Sunday, April 3, 2011

America And Free Libya

Like Freddie, I'm happy to see the high-profile defections from the Gadhafi government. The Gadhafi-crumbles-from-within rebel victory scenario is probably the one that results in minimum bloodshed.

But I don't see why he wants such a hard line on this:
If the Qaddafi government does somehow come to fall out of power, all people of conscience-- realists, liberal hawks, non-interventionists, neoconservatives, and all flavors in between-- have to be adamant: no American "influence" of the new government. No installation of friendly leadership, no de facto choosing sides with providing arms or money to favored actors within Libya, none of the endless machinations by our intelligence service of internal Libyan affairs. It's precisely that kind of flagrantly anti-democratic action that has so poisoned our reputation in that part of the world.
If you wanted America to not influence events in Libya, you're already doomed to not get what you wanted. We and our allies just blew up a bunch of government artillery with aerial bombing and saved a rebel movement from annihilation. I think the Obama administration is going to be able to present a pretty good account of its actions when all is done -- I support this intervention for basically Juan Cole reasons. But "We didn't influence events in Libya" is not going to be one of the things we can boast of, no matter how we interact with the new government, and people whose admiration of America is based on our being able to say it are people we've already lost. While there's something to be gained from not choosing sides in their internal disputes, it's the kind of thing that gets figured into the cost/benefit analysis once we figure out what the eventual sides are, and which I wouldn't take any absolute stand on in advance.

I also wonder why Freddie thinks outside meddling would necessarily be anti-democratic. Suppose there's a decision point where the new government could either be a democracy or a new dictatorship. Whatever the total cost/benefit analysis would come out to, I'm pretty sure that democratic considerations would weigh pretty heavily in favor of supporting democracy.


Freddie said...

I'm a zealot for the principles of non-interference and self-determination. I think one of the greatest impediments to genuine democracy in world history is the imposition on the sovereignty of free people from other nations. That's most obvious and most unapologetic during periods of genuine imperialism, but it's just as damning when we do things like reinstall the Shah or entrench the Pinochet government. If we choose winners and losers in Libya then there is no democracy in Libya, just like there is no genuine democracy in Iraq today despite all the show.

By the way, I never expect to get what I want!

Neil Sinhababu said...

Yeah, I'm a utilitarian, so I'm pretty sure we're going to disagree on a lot of stuff.

But again: suppose we pick democracy as the winner over dictatorship somewhere along the way. And suppose we end up getting the result we want. Then we've created democracy in Libya by picking winners and losers!

Freddie said...

What grade would you give America's past attempts to do that?

Neil Sinhababu said...

Gosh, I don't know. Japan was an A. Iraq was an F. This stuff is situation-dependent in such a deep way that I think you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.

Hector_St_Clare said...

It's none of our business whether Libya ends up a democracy or a dictatorship, and frankly, I doubt that a liberal democracy would be a particularly good thing for Libya (or for most countries in the region). Elections will simply open the way to corrupt oligarchs and nihilistic Jihadists to vie for power, and I doubt that either of them would be good for the Libyan people.

Like Ross Douthat said recently, a palace coup from within the regime is perhaps the best thing we can hope for.