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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » The US Response in Libya, Syria and Somalia: The ghosts of Bosnia

   
Author Topic: The US Response in Libya, Syria and Somalia: The ghosts of Bosnia
SenojRetep
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This week the UN declared a famine in Somalia. The famine is a result of a terrible drought, and is exacerbated by the country's primitive infrastructure, tribalism, and warlordism. The UN is pushing aid to the country, but it's difficult to get fair distribution of the aid because militias are hoarding goods for private tribal use, and because al Shabaab, the primary governing force in the South, is 1) highly resistant to partnering with Western aid agencies and 2) a declared terrorist group by both the US and EU, leading to both moral and bureaucratic issues.

Meanwhile in Syria, a 5 month crackdown has led to hundreds, if not thousands of Syrian protesters being killed by al-Assad's regime. The US and EU member states have steadily ramped up rhetoric and repeatedly called for sanctions, but because Syria is allied with Russia and China there is no realistic hope of any UNSC action against Syria.

In Libya, the rebel forces who have been legitimized and have received significant support in their resistance from NATO, seem to have settled into a protracted fight with Libyans loyal to Gaddafi. The commander of the rebel forces was recently assassinated under murky circumstances, some claiming that Islamist elements within the rebellion were responsible, others claiming it was a "fifth column" infiltration of Gaddafi supporters, still others suggesting the rebel leadership council played a role. There were brief reports of actual fighting within the rebel post at Benghazi.

Back in 1995, prompted in part by the horrible massacre in Srebinica and haunting images from the Omarska concentration camp, the US sent troops to support NATO in its reinforcement of Bosnia Croats. I haven't thought really hard, nor am I a real student of the history of US international conflicts, but this seems to me the first time the US intervened in a conflict internal to a single state for the purpose of preventing massacres/genocide/ethnic cleansing/etc. The intervention, both in its justification and its execution, seems very similar to the case in Libya today, except with the critical difference that in the Libyan case we intervened due to a perceived threat of an imminent massacre, rather than to prevent on-going atrocities.

So, what I've been wondering about is the moral obligation of the US to intervene in humanitarian crises. What (if anything) differentiates Libya from Syria from Somalia (morally speaking)? Ignoring pragmatic issues, would it be morally justifiable for the US to go into Somalia in force in order to prevent al Shabaab and it warlord partners from hoarding food and medical aid shipments? What moral parameters are relevant in determining when it is justifiable for the US to intervene in an internal conflict? Are they different in an internal conflict than an international conflict?

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James Tiberius Kirk
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At work, but A Problem from Hell is an interesting book on the topic of US "moral obligation" (or the lack thereof) during humanitarian crises, specifically genocide. Written by one of those who pushed for intervention in Libya, no less.
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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by SenojRetep:
... What moral parameters are relevant in determining when it is justifiable for the US to intervene in an internal conflict?

I'm usually in favour of the US losing money and equipment fighting in long protracted conflicts with little hope of victory. Libya's looking good so far [Wink]
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Rakeesh
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In favor, hm? Well, I realize there was a wink at the end of that, so I won't reply along the lines of what you're endorsing.
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Black Fox
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I think the bar for moral obligation when it comes to violent intervention is extremely high. Half the time it almost seems contradictory for a nation to get involved as a nation's involvement has the nasty tendency of just dragging out the inevitable. Of course a lack of moral obligation does not say anything about such interventions not being morally justified.
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kmbboots
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The problem is, the only tools we seem to know how to use are, themsleves, violent.
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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
The problem is, the only tools we seem to know how to use are, themsleves, violent.

We've employed sanctions against bad guys (which maybe you are including in "violence"); we've tried negotiations and diplomacy with Syria and Iran and N. Korea and it doesn't have perceptible positive effect. We give lots of money to countries who do things we like, even when they do other things we don't like (e.g. Egypt or Pakistan); we help with recovery from tsunamis, earthquakes, and nuclear meltdowns. I don't think there's a dearth of available foreign policy options; there's a dearth of effective foreign policy options.

