The revolutions taking place in the Arab world raise a number of questions about the role of the international community in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries. I am not sure where I fall down on this issue. On one hand, I am skeptical of foreign meddling in the national affairs of any country (especially when foreign interest has previously resulted in colonialism, the propping up of dictators, unprovoked invasion and occupation of Iraq, and other acts ranging from disrespectful to abhorrent. On the other hand, previous examples (the Balkans come to mind) show that the international community can play a productive role in minimizing bloodshed and ending conflict.
In this article, Christopher Hitchens criticizes Obama for being too soft on Qaddafi. It is true that the White House has had a rather tepid response to the brutality still underway in Libya, and I agree that the international community should pull no punches in condemning such murderous acts. But I think that Hitchens is overlooking something that haunts the Obama administration: the ghost of Bush’s past.
Libyans need the support of the international community, and I am relieved to see that the UN Security Council has taken tangible steps to isolate Qaddafi and his goons. But American intervention, of any sort, in internal conflicts in the Middle East is a very, very bad idea. U.S. support can be like the kiss of death, and what we don’t want to have happen is for the revolution underway, which seems to be a pure, indigenous demand for political rights, be erroneously smeared as an American-backed revolt.
The United States has meddled in the Middle East for many decades. While I would like to agree with Hitchens by saying that this could be an opportunity for the United States to earn some street cred, I think that it would be too little too late. This isn’t to say that the new governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya (inshallah) will be automatically inimical to the United States (even though we worked as hard as we could to prevent the sort of change now sweeping the region.) In fact, I think that these new governments will be so focused on building economies and securing stability that they will be happy to partner with the world’s biggest super power.
The United States has made its bed, and now we just have to sheepishly lie in it. We can condemn Qaddafi, support sanctions, and build international pressure, but I flinch when I hear that we should take action beyond that. I admit that I even got a little nervous after hearing Biden’s remark that when “states engage in atrocities, they forfeit their sovereignty.” While this sounds nice in principle, it can lead to a slippery slope. Most invading countries are clever enough to invent more honorable and palatable battle cries than “we want to control your country’s resources.” Remember, the Iraqi people hated Saddam as much as Libyans hate Qaddafi. But no one hates their leader as much as they hate foreign meddlers, even those with the best intentions. If such a type exist.
For another read on on the positive (and negative) role of the international community in the Arab revolutions, check out these reads: