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Why Did the United States Intervene in Libya?

In a recent broadcast, Bill O’Reilly (a guy I respect and more often than not I agree with) told America on his evening talk show “The O’Reilly Factor” that the United States and the UN were justified in their intervention into Libyan internal affairs. His point was that anyone who would not “stand by and watch someone being murdered” should understand and support US intervention in Libya. I do not agree with his assertion, because it is short-sighted. It is short-sighted because it assumes that the United States must or at least should intervene in all instances where we see mass murder (genocide) being committed anywhere in the world. This is neither practical nor consistent with 200 + years of US foreign policy.

Consider the list of 20th Century genocides. (An excerpt from this list of the biggest genocides in the 20th Century is appended to this article, below.) Note that out of the many millions murdered and the dozens of genocides that were perpetrated on humanity, the United States has intervened in almost none of them militarily – the major exception, of course, being WWII. If the United States did not intervene when up to 78 million Chinese were murdered, or when 23 million Russians were murdered, or when 8 million Belgians were murdered, or when 1.7 million Cambodians were murdered, or when 1.6 million North Koreans were murdered….. well, I think you see my point. The United States has not historically thrown itself like a local sheriff into the internal actions of other sovereign nations, applying military force to prevent despotic leaders from doing bad things. The United States should not decide that it will do so at some times and not do so at others, with no policy-based guidelines for channeling those decisions. The entire population of Libya as of 2009 is listed at 6, 419,925 people. Even if despotic leader Muumar Gaddafi were successful in killing half of the population it would pale in comparison to most of the really massive murders committed by Mao Ze-Dong, Stalin, Hitler, Tojo, Pol Pot, and so many others. So why intervene in Libya? What’s really going on here?

While it has not often been true that US actions are dictated solely by our thirst for oil, in this case oil interests certainly seem to be involved. It has been widely reported that the chairman of the Libya’s state-run National Oil Corporation, has issued a statement to the effect that western companies that have withdrawn their staff due to the crisis should send their employees back to work, or risk seeing new oil and gas concessions awarded to rivals from China, India and Brazil. It is no coincidence that those countries have all remained neutral during the Libyan conflict, and abstained from voting on United Nations Security Council resolution 1973.

Of course France is especially interested in bringing US military might to bear on Libya, in order to protect their interests in that country. I really enjoyed a recent post by Michael Ciric, who said: “If there is one thing that I have learned in my lifetime, if France is eager to use American “military muscle,” then try and avoid it at all costs. Matter of a fact, run like hell! French Indo-China (Viet Nam) should be your first lesson learned when looking at their political motives. Besides, wasn’t it the French who opposed the United States every step of the way in prosecuting a “worldwide war on terror” from the onset of 9-11? Yet, whenever another former vestige, (or an enemy) of its North African colonialism gets into a jam, they want someone else to sacrifice for them. I say, since the French were quick on the accelerator with the Libyan Civil War, we should have said “vous le faites.” For those who have forgotten their high school French, it simply means – You Do It!.”

Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, Former US Ambassador to Morocco writing for the Huffington Post agrees: “Inquiring minds want to know what Sarkozy’s motives are for compelling Les Yankees into a full-fledged military involvement in Libya? After all is said and done, despite legitimate humanitarian concerns, major U.S. military involvement in Libya is, on balance, fundamentally at odds with America’s core strategic interests in the Middle East. Actually, a French-orchestrated Libyan coup d’etat has less to do with Gaddafi and more to do with Sarkozy’s domestic perils as well as France’s incessant jockeying with Germany for European leadership.”

It is difficult to see how the United States owes anything to France in this regard, given – as Ciric points out – France’s reticence in supporting the US war on terror. Libya does not represent a threat to the United States other than their ability to withhold oil from US companies, and for that matter I am not seeing how Libya, in the throws of a civil war, even represents a threat to France (again, with the exception of withholding oil.) The only military risk that seems possible is that the civil war could spill over outside the Libyan borders into adjacent countries, and frankly that risk seems much higher to me as a result of the ongoing Muslim rebellions against other countries’ governments – ranging from Tunisia to Egypt and other small middle eastern countries.

Summarizing then, if the real reason that the US is becoming involved in Libya is because Gaddafi is likely to injure or kill many Libyans, it makes very little sense because we do not undertake the prevention of such acts in 8 or 9 cases out of 10. It is not consistent with US national policy to be the arbiter of relationships between sovereign nations and their citizens. If the reason is that the US is protecting its interest in Libyan oil, it also makes no sense. The US obtains less than 1% of it’s oil from Libya. Even that oil is channeled through private oil companies, which again places the matter solidly outside the purview of the United States Government. If the reason is simply to support the interests of France, an ally who would not support the United States even in the aftermath of 9-11, it makes no sense at all.

So when the United States entered the Libya fray militarily, our country began to tread on dangerous ground. We departed from our nation’s traditional policies and began to act as a policeman in the internal governance of sovereign nations. What happens the next time there is a Russian invasion of Georgia, or another Tiananmen Square massacre; will we launch cruise missiles at Moscow or Beijing? Or will the United States only defend the helpless population of countries when those countries are too small to defend against our intervention?