That said, the moral question I was raising was how to balance a country's right to autonomy with our instinct to protect its citizens from things like massacres and genocides. We feel ashamed over what happened in Rwanda, or Darfur, or any other place where internecine feuds turn into mass murder. In Libya, we stepped in to preempt what was perceived to be an imminent threat of a massacre. If that is morally justifiable, is it similarly justifiable to step into Syria? Or Somalia (where the threat is less direct, but also larger scale)? How do/should our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan inform that decision?

I feel very conflicted on the issue.

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twinky
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quote:
Originally posted by SenojRetep:
...we've tried negotiations and diplomacy with Syria and Iran and N. Korea and it doesn't have perceptible positive effect.

I don't think I agree with this in the case of NK.

I'm still mulling over your broader post. [Smile]

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Stone_Wolf_
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Very interesting question! As a foreign sovereign nation, we have zero obligation to aide anyone at all, be it to prevent a massacre or relieve people in the aftermath of a tsunami. I'm not saying that I'm against helping, I'm just saying we aren't obligated. Should we help? I'm not sure. We have stepped into the role of "world police" and there advantages to that stance morally. Yes, starving people should be fed, and devastated people should be taken care of and innocent people should be protected...morally. But I tend to think that we should not act unilaterally, but allow an organization like the U.N. to act and then supply the muscle/money/supplies. That can have the negative repercussion of putting innocent lives at risk of international politics, but it is an equal risk of our country of being seen as/actually being obligated or imperialists or in other words, in trying to be world police we over reach our bounds ethically, resource wise and in the eyes of other sovereign nations.

I also strongly feel that while helping others is a Good Thing™, we should keep a monetary eye inward. Is it worth it to help other countries if we must default on your obligation to our own citizens when it comes to education, infrastructure and social security? I suggest that the red cross and other organizations that thrive on voluntary donations should be in the forefront of humanitarian efforts and not our military. Now clearly you can't have the salvation army helo dropped into Libya...our troops and therefore our tax dollars must be spent if we are to help when it comes to preventing/stopping genocide. This is why I would say take more of a lead from the U.N.

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Black Fox
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The problem is that the UN itself is not a producer of muscle/money/supplies. I also think it is a terribly run organization with a lot of bureaucratic nonsense. For example, the Security Council is a joke.

Also, to address a point above. If you believe that a nation's legitimacy comes from its people then any nation that attacks its own people loses any right to autonomy. Not to mention, I don't think that states have any natural right or even real legal right to autonomy. I am sure that I am fairly lonely in that camp.

Maybe I'm just too much of a humanist, but I think a person's rights come before the state's rights in every case except when by denying a state's right you deny all or most of its citizens a great deal of rights.

I figured I would bring this up, one of the hardest things about bringing aids to some of the really hard hit parts of the world is security. People just don't feel bringing certain goods and services because they don't want to be killed. Personally I have little respect for those people, but I'm also a little crazy. It was very frustrating in Afghanistan that the State Department would not send anyone out to our position to try and help the local community or even give us money to do so. NGOs would not come out to our sector to distribute aid. Instead, we had to use Army funds for base construction to help the local community, ask for donations from back home, and just have our medics do what they could for the locals.

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Stone_Wolf_
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quote:
The problem is that the UN itself is not a producer of muscle/money/supplies.
I said take their lead and then supply these things ourselves...not count on the U.N. for them. [Smile]

quote:
I also think it is a terribly run organization with a lot of bureaucratic nonsense. For example, the Security Council is a joke.
You may be 100% correct here, but like it or not, this is the correct governing body of international affairs, and if it needs some reforms, we should try and reform it, but just acting unilaterally is not a good solution IMO.
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SenojRetep
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There are multi-lateral possibilities other than the UN. Using other long-standing organizations (like NATO) or creating ad-hoc coalitions can provide some legitimacy while not necessarily suffering from the same degree of paralyzing politics that inhibits the UN.

It seems to me, apropos of BF's earlier comment, that one of the most significant current trends in international politics is the decrease in adherence to the idea of autonomous states. We look at, for instance, US drone attacks in Yemen or Pakistan. Or the recognition of trans-national groups' ability to wage war, as in the case of al-Qaida. Or the impact of trans-national NGOs like the Red Cross or Amnesty International.

