I am a Quaker. I might well refuse to defend myself against a threat. I have told my students that were they threatened I would not hesitate to kill to protect them.
This morning I read this:
LONDON — For years I watched a “no-fly zone” in Bosnia. I watched Bosnian Muslims being slaughtered as NATO patrolled the skies. The no-fly zone was created by the United Nations Security Council in October 1992. The Srebrenica massacre took place in July 1995. Enough said.
The words, from an op ed sharing the same title as this posting, are by Roger Cohen and appear in today's New York Times. I agree, and hope his words are not too late.
I also urge you to read the entire piece by Roger Cohen. I do not always agree with him, but I admire his writing. In my profile for the DFA Netroots Nation Scholarship(and I still need your help there), I said that this piece by Cohen, about Bosnia, was the post about which I was most proud (it contains a link to a powerful column about that sad place).
You should read Cohen. What I have to say below may add little, but I have to say it.
Cohen acknowledges that immediately after Bosnia he was a passionate advocate for intervention. Now he is not so sure.
He reminds us also of Rwanda.
He present the arguments against intervention, for example, that the US cannot afford a military conflict in a third Muslim nation, and that such intervention might be of dubious legality (although I suspect the latter words were written BEFORE last night's UN Security Council vote, which seems to authorize some kind of broader action than just a no-fly zone), as well as arguments for intervention, including his fifth and final point:
5) Qaddafi is a mass murderer who brought down Pan Am 103 (270 people aboard) and UTA 772 (170 aboard), crimes now reconfirmed by his justice minister. He has slaughtered thousands of his own people over decades. There could scarcely be a more powerful moral case for the elimination of a leader.
He then offers this conclusion:
What’s clear to me is that there is no halfway house. Spurn conscience-salving gestures. The case against going in prevails unless the West, backed and joined by the Arab League, decides it will, ruthlessly, stop, defeat, remove and, if necessary, kill Qaddafi in short order. I’m skeptical that determination can be forged. Only if it can be does intervention make sense.
The parallel with which I would like to begin is merely to explain my own reasoning process. I recognize that it may seem odd to many, but bear with me.
As a teacher, I am not required to break up fights between students. I am technically not authorized to grab a student, and thus if I attempt to break up a fight, I risk prosecution, law suit, and loss of my teaching certificate. The insurance provided by my union membership will not necessarily protect me in such a situation, since it is outside my duties, and I am NOT required to intervene.
I have never no intervened, even in fights between two girls.
I have myself been hurt once in helping break up a fight between two rather strong young men outside our cafeteria.
I believe it is immoral for me to stand by and watch someone get pummeled and possibly severely hurt when I can intervene and lessen the damage.
Our military resources are certainly not inexhaustible. I understand the reluctance of Americans, especially in a time of great financial stress, to get involved in yet another conflict.
But people are being slaughtered. As they were in Rwanda. As they were in Bosnia.
Half measures are not enough. Perhaps had a no-fly zone been in effect 2 weeks ago it might have lessened what is happening, but it would not have prevented it. After all, artillery, land or sea-based, can do as much damage as aerial bombardment and strafing. The carnage of the former Yugoslavia might have been prevented well before a no-fly zone was even proposed had the world, or at least the 6th fleet, intervened when the Yugoslav Navy began bombarding Dubrovnik. Qadaffi does have much of a navy, but it packs sufficient power to level a good portion of Bengazi or any other coastal city.
Cohen thinks Qadaffi is enough of a bully and a coward that he would fold if presented by unified force from the West and from the Arab League. We cannot be sure of that.
What we can be sure of is that given what is already happening, absent outside intervention he will crush his opposition, and the level of slaughter will - given his ruthlessness - be horrible to consider.
He is only maintaining himself in power with the help of outside forces - his mercenaries are an important component of his forces - so intervention from the outside on behalf of his opponents is not an introduction of non-Libyan forces into a sovereign nation, as it would have been in Rwanda or Bosnia.
There is a more basic question that the world seems reluctant to consider - what is it that gives any regime the right to slaughter its own people? How far does the fact that one holds power at least nominally justify the use of disproportionate force against political opponents?
Can a regime defend itself against internal threats? Of course, it is the right of any legitimate government to do so. Does anyone reading these words here have any problem with the US Government using appropriate force to prevent say various right-wing militia groups from attempting to overthrow the US government?
Even the idea of massive force should not be so horrid - the application of overwhelming force is often the best way of saving lives, because it brings conflict to a far swifter conclusion.
Still, there is, or at least should be, still the moral concern of collateral damage, of innocents harmed or killed during the period of conflict. I am well aware of that. It is an issue that concerns us in our application of force, especially that from the air, in places like Afghanistan.
Too often we are too ready to avert our eyes from the suffering of others. It may be the mentally ill homeless people living under our bridges and on our steam grates. We remind ourselves how thankful we are to still have jobs and homes when we read about massive layoffs or mortgage foreclosures.
And as we draw in our concern and focus on ourselves, our needs narrowly defined, we begin to diminish ourselves, to destroy our own souls. Here I am remind of words from John Donne, from his Meditation XVII"
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
We are confronted with multiple moral challenges. We may be overcome by the situations which invite outrage. We as individuals may not be able to respond emotionally to all. We as a nation cannot afford to respond to all. We have serious needs here at home.
But violence unchecked begets further violence. If one tyrant can be brutal to his people seeking liberation from his depredation, how much will that encourage others to suppress the aspirations of their own people? How dangerous will that make the word as a whole? How much might that threaten the energy supplies upon which many depend? How much the interconnected commerce of all kinds?
Those are reasons to think more broadly.
So is our moral responsibility as human beings. A moral responsibility for all human beings, regardless of their politics, their "race," their religion, their sexuality.
But outrage is insufficient.
So is doing symbolic actions.
At this point a no-fly zone is of no more meaning than an embargo.
As to embargos, remember that Madeline Albright was challenged about that imposed against the regime of Saddam Hussein, and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who may have died as a result, and asked if she still thought it was justified, and responded - at least to my horror - that she thought it was.
Actions and inactions have consequences.
That applies to what happens to government workers in Wisconsin and it applies to what happens to opponents of Qaddafi in Libya.
Cohen offers blunt words.
Be Ruthless or Stay out
perhaps, just perhaps, this is a time to be ruthless.
With Libya, for the sake of lives
in our domestic politics for the sake of the republic, the liberal democracy which we are supposed to cherish as "the last great hope of mankind" as Lincoln put it at Gettysburg.
I am a Quaker. I value every human being. My task is to walk gladly across the Earth answering that of God in each person. I cannot turn away and acquiesce in the destruction - physically or spiritually - of others and still maintain my soul, my own sanity.
If I see my students threatened I will intervene, with all necessary force.
I will be ruthless on their behalf.
It is time for the US, it is time for the world, at least in this case.
Be Ruthless If we Stay Out thousands upon thousands will die, and tyrants everywhere will be emboldened to similar actions.
I cannot acquiesce in that.