced. Once this tutelage has ceased, Iran will have achieved its economic and political independence. The Iranian state prefers to take over the production of petroleum itself. The company should do nothing else but return its property to the rightful owners. The nationalization law provide that 25% of the net profits on oil be set aside to meet all the legitimate claims of the company for compensation…It has been asserted abroad that Iran intends to expel the foreign oil experts from the country and then shut down oil installations. Not only is this allegation absurd; it is utter invention…

It was mostly on this pretext that the UK would come to request America’s aid to overthrow the nuisance administration.  At first, however, the British only turned to the US for assistance in settling the dispute. The United States was not only disinterested in getting involved, but explicitly troubled by the British government’s “destructive” policies towards Iran. The US was initially keen only on mediating between the two parties, though these negotiations broke down.

But the election of Eisenhower and the appointment of a different set of policymakers set about a change in attitudes towards the region, and towards covert foreign intervention. The British, then under Winston Churchill, also changed their tune and said the words that always seemed to get the US involved at that time: that Mossadegh was “increasingly turning towards communism”  and that his government was friendly with the Soviets and would no doubt take the country to their sphere of influence (all this despite his open disapproval of socialism).

It was at this point that both the UK and the US were united in denouncing the Iranian government’s policies as harmful and dangerous, and from there moved on to commence Operation Ajax. Due to time constrains on my end, I’ll just quote from Wikipedia, which has a pretty good article on the subject:

In November and December 1952, British intelligence officials suggested to American intelligence that the prime minister should be ousted. The new US administration under Dwight D. Eisenhower and the British government under Winston Churchill agreed to work together toward Mosaddegh’s removal. In March 1953, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles directed the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which was headed by his younger brother Allen Dulles, to draft plans to overthrow Mosaddegh.

On 4 April 1953, CIA director Dulles approved US$1 million to be used “in any way that would bring about the fall of Mosaddegh”. Soon the CIA’s Tehran station started to launch a propaganda campaign against Mosaddegh. Finally, according to The New York Times, in early June, American and British intelligence officials met again, this time in Beirut, and put the finishing touches on the strategy. Soon afterward, according to his later published accounts, the chief of the CIA’s Near East and Africa division, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. the grandson of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, arrived in Tehran to direct it.

In 2000, The New York Times made partial publication of a leaked CIA document titled, Clandestine Service History – Overthrow of Premier Mosaddegh of Iran – November 1952-August 1953. This document describes the point-by-point planning of the coup by agent Donald Wilbur, and execution conducted by the American and British governments. The New York Times published this critical document with the names censored. The New York Times also limited its publication to scanned image (bitmap) format, rather than machine-readable text. This document was eventually published properly – in text form, and fully unexpurgated. The word ‘blowback‘ appeared for the very first time in this document.

The plot, known as Operation Ajax, centered on convincing Iran’s monarch to issue a decree to dismiss Mosaddegh from office, as he had attempted some months earlier. But the Shah was terrified to attempt such a dangerously unpopular and legally questionable move, and it would take much persuasion and many U.S. funded meetings, which included bribing his sister Ashraf with a mink coat and money, to successfully change his mind.

Mosaddegh became aware of the plots against him and grew increasingly wary of conspirators acting within his government. According to Dr. Donald N. Wilber, who was involved in the plot to remove Mossadegh from power, in early August, Iranian CIA operatives pretending to be socialists and nationalists threatened Muslim leaders with “savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh,” thereby giving the impression that Mossadegh was cracking down on dissent, and stirring anti-Mossadegh sentiments within the religious community. A referendum to dissolve parliament and give the prime minister power to make law was submitted to voters, and it passed with 99 percent approval, 2,043,300 votes to 1300 votes against. According to Mark J. Gasiorowski, “There were separate polling stations for yes and no votes, producing sharp criticism of Mosaddeq” and that the “controversial referendum…gave the CIA’s precoup propaganda campaign an easy target”. On or around Aug. 16, Parliament was suspended indefinitely, and Mosaddeq’s emergency powers were extended.