Practically, it seems more and more of the action is in trans- and sub-national groups. But the Red Cross and al-Qaida don't have seats in the UN. I don't think our institutions are doing a good job of keeping up with the rate of change on the ground.

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kmbboots
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I think that supporting organizations on the ground that already provide assistance - like the Red Cross or MSF - makes a lot of sense. I would worry about how to support them without making them too beholden to US interests, though. Beefing up UNICEF, perhaps?

Another problem is that local authorities are often an obstacle to those trying to provide aid.

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dennisF
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It is not an issue if there are funds to support Somalia, Libya and Syria food aids because there are many people who are always willing to help. The big issue in food supports is if the aids are really received by the correct recipients. Help would never be a great help until it is receive by the people who ask for help. The U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP) confessed Monday that for two months now it has been looking to the routine theft of food relief to famine ravaged Somalia.An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) has earlier revealed that about half of meals supplies donated to Somalia are regularly ripped off and sold in markets in the same community where skeletal kids are dying of starvation. I found this here: Food aid to Somalia being ripped off and sold in market
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Rakeesh
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Really? They're funded to meet their mandate, but what stops them from doing so is local government inefficiency/corruption?

I'm not saying that's not a serious problem, I just want to understand your position.

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SenojRetep
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An article today at Slate talks at length about the difficulty and ambiguity of humanitarian interventions.
quote:
Can the local good—the protection of these people or that city—never outweigh the global problem that human rights are, at best, invoked inconsistently and hypocritically, and at worst to excuse any and every war? Humanitarian warfare, clearly bad in principle, often looks good from the standpoint of a particular people at a particular moment, when they are threatened with death. And so the temperamental opponent of intervention can come to feel that while in general he opposes this kind of thing, well, in this case he guesses he supports it—and in that case too, and the next one. He can come to feel like somebody who has principles only for the sake of suspending them.
The article takes a position decidedly against what it sees as the absolutism of Powers' humanitarian idealism. The authors' view seems to be that we (meaning any country with the ability to project power militarily) have been ignoring state sovereignty since WWII, leading to international policy significantly skewed towards protecting human rights, even at the cost of perpetual war. For several decades this was masked by the balance of power between the USA and USSR, but since 1991 has turned into a persistent drive for war in the name of human rights.

The authors are not fond of the war in Libya, or the rationale used:
quote:
With the invocation of the word genocide, we move into some other sphere of human relations. Thought, strategy, negotiation shut down; there is only right and wrong, only fight or flight. Which is precisely, in fact, the point.

A politics this morally coercive may explain why a president who is a former law professor, and who came to power with the mandate to restore the rule of law, would so brazenly ignore the Constitution. But a politics this morally coercive is not a politics at all.

The article's very interesting, if a little long (for an internet newsmag article).
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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
Really? They're funded to meet their mandate, but what stops them from doing so is local government inefficiency/corruption?

I'm not saying that's not a serious problem, I just want to understand your position.

This is a long-recognized problem in Somalia (and other warlord states). Food and medical aid is often delivered, only to be stolen by armed militias who then hoard it for their own clans, or sell it on the black market. That's precisely what led Bush Sr. and the UN to send troops to Somalia in the early-90s in Operation Restore Hope (which in turn led to Operation Gothic Serpent, the battle of Mogadishu and the events of Black Hawk Down).
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Rakeesh
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Yes, as I said, not saying local corruption/inefficiency isn't a serious problem. I was only questioning the idea, if that's what was meant, that various humanitarian aid needs would be fulfilled if not for those problems.
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Stone_Wolf_
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This is an interesting topic to me. I'm a believer that good, strong people should stand up for weaker people who are being victimized. But like everything else, this simple belief when magnified to a world political scale is not simple.

If children/people are starving to death and we have extra food, should we send it to them. Still pretty simple, yes.

If those people are citizens of a foreign country which has not officially requested aide or specifically has refused it, should we still send it?

If we do send aide and bad people use violence to stop the supplies getting to the needy, should we use force to make sure those supplies get to the needy?

What if those bad people are official (or unofficial) representatives of that foreign government?

What if the cost of that aide and enforcement is too much for a country to support and is causing a lack of funds for education and social security?

I'm unsure myself about these questions. Should the United States of America be the safety net of the world, stepping in whenever people are suffering?

