Where are the UN resolutions to protect civilians in Bahrain?

Slate's Tom Scocca reminds us that the west's willingness to rescue pro-democracy protesters from brutal, murderous middle-eastern despots is highly selective. If you're rebelling against a dictator who's been a thorn in America's side, you get airstrikes and UN resolutions; if you're rebelling against tyrants who are forthcoming with their oil or ports, you're lucky if the Secretary of State will bestir herself for a round of finger-wagging as your comrades are coldly murdered in the streets.
The helpful thing, if you're overwhelmed by so much news going on at once, is that Bahrain is roughly the same story as Libya--only instead of pro-democracy protesters being murdered by a terrorist-sponsoring monster of a dictator who has been on America's enemies list for ages, the pro-democracy protesters are being murdered by a government that is America's very own dear ally. And where Qaddafi brought in foreign mercenaries for support, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain brought in troops from our even more vital ally, Saudi Arabia...

So basically, take all those proud feelings about the United States standing up for freedom and human rights in Libya and turn them inside out, and vomit into them. That's Bahrain.

Would a No-Fly Zone Over America Save the Democracy Movement in Bahrain? (via Making Light)


  1. Scocca’s argument is highly simplistic. Mubarak stepped down relatively peacefully *because* he was such a close ally of the US, and the Obama administration were privately pressuring him to leave while the US military (which largely trained the Egyptian officer corps) was quietly enjoining *them* not to fire on their own people. With billions in aid to hold over Mubarak’s head, he really had no choice but to leave. Something like that is likely now happening with Bahrain. The reason we’re resorting to force in Libya is *because* we have no allied relationship or financial pressure to exert. Does Scocca really prefer the military option over behind-the-scenes stick-and-carrot wrangling?

    1. I believe the only reason egypt was mostly peaceful was because many of the army officers had lots of training with the US military and ended up with a lot of western ideas about protecting the public and democratic concepts. (that and their paychecks were very heavly paid for by US dollars)

      If the military had acted the same way as the egyptian police, mubarak would still be in power and there would be many many dead protestors.

      Egypt was less an ally and more a country depending on US military funding, while saudi arabia and bahrain are oil suppliers and don’t need the US.

    2. “Does Scocca really prefer the military option over behind-the-scenes stick-and-carrot wrangling?”

      look: we used to think a carrot was so different from a stick that it told a story. now? what. we know they are near twins, compared to a mountain?

      this is the real tsunami washing over us.

    3. Oh, this is so wishful and probably counterfactual. In fact, the Obama administration’s public stance (as expressed by Hillary “Dear Friend” Clinton) was that the regime was stable, there was nothing to fear, our good ally Mubarak would sort it out. It wasn’t until it became clear how extensive the protests were, and that Mubarak HAD to fall, and that it would look REALLY bad for such a staunch US ally to start murdering his people, that Obama started weakly murmuring in public about how change needs to happen. If, as you believe, he was pressuring the dude to resign, why would he do it in private? He had everything to gain by doing it in public; the weak stuff we saw was the extent of it.

      As to the army, the reason they didn’t fire on the people was because most of the army rank-and-file WAS the people, thanks to Egyptian mandatory service. The army top brass aren’t some wonderful do-gooders trained in American humanitarian values. They’re people who we have been using for years to do our rendition and torture for us.

    4. It’s much easier to kick out someone like Mubarak than the royal family of Bahrain. They’re deeply entrenched, they’re a monarchy (so there’s a much greater cultural divide and sense of self-entitlement) and, worst of all, there are religious issues tied to this particular civil war.

    5. Can’t say I agree at all that there was no financial or ally pressure to exert on Gadaffi. First of all, much financial pressure IS being exerted already, in the form of frozen bank accounts. Secondly, Libya was a mild ally of several first world nations, and had pledged to help fight Al Qaeda. (gaining much US support in the process) Even Tony Blair had buried the hatchet with Gadaffi despite his past support of the Lockerby Bombing. I think the simple answer to him not stepping down is that he is simply a crazier person than Mubarak.

  2. why stop with Iraq when you can control so many more countries in the region? so much for scaling back the perpetual war machine – they’ve been planning this one for a long, long time..

  3. Egypt: 384 reported deaths, 6,000 injured and ? tortured does not sound very peaceful to me.

  4. America acts in its own self-interest. Why is this such a difficult concept for people to grasp?

    We have always acted in our own self-interest for as long as we’ve been a country. If we promote democracy somewhere, it is because it’ll help us. If we go to war with someone, it is because the alternative down the road may be worse. If we prop up a dictator, it is because we believe stability helps us.

    So no, we aren’t going to go into Bahrain, piss off the Saudis who could seriously hurt our economy to overthrow their government unless we think it’ll come back to bite us in the ass later. Sorry.

    1. There are many reasons why the US acting on its perceived self interest may be difficult to grasp. The doctrine of self-interest isn’t a clear guide to action.

      Not everyone agrees how the doctrine of self-interest applies to a given situation. A country has many interests and some of the will inevitably conflict.

      Even when there is a clear interest at stake, people will disagree on how to pursue it.

      In a government, policy decisions are not made from a single perspective, using an unvarying value system, or with a consistent set of priorities. Competing view points weigh in with varying impact on a range important decisions. So viewed as a whole the decisions taken by representatives of a government like the US will aim at more than one version its best interest.

      Similarly, actions taken to execute these decisions will inconsistently express decisions taken with an eye to the best interest.

      Then, people make mistakes, see self interest where there is none, or neglect to understand the relevance to an important matter of interest in a given situation. States can be mistaken about their self-interest, in part or in whole.

      Also, the policy-makers and other responsible individuals do not always have the best interest of a country at heart. Often they hold their own self-interest more dear. See, Gaddafi, Muammar for an outrageous contemporary example. This happens in America, too, though obviously not recently to the same extent.

      While states always claim self-interest, sometimes they choose to act in ways that express no coherent interest at all.

      Finally, in some cases it seems like best interest shouldn’t apply. Instead, moral considerations take precedence. People aren’t self-interest machines, we have feelings, sympathies, principles. Sometimes you say, `screw self-interest, babies are dying.’

      These are just off the top of my head.

    2. America acts in its own self-interest. Why is this such a difficult concept