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Saturday, Sep 10, 2011, 6:55 am

How “The Libyan Model” Will Turn Liberal Doves into Hawks

By David Szydloski

Samantha Power, President Obama's Senior Director and Special Assistant for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights and major supporter for the "Responsibility to Protect" (RtoP) norm.
(Hawthorne/Getty)

"What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"

-Madeline Albright, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (1993-1997) and Secretary of State (1997-2001), as reported by Colin Powell, in his 1995 memoir, My American Journey.*

The Obama administration is understandably happy with the results of the NATO intervention in Libya—they see themselves as succeeding where Bush failed. Though the future of the country is still up in the air, there are good reasons to believe that the Transitional National Council can put the country on the right path.

One well-respected supporter of the NATO intervention, Dr. Juan Cole, has pointed out several examples of the TNC's good work such as their insistence on handling their own security, so that no NATO or UN troops will be stationed in the country, and the healthy debate going on in Libya about how to best rehabilitate Ghaddafi loyalists who were not directly involved with the government’s atrocities—in an attempt to avoid the problems caused by de-Baathification in Iraq.

However, the success "The Libyan Model" will have the unintentional effect—certainly no fault of the Libyan people—of increasing the momentum for more overt and covert interventions utilizing a combination of drones, missile strikes, special forces and the CIA. Indeed, Libya represents a confluence of (predominantly but not exclusively) neo-liberal foreign policy, the CIA's increased war-fighting capabilities and liberal hawks pushing for the U.S. and the U.N. to formally adopt the "Responsibility to Protect" (RtoP) norm.

The effects of neoliberalism on foreign policy under George W. Bush have been well-documented and I will not address them here. But the militarization of the CIA is relatively new. After a disappointing hearing in front of the 9/11 Commission in 2004, the CIA has been steadily developing itself into "one hell of a killing machine". Now the CIA runs the Predator drone program and works closer with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) than ever before—combining powerful intelligence gathering capabilities with quick and lethal action both remotely and on the ground. For example:

So-called “Omega” or “Cross Matrix” teams comprised of CIA and JSOC operators travel Afghanistan and Iraq in civilian clothes and cars. Mostly they meet with their local sources of information. But on “at least five occasions,” the Post reports, they’ve tested their ability to sneak into Pakistan undetected to execute raids — “early rehearsals” of the bin Laden hit.

From a political angle, the appeal of such actions are straight-forward: little to no troop presence and (compared to a massive troop deployment) relatively low cost, high speed of deployment and quick results. The result is warfare—of course, it's not taking place under the auspices of any formal declaration of war—with a lower public profile and independence from the democratic and legal checks to which all branches of the U.S. military are held.

RtoP is only moderately older (the idea was first proposed in 2001), but has been slowly gaining support around the world. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP) describes RtoP as “a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”  RtoP stipulates that:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.

3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

RtoP influence can clearly be heard in Obama’s foreign policy speeches, such as his March 28, 2011 speech on Libya at the Coast Guard Academy:

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security - responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America's problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world's most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

RtoP is also a high policy priority for Samantha Power, President Obama's Senior Director and Special Assistant for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights and author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a book partially inspired by her work as a journalist in Yugoslavia during the early 90s. Many commentators see the Libyan intervention as a success of her lobbying for RtoP.

The continued combination of neoliberal foreign policy and liberal RtoP advocacy will lower the bar for the sufficient conditions a conflict needs to have before the UN, NATO, or the U.S. intervene militarily. The relative speed and cost of the kind of covert warfare mentioned above will provide the means for those interventions to be carried out. Therefore, President Obama is certainly succeeding in one place his predecessor failed: converting liberal doves into liberal hawks.**

*H/T Glenn Greenwald

**For more on this topic, I would greatly recommend Richard Seymour's excellent The Liberal Defense of Murder as a thorough discussion of how such humanitarian appeals, like RtoP, have been used to justify foreign invasion and, often, have caused atrocities of their own.

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