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SenojRetep
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Another interesting read somewhat related to the subject this time in yesterday's NY Times on the question of what gives states legitimacy, and what role "phantom states" (i.e. "places that field military forces, hold elections, build local economies and educate children, yet inhabit the foggy netherworld between de facto existence and international legitimacy") should play in the international order. (h/t Monkey Cage)
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Samprimary
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quote:

Al Jazeera now speaking to Mohammed Gaddafi: "I was assured of our safety from the people who surrounded our house" #Libya

WOW there is live gunfire in the house as Mohammed Gaddafi is speaking on the phone with Al Jazeera

Mohammed Gaddafi just said the final Islamic prayers, he was stuttering, there appears to have been people inside the house. Phone cut off.


Mohammed Gaddafi image on Al Jazeera TV just before line disconnected following gun fire inside the house yfrog.com/h4ti1ruj

Mohammed Gaddafi told Al Jazeera: "There was an absence of wisdom that lead Libya to reach such a state" (gun fire started here) ...


Mohammed Gaddafi to Al Jazeera: (gun fire got louder here) "I..I... I am being attacked right now..inside, inside my house, inside"

Tripoli fell to the rebels in less than 24 hours.
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Mucus
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That is a pleasant surprise actually. Or at least I hope it will work out to be pleasant.
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SenojRetep
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From President Obama's statement:
quote:
Though there will be huge challenges ahead, the extraordinary events in Libya remind us that fear can give way to hope and that the power of people striving for freedom can bring about a brighter day.
The power of the people, combined with several months of aerial bombardment, can do just about anything.
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Samprimary
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It's amazing to watch such a dramatic turnaround, considering how little time the rebels had before annihilation when we finally intervened.
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BlackBlade
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Syrian Attorney General resigns.

Why? Surprise surprise, he can't stand the mass killings anymore.

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The Rabbit
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quote:
So, what I've been wondering about is the moral obligation of the US to intervene in humanitarian crises. What (if anything) differentiates Libya from Syria from Somalia (morally speaking)? Ignoring pragmatic issues, would it be morally justifiable for the US to go into Somalia in force in order to prevent al Shabaab and it warlord partners from hoarding food and medical aid shipments? What moral parameters are relevant in determining when it is justifiable for the US to intervene in an internal conflict? Are they different in an internal conflict than an international conflict?
I take it you don't remember what happened last time we sent the military to delivery food during a famine in Somalia.
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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
quote:
So, what I've been wondering about is the moral obligation of the US to intervene in humanitarian crises. What (if anything) differentiates Libya from Syria from Somalia (morally speaking)? Ignoring pragmatic issues, would it be morally justifiable for the US to go into Somalia in force in order to prevent al Shabaab and it warlord partners from hoarding food and medical aid shipments? What moral parameters are relevant in determining when it is justifiable for the US to intervene in an internal conflict? Are they different in an internal conflict than an international conflict?
I take it you don't remember what happened last time we sent the military to delivery food during a famine in Somalia.
I take it you didn't read the thread.

But, more to the point, I don't know that a bad previous outcome affects the morality of the situation. If we have the ability to prevent a massacre inside a sovereign country, are we justified in doing so? Are we obligated to do so? Does one faction depriving another of food aid during a famine count as a massacre in the same way that the Hutus' mass-killing of Tutsis was a massacre? If not, why not?

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BlackBlade
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Check it out, Syria got Dr. Evil to be their ambassador to the US.

[ September 16, 2011, 11:38 PM: Message edited by: BlackBlade ]

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rainboy
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(Post Removed by Janitor Blade. Links to Coach Bags filled with Spam.)

[ September 19, 2011, 09:48 AM: Message edited by: JanitorBlade ]

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Lyrhawn
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Whistled.
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SenojRetep
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Michael Ignatieff reviews a book called "Political Evil" by Alan Wolfe, a professor of PolySci at Boston College. The argument of the book, according to Ignatieff, is that we oughtn't to have an absolutist attitude toward things like genocide. Essentially we should consider politicial expediency of confronting evil. It sounds from Ignatieff's review like a liberal attempt at countering the view of interventionists who feel action to prevent atrocities in a moral imperative.
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