Libya: A War to Enable Other Wars?

Libyan War = World Government? Not that there’s anything wrong with it: I’m not a foreign policy person, but the Libyan war sure seems like a huge step in the direction of world government. I’m amazed more right-wingers aren’t tearing their hair out about that aspect of it.

It’s one thing for a supra-national authority–the U.N.–to authorize a war against someone who has committed cross-border aggression, or who has repeatedly violated earlier U.N. resolutions left over from a previous war. That was the case with Saddam in 2002–in theory.*

It’s another to let the U.N. authorize a war on what Obama calls “humanitarian grounds“–whether it’s to stop actual killings or some less severe variety of  “human rights violation.”  These are concepts that are easily watered down to justify intervention–indeed, as Massimo Calabresi makes clear, they seem to have been watered down in this very case, where Gaddafi’s pending atrocities are hardly Rwanda-sized:

As it turns out, Gaddafi hasn’t done enough to justify humanitarian intervention—despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the administration and human rights organizations admit that reports of potential war crimes remain unconfirmed. Instead, interviews with senior administration officials show that the rehabilitators convinced Obama to go to war not just to prevent atrocities Gaddafi might (or might not) commit but also to bolster America’s ability to intervene elsewhere in the future.

A war to enable other wars. Woodrow Wilson, with a twist.

But not such a twist. Calabresi also makes it clear that another idea motivating Obama’s aides was the precedent of subordinating our use of force to limits set by an international body:

[O]bama not only went to war in part for an idea but is limiting the prosecution of the war in support of an idea as well. …

American policy is that Gaddafi should be removed from power. But Obama is interpreting U.N. resolution 1973, which authorized the intervention, to stop short of green-lighting Gaddafi’s removal. He believes it only allows military action to protect civilians. Therefore, he explained yesterday, “when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of U.N. Security Resolution 1973. That specifically talks about humanitarian efforts. And we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate.” So no targeting Gaddafi with smart bombs or ousting him with special forces.

The British apparently disagree with that interpretation, but for U.S. political purposes, what matters is that Obama is again acting to strengthen an idea: that international limits apply when one goes to war. [E.A.]

I’m not that troubled by either of these giant steps toward global governance–1) the ability of the world body to punish sovereign members, even if they don’t commit aggression against other members, just because it spots a potential big human rights violation; and 2) the ability of the world body to set rules the U.S. and its armed forces have to live by. We have a veto, after all. **

But I would think it would deeply trouble those mainstream, non-libertarian conservatives who’ve been fretting about world government for decades. Now that world government is finally arriving, only Ben Stein seems alarmed. (I may have missed others.) …

Update: Here is an alarmed libertarian.

More: Alert reader G.F. points me to National Review, where indeed you can find columnists fretting about Obama’s need for a multilateral endorsement from the “international community.” But what I’m talking about is something more than “multilateralism,” the need to obtain the approval of our allies before going to war. It is the creation of a near-formal global order with the U.N., or something like it, at the top–an order with some power to discipline subordinate members, of which the U.S. would be one.  This framework might be a handy thing to have as China and India come into their own. But conservatives have traditionally seen it as a dangerous diminution of American sovereignty.

It’s odd, I think, that Victor Davis Hanson outlines the seven (7) reasons for conservative opposition to the Libyan war  and doesn’t include this loss of sovereignty on the list. On the contrary, he criticizes the international coalition as a “multicultural fig leaf” to cover what is essentially a U.S. action. I’d thought conservatives would worry that it’s not a fig leaf. …


* —  The actual U.N resolution Bush obtained seemed to stop short of authorizing what we did, which is why (at the last minute) I didn’t support the war.

** –That doesn’t mean the Libyan War is a good idea–i.e. it doesn’t eliminate the prudential calculus of whether we will do more harm than good. In particular, to the extent this war is all about Bosnia, it may be based on an atypical model. In Bosnia, Slobodan Milosevic caved relatively quickly once he was  faced with a NATO military attack. (He did the same in Kosovo.) But Milosevic may be an outlier, cave-wise. Other autocratic bad guys, like Gaddafi, might not give up that easily–which changes the prudential calculus dramatically. It also increases the chance that any U.N.-imposed limitations Obama says he’ll live by (e.g., can’t target Gadaffi) will be a recipe for a bloody military stalemate.

  • Topnife

    The Libyan government of Qadhafi is a UN member state. The UN Charter forbids interference with the internal affairs of a member state. Therefore, the UN Security Council resolution on Libya was a violation of the UN Charter.