Shortly after the return of the Shah, on 22 August 1953, from his flight to Rome, Mosaddegh was arrested, tried and convicted of treason by the Shah’s military court. On December 21, 1953, he was sentenced to death. Later, Mosaddegh’s sentence was commuted to three years’ solitary confinement in a military prison, followed by house arrest in his Ahmadabad residence, until his death, on 5 March 1967.Mosaddegh’s supporters were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured or executed. The minister of Foreign Affairs and the closest associate of Mosaddegh, Hossein Fatemi, was executed by order of the Shah’s military court. The order was carried out by firing squad on Oct. 29, 1953.

Zahedi’s new government soon reached an agreement with foreign oil companies to form a consortium and “restore the flow of Iranian oil to world markets in substantial quantities”, giving the U.S. and Great Britain the lion’s share of Iran’s oil. In return, the U.S. massively funded the Shah’s resulting government, including his army and secret police force, SAVAK, until the Shah’s overthrow in 1979

Mossadegh during his house arrest.

If anyone is curious, the CIA document detailing this entirely plot is actually available on the web in it’s entirety. While it would’ve been better to imagine that this was an operation undertaken in secret by our spy agency, it’s very clear that many politicians and officials within our civilian administration were not only aware of the plot but directly participated in it. US involvement wasn’t publicly acknowledged until 2000.

To be sure, I’m not saying the Iranians are guiltless their nation’s current predicaments either (though the majority of them today seem clearly opposed to their current regime, and many people certainly didn’t want the brutal theocratic dictatorship that ended up emerging). Mossadegh wasn’t a perfect leader, but for his time and place he was far more progressive. Ultimately, the US facilitated the instability and unrest that allowed the currently noxious rulers of Iran to come to power in the first place. It’s a lesson that will hopefully be learned some day, assuming that the greed and self-interest that motivates such policies ever sufficiently subsides in the first place.

If anyone is interested in reading more about this, which I strongly encourage, consider these sources:

  • Democracy Now’s 50th anniversary discussion on the subject, including an interview with the writer of All the Shah’s Men, an authoritative source on the event.
  • A brief account of the events before and during the coup
  • The Secret CIA History the Iran Coup, from the National Archives
  • The Wikipedia article on the subject, which while imperfect is certainly a good starting point.

A Turning Point in Libya – and the UN?

As of a few days ago, the situation in Libya was starting to seem hopeless. The uprising appeared to be losing it’s momentum ,as Qaddafi’s forces successfully held back the rebel’s efforts to dislodge the bloodthirsty dictator; they even began taking back cities that had fallen under the control of the “Libyan Republic,” also known as the Interim Transitional National Council. Several cities were facing protracted and confusing conflicts, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to determine who was winning where, and what exactly was going on.

Furthermore, as the recent events in Japan shifted the world’s attention away from the Arab uprisings, it seemed the wily Libyan autocrat (and for that matter his Bahraini counterparts) would exploit the opportunity to crush the rebels once and for all. Sitting on billions of dollars of cash, and hunkered down in his fortified headquarters,  Qaddafi had the means to keep the fight going for as long as it’d take. However tenacious and courageous the rebels may be, they would be no match for his resources, especially given his willingness to massacre entire towns in order to pacify them.

All the while, the world was contemplating the typical questions that arise in the face of such a crisis: what do we do? What should we do, if anything? How would we do it? I saw my fair share of diverse perspectives. In the non-interventionist camp was all or some of the following: that this was an internal matter, best left for the Libyans to resolve; that intervention would deligitimize their grassroots efforts; that the US should not, by principle, play the role of global police; and that any involvement would risk civilian lives and muddle us in yet another controversial and expensive Mideast quagmire.

On the other hand, many argued that the international community had an obligation to intervene, due to humanitarian concerns. Qaddafi was brutalizing his own people with mercenaries and his personal security force; the Libyan rebels began their efforts peacefully, and were only fighting to protect themselves and remove their murderous tyrant after four decades of abuse. Most interesting was the argument that the Western powers, after coddling other autocratic regimes in the region, and failing to take a meaningful stand during the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, had to atone and do what was right to help the people.

