Muammar Gaddafi had already lost control of the Libyan government, but Thursday it became official when he was killed in his hometown. A number of thoughts went through my mind as I listened to the news analysis.
In the last 15 years, the US has changed the way it deals with conflicts around the world. Historically we deployed our military if we or our allies were threatened (the World Wars) or as part of a UN mission (Korea, Bosnia). Stopping the aggression was the goal, not necessarily governmental change. The Korean conflict showed the difficulty of trying to change a government and it ended in a draw. In Vietnam, the Allies helped France regain control after WWII. France later agreed to an independent Vietnam, and we influenced the choice of a leader, and then were supportive of a coup when he was ineffective in dealing with communist infiltration. After over 58,000 US servicemen died, we withdrew and Vietnam ended up with the same government system they would have had if we had not intervened. President George H. W. Bush has been criticized for not continuing the first Gulf War to take down Saddam Hussein. But our military accomplished the stated mission: to free our ally, Kuwait, from an Iraqi invasion.
Regime change seems to have come back into vogue, but with Soviet socialism gone, the Middle East has become the focus. When President George W. Bush determined to invade Iraq, I was concerned. At the time it looked like Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and might have a connection to those who planned the 9-11 attacks. But should we have invaded a sovereign nation whose military had not attacked us directly? The Iraqis who are alive today are better off than they were under Saddam‘s rule. But how many – both military and civilian – died because of our invasion? It’s been almost 10 years and Iraq is still not completely stable.
And now President Obama has committed – against the advice of military commanders – to have all US troops out of Iraq by Christmas. Yes, I know – Mr. Obama did not start this war, and I did express misgivings about US actions to bring about regime change. But since we started the war, we have a moral obligation to the Iraqi people to leave them with a stable government, a country where they can feel safe.
The US is becoming very involved with the civil unrest throughout the Middle East. We did not like Gaddafi so our government was willing to help whoever stood up against him. Just because we could help the rebels without putting troops on the ground does not mean it is morally acceptable to interfere in the internal politics of a sovereign nation. Whether there is a loss of US lives is not the only criteria to consider when getting involved in the affairs of other countries.
An entire generation of Libyans have lived their entire lives under Gaddafi’s rule. They have no idea what life was like before Gaddafi and the concept of freedom comes mainly from various media. The countries of the West do not know if the fledgling rebel government will turn to democracy. Amnesty International claims the National Transitional Council is guilty of human rights violations. There are tensions between the Berbers and the Arabs, between the north of the country and the south, and it is likely that there are radical Islamists who would love to have a major part in the changes.
The US almost certainly had its fingers in the Egyptian revolution pie. We know our government urged Hosni Mubarak to step down and likely pursued other avenues behind the scenes. With Egyptians consulting social media, Americans – government or civilians – could help, inform and/or meddle. Since Mubarak left power, Egypt has been in turmoil. Coptic Christian churches are regularly guarded to avoid the many attempts by Muslims to cause damage.
I hope both Libya and Egypt will choose a western style democracy. But their cultures are very different from those in the West. Will the democracy we take for granted make sense to the Libyan and Egyptian peoples? I have hope for real change in Libya (not just replacing an individual dictator with a dictatorial ruling group) because the Libyan rebels invested their blood, even their lives, in change. They have more invested than the Egyptians who, for the most part, conducted a fairly peaceful occupation protest.
Vice-President Joe Biden spoke about Gaddafi’s death and hinted broadly that we would use the no-troops method to aid freedom seekers again. I hope he did not have any specific country in mind. I am not an isolationist. American must help allied countries that are under attack. We must get involved when one people group in a nation seeks to exterminate another (as we did with the UN in the Bosnian conflict, and probably should have in Rwanda and more recently in Sudan). But we should stay out of internal politics and allow sovereign peoples decide what form their government will take. I believe there is no better government than our republic. But since we allow our citizens to freely express their ideas and the majority opinion normally prevails, we should also allow people in other countries to express ideas for their national government and accept the majority (not just the strongest) determination of the final form, as long as it allows all groups to live in peace. There are ways the US can promote democracy without interfering, the first being to show respect for other nations’ cultural and political processes.
* My delay in posting this gives me the opportunity to add a comment on subsequent news from Libya. A day or two ago, the head of the Libyan National Transitional Council said that Islamic Sharia law would be the basis for their legislation. That would allow, among other things, polygamy and honor killings. Despite the huge problems with the Gaddafi regime, women enjoyed more liberty than in other Islamic countries. They had the right to vote, be educated and had equal rights in divorce. Did we get rid of Gaddafi so women could again be treated like slaves or cattle, living in fear of dying because they displease their husband or father? Somehow the US government, NATO, and the UN never think about this type of cultural consequence when they decide to invade/occupy a country.
* Another note: Protesters across the Middle East are asking for freedom from repressive leaders, many specifically citing “democracy”. Meanwhile, in the world’s first democracy, many protesters at Occupy Wall Street are carrying signs that say we should have a socialist government. Over the decades, when people in various Soviet dominated countries or those living under dictators have fought for freedom, I have never heard any of them plead for a socialist or communist government. These people want our freedoms, while most involved with Occupy Wall Street take them for granted.