    The US Constitution empowers Congress (and only Congress) to declare war. Obama did not consult Congress, which was not even in session — he could have called an emergency session to declare war, or grant “authorization for the use of force”, as was done prior to the Iraq intervention.

    The War Powers Act permits the President to engage the armed forces in military action ONLY when there is a national emergency due to an attack on the United States, its territories or its armed forces. This is a congressional delegation of power to permit emergency action in time of emergency, not a license for the President to make war whenever he desires. The conditions specified did not exist.

    President Obama broke Federal Law, and dishonored himself again, by failing to protect and defend the Constitution.

  • truebearing

    Conservatives see subordination of the US to the UN, or any One World government, “as a dangerous diminution of American sovereignty” because that is precisely what it is, and what Obama, Soros, et al have been driving toward from the start. This is no mystery and doesn’t require any particularly subtle insight. Obama is a transnationalist/anti-colonialist, just to mention two of his “ists”, and his goals are clear and are clearly in lock step, or should I say goose step, with those of Soros’s Open Society Institute. Obama is twisting himself in knots in order to put the US military into the role of the short-leashed attack dog for the UN.

    While Obama is continuing to spread our wealth and destroy our energy industry, while bolstering Brazil’s, his puppetmaster, George Soros is scheming to make good on the threat he made to destroy the US economy if Bush was re-elected in 2004.


  • Nathan_of_brainfertilizer_fame


    Investors.com editorial: “Right now, Libya looks like an object lesson in the failure of multilateralism.”


  • morrisco

    This is a very interesting article but it is perhaps a little too optimistic. I the term Global Government usually refers to an equally governed world and do the actions in Libya show that? I wrote a reply in my blog in case you want to read it. http://morriscos.blogspot.com/2011/03/world-government-over-libyadid-un.html

  • mhjhnsn

    Not that anyone cares, but this is the reason Lodge opposed the US joining the League of Nations back in 1919-20—that to do so would have ceded sovereignty over the decision to use military force. The opposition to the Treaty of Versailles even suggested language to cure the problem, which Britaina nd France indicated would be acceptable to them, but Wilson wouldn’t compromise.

    Now, Obama, in many ways Wilson’s intellectual heir, pursuing an agenda to compromise US sovereignty just as Wilson wanted to do.

  • tobyroessingh

    Re: a recipe for a bloody military stalemate.

    Given the current course, this certainly seems like the most likely outcome.

    Left to their own devises, the rebels are helplessly outmanned by Gaddafi. They might be able to keep a low-level civil war smouldering for a long time, but as soon as they start to make progress and are out in the open, he’s going to quash them. He’s got military muscles and they don’t. You just can’t compete against a professional military with planes, tanks, and missiles, with amateurs with guns. The ultimate result if we do nothing is a return to status quo.

    Alternatively, say we level the playing field by eliminating all those planes, tanks, and missiles. What’s left? A full-scale civil war fought on the ground. Many casualties and much ruin, and probably no ultimate victor. Both sides control some territory, can launch attacks and regroup in defeat indefinitely.

    We can either do enough to ensure that the rebels win, or nothing. Doing only enough to make sure they don’t lose too badly encourages them to continue to fight even with no prospect for victory. That’s counter to our only real interest, which is in a peaceful state, led by a brutal authoritarian dictator or not. Libya wasn’t a problem a month ago, was it?

  • andrew brody

    Ah, yes, the NATO bombing of Serbia during the Clinton years. I guess it was “relatively quick…” compared to Iraq and Afghanistan and Korea.

    I know this is somewhat off topic, but this happened during the early days of the Internet becoming my major news source. I remember sometimes staying up almost all night following the breaking news.

    Regarding Serbia, who can forget the early days of the bombing when one of our Stealth aircraft went down in enemy territory? ( believe the plane ended up in China.) Or our bombing of a passenger train which ended up going off a bridge (or something). And at the end wasn’t there some kind of mad dash against the Russkies to take control of an airport?

    But my favorite unintended consequence was our bombing of the Chinese embassy in Serbia’ in which a number of “journalists” were killed. This caused a spontaneous protest outside the US Embassy in China that looked like it could get rather nasty; in my minds eye I can still see our ambassador fearfully looking at the mob out a window (or something).

    Yeah, I know I could use the Google and refresh my memory of these events, but sometimes stream of consciousness is more fun. It’s just that Mickey made Serbia sound like a walk in the park, but for me it was a much more stressful endeavor.