Then there was the argument concerning how to get involved. Almost no one wanted foreign boots on the ground. Rather, the prevailing idea was the enforcement of a no-fly zone, by which foreign air forces would prevent Qaddafi’s planes and gunships from attacking civilians, while also neutralizing his air defenses. This would essentially be “intervention lite” – supporting the rebels and making their efforts easier, while not taking a central role. A similar idea called for arming the rebels directly, though that didn’t seem to get much stock.

Of course, this strategy has it’s own flaws and criticism, and it’s effectiveness is debated. It’s previous uses – during the Bosnian War and in Iraq to protect the Kurds from Saddam during the 1990s – were mixed at best in terms of effectiveness. Many have pointed out that most of the fighting in Libya is occurring between ground forces, and relying on aerial assaults would be incomplete and ineffective in a largely urban conflict. Indeed, while many Libyans – and indeed Arabs throughout the region – had specifically asked for a no-fly zone, a good number also seemed uncertain or downright opposed to the idea.

In any case, all this debate seemed ultimately trivial – every humanitarian crisis spurs analysis, deliberation, and all sorts of journalistic and academic commentary. But rarely does any of it amount to any sort of meaningful policy or action. The powers that be, as well as most of their constituents, fail to seriously take action. There is a long and historic precedence for this, from Rwanda and Somalia, to the situation in Darfur.

Thankfully, this time was different.

The International Community Takes a Stand

In any unusually bold move, the United Nations Security Council approved of a resolution on March 18th calling for the enforcement of a no-fly zone and mandating that international military forces could defend embattled civilians by force (albeit only through aerial and naval means). None of the 15 members voted against the measure, although a few abstained (unsurprisingly Russia and China were among those not to support the measure, though they were widely expected to outright veto the measure rather than back down). It’s always been difficult to get international consensus on anything, let alone something as touchy as foreign intervention. This made the UN’s prompt and practically unanimous decision all the more surprising, especially considering it’s track record. While I obviously would’ve preferred such action to have been taken some weeks ago, I’m still quite pleased that it happened at all.

Following this declaration, several western powers – the US, UK, France, and Canada – commenced with their respective military operations (Operation Odyssey Dawn, Operation Ellamy, Operation Harmattan, and Operation MOBILE). France in particular has been taking a leading role in the crisis; not only was it the first to recognize the Libyan Republic as the legitimate government of the people, but it was among the first to initiate military operations and – as of my writing –  the first to take down several of Qaddafi’s forces. Nearly a dozen other mostly European countries are either directly contributing or otherwise lending their support, with several others expression their intentions to do so.

The effectiveness of all this is still too soon to determine. It’s been verified that several of Qaddafi’s assaults have been held back or thwarted, and so far there are no confirmed civilian deaths (which was a major concern).  Just recently, it was a reported that one of the dictator’s command centers was destroyed, though he remained defiant and continued to claim that he would “fight to the death.” In fact, his forces remain in control of a town near the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, despite supposedly declaring a ceasefire following the passage of the resolution. It looks like the multinational force will be in it for the long-haul, which raises concerns as to the long-term objectives of this conflict. Will Qaddafi concede defeat, or will international forces wind down in response to a protracted conflict? What comes after his fall? What do the foreign powers do then – guide the rebels and help build a new government, or back off and let them take it from there?

My Personal Take on the Subject

I’ve been musing about all these questions myself. As an international relations major, conflict – particularly with respect to humanitarian intervention – is a central topic of concern. There are all sorts of ethical and practical concerns to keep in mind, an no decision, policy, or solution is perfect or entirely acceptable.