What do you think?


20th Century Genocide Number Killed Did the US Intervene?
Mao Ze-Dong (China, 1958-61 and 1966-69, Tibet 1949-50) 49-78,000,000 No
Jozef Stalin (USSR, 1932-39) 23,000,000 (the purges plus Ukraine’s famine) No
Adolf Hitler (Germany, 1939-1945) 12,000,000 (concentration camps and civilians WWII) Yes – Eventually
Leopold II of Belgium (Congo, 1886-1908) 8,000,000 No
Hideki Tojo (Japan, 1941-44) 5,000,000 (civilians in WWII) N0
Ismail Enver (Turkey, 1915-20) 1,200,000 Armenians (1915) + 350,000 Greek Pontians and 480,000 Anatolian Greeks (1916-22) + 500,000 Assyrians (1915-20) No
Pol Pot (Cambodia, 1975-79) 1,700,000 No
Kim Il Sung (North Korea, 1948-94) 1.6 million (purges and concentration camps) No
Menghistu (Ethiopia, 1975-78) 1,500,000 No
Yakubu Gowon (Biafra, 1967-1970) 1,000,000 No
Leonid Brezhnev (Afghanistan, 1979-1982) 900,000 No
Jean Kambanda (Rwanda, 1994) 800,000 No
Suharto (East Timor, West Papua, Communists, 1966-98) 800,000 No
Saddam Hussein (Iran 1980-1990 and Kurdistan 1987-88) 600,000 No
Tito (Yugoslavia, 1945-1987) 570,000 No
Fumimaro Konoe (Japan, 1937-39) 500,000? (Chinese civilians) No
Jonas Savimbi (Angola, 1975-2002) 400,000 No
Mullah Omar – Taliban (Afghanistan, 1986-2001) 400,000 No
Idi Amin (Uganda, 1969-1979) 300,000 No
Yahya Khan (Pakistan, 1970-71) 300,000 (Bangladesh) No
Benito Mussolini (Ethiopia, 1936; Libya, 1934-45; Yugoslavia, WWII) 300,000 Yes – Eventually
Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire, 1965-97) ? No
Charles Taylor (Liberia, 1989-1996) 220,000 No
Foday Sankoh (Sierra Leone, 1991-2000) 200,000 No
Michel Micombero (Burundi, 1972) 150,000 No
Slobodan Milosevic (Yugoslavia, 1992-99) 100,000 No
Hassan Turabi (Sudan, 1989-1999) 100,000 No
Jean-Bedel Bokassa (Centrafrica, 1966-79) ? No

6 Responses to “Why Did the United States Intervene in Libya?”

  1. Lloyd Duncan says:

    Bil, I agree. As one who participated in the failed Viet Nam war, I believe we cannot police the whole world & the Muslim world in particular. They are particularly hard People to deal with. Years ago I saw written on the back of a t-shirt”,Afghanistan-Nuke them all & let God sort them out”. Although I absolutely do not approve of this idea, it is probably the only way to bring “peace” to at least to the hard core Muslim world.

    • Lloyd: Thank you for your comment! I understand what you are saying – a lot of people believe in the “nuke them all” approach. While you and I would never go down that path, it is easy to see how an angry mob forms after a terrible tragedy, and irresponsible things happen.

  2. Marie Luft says:

    I think the argument that we are there to prevent loss of civilian life is probably the excuse that goes over the best in sound bites…. that’s all. However, as a member of the UN, we are bound to acknowledge our obligations to that body.

    I was surprised that the arab countries went to the UN this time … normally the UN has been of little value and mostly ignored over the years, probably because it is, as you know, difficult to get anything accomplished by committee asap. This time, as I recall, it took a week ? Anyway, the UN did approve the no-fly zone and all members of the UN should participate in the no-fly zone, if they can, (including us). Unfortunately, we are still awaiting the turnover of our “leadership” to the arab and european countries most affected by their bad neighbor.

    As a side note, It is interesting that France has popped up in the picture again. We had a terrible time with DeGaulle during the WWII years …

  3. Carl Burney says:

    From what I’ve gathered we ARE in Libya for oil. Of course, not OUR oil interests but Europe’s which makes it O.K. with the liberals who abhor any type of military interventions that are for our own interests. The actions are also a UN operation which makes participation irresistible to Obama whom I believe ultimately shares their wet dream of a liberal Socialist one-world government utopia. As the Apologist-In-Chief, B. Hussein travels the world bowing before 3rd world dictators and pledging financial support for anything and everything that is NOT in our interest or our responsibility.If what he supports advances to cause of Islam so much the better and the more likely he is to promote it even at the expense (financial and otherwise) of the country he supposedly loves and leads as president.

  4. Bill Duncan says:

    I am feeling pretty validated today, after listening to this exchange, entitled: “Should the US Be the World’s Policeman?”

  5. Carl Burney says:

    Beckel can be a very likable guy when he’s not being a partisan political hack trying to defend the indefensible.

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