Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Smack between Tunisia and the middle

Libya is obviously on our minds a lot lately, and likely will continue to be there.  Not surprisingly, opinions are all over the map about what's the proper course, and in the end, hindsight will be, as always, 20-20.

We've done too little, or we shouldn't jump in.  We should do this, or that, or we shouldn't.  What's the right answer?  I'm not sure I know, but here are some ideas to consider.

There are two crisis going on, obviously inherently connected.

The first crisis is that of governance.  The existing structure has failed the society it governs, and recently the Libyan people have decided it is time to make changes.  Unfortunately there is no mechanism in place, such as open elections, to do that.  So, the people have been forced to take a different approach, and given the success of "revolutions" in Tunisia and Egypt, it's not surprising they have risen up.

Unlike the regimes in those countries, the Libyan leadership has chosen to fight, and displayed a willingness to sacrifice citizens to remain in power.  I have no idea at what point this becomes a "civil war" but to me it has all the appearances of one.  The country is clearly divided, physically by the rebels holding the east and Gadafi holding the west, and politically, between those who desire something else, and those who are outwardly supporting the current regime.  I say "outwardly" only because it seems likely there is some level of coercion going on here.

The second crisis, which grows more evident every day, is humanitarian.  People are getting killed, on both sides.  We could debate which side is "right" and perhaps there are some of us on each side.  However, that really doesn't matter.  Death doesn't measure a person's politics, just the number of remaining heartbeats.

Simplistically, intervention looks attractive.  Despite the other demands we continue to place on our military, I have no doubt we, with or without allies, could change the course of the "battles" on the ground.  We could easily "decide" this whole thing, presumably in favor of "the people."  However, even if that led to peace, it would also, in the eyes of some, place the US in the position of being the "self-designated World Policeman" again.  In every subsequent confrontation, some part of the world would expect us to ride in again, saving a lost situation.  It would also call into question our motives.

On the other hand, staying away begins to look like we don't care, either politically or morally.  That course is not without dangers also.

In the end, there is no "right answer."  Anything we attempt will alienate someone, and any action or inaction will result in criticism from one side or the other.  Getting directly involved makes us seem "colonial" in an area with a long history of suffering with that.  Shooting or killing anyone will open us to the charge of being on a "crusade" again, a poor choice of word that popped up shortly after 911.

Personally I would support limited action, such as a no-fly zone coupled with humanitarian aid, but only with the support of the rest of the world.  Not everyone will agree, and that's fine.  Russia and China are both against intervention, perhaps because they fear the rest of the world would join their own citizens should they revolt.

Unfortunately, over all of this, looms the spectre of OIL.  At least a part of our consideration is the impact on the world price of oil, and that means our actions will never be truly altruistic.  The sooner we reach true Energy Independence, the sooner we can make these decisions in a structure focused solely on "doing the right thing."  That doesn't mean more drilling, at least not to me.  It means fundamentally changing how we operate our society, and we need to get on with doing that.  Read chapter 6 again.


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