Personally, I support intervention in Libya and currently support actions being undertaken by the UN-mandated task force. In my opinion, international involvement is warranted in the face of overwhelming human rights abuses. I understand that in practice, this is a very difficult endeavor: there are dozens of countries in which human rights are regularly abused, and to be involved in all of them militarily would be a costly and unfeasible affair. In an ideal world, we’d have the willingness to apply all of our well-equipped and idle troops to humanitarian missions. But in reality, such commitments are generally beyond what both politicians and the public would find acceptable (hence the emphasis on seeking – or creating – “strategic” or “national security” interests whenever such calls for intervention arises).

But with all that said, Libya’s situation merited particular attention: it began as a peaceful protest and escalated into a war due to Qaddafi’s own viscous predations.  After four decades of human rights abuses, as well as a long history of exporting his brutality, Qaddafi deserves to be taken out, especially now that he is weaker than ever. In any case, our level of involvement is rather small in terms of costs and risks. Supporting these courageous rebels is the least we can do given our own indifference towards – and at times tacit approval of – autocrats in the region.

In response to concerns about long-term prospects, I personally  believe that once Qaddafi is dislodged – which I think is very likely if we keep the fight going – we should leave it to the would-be rebel government to take the reigns of it’s own destiny. Libyan society is very divided, and the rebels include a slew of diverse ideological persuasions. But ultimately, they all agree that the status quo is unacceptable, suggesting that any replacement of Qaddafi is unlikely to be as autocratic and genocidal. In any case, that’s for the Libyans themselves to sort out. As with most things, I’m taking a balanced approach:  we should help the rebels insofar as we facilitate their victory and protect them from the inevitable massacre that would follow Qaddafi’s victory. But following such a victory, it’s up to Libyans themselves to take charge, with the US and other powers at best providing technical, diplomatic, and economic assistance to facilitate their transition.

Of course, I have no delusions about the nature of this intervention. I know there are cold and hard strategic reasons for international involvement; Libya’s conflict was contributing to a spike in the price of oil, for example. I also know that such a no-fly zone is no guarantee of anything, and could very well fail, perhaps taking innocent civilians down with it (collateral damage is a sad fact of any conflict, especially when it involves the use of missiles and planes in an urban setting full of irregulars).

But I also know that no human action is one-sided. I doubt all the diplomats and leaders behind this operation were in it strictly for strategic or economic reasons. I’m sure many of them followed the same logic we all do: balancing self-interest and self-preservation with altruism and sincere ethical conduct. No action is entirely self-less, but few are entirely selfish either.

Which leads me to my next subtopic.

A Watershed for the UN and  for Humanitarian Involvement?

The actions of the UN and the international community are almost unprecedented by the rather low standards of humanitarian intervention. None of my sources, much less myself,  saw this resolution coming. Even fewer believed the war averse Europe and war weary America would actually contribute as much as they have to the effort. I’m very tempted to get romantic and excited about the prospects of this becoming the first of many such resolutions calling for international contributions to defending human rights.

Alas, I must always balance my idealism with my realism. For the most part, I’m cautiously optimistic. As I noted earlier, geostrategic interests with respect to the oil supply certainly had a part to play. But I also think that the world has seen the signs: the Arab world is slowly but surely challenging the status quo of autocracy and disenfranchisement, and the powers that be don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. In a globalized and increasingly interconnected world, we can no longer afford to ignore the crises in nations halfway around the world. As other countries rise in military, economic, and political power, I expect to see the emergence of more multinational efforts such as this one.

Then again, the fact that the major developing powers – Brazil, India, and China – failed to back this resolution, bodes ill for the notion of a multi-polar world.  So has the UN’s failure in other parts of the world, where only mostly poorer nations have shown an interest in getting involved in Peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and other such endeavors.  Ultimately, all we can do is wait and see: as protests continue in Yemen, Bahrain, and now Syria, the UN and it’s major contributers will be challenged to act if things escalate. Even if it fails to be as bold as it was with Libya, I can be pleased that something was done.

In a world rife with injustice and apathy, I’ll take what I can get in terms of humanitarian gains. I’ll hope for the best, just like millions of people do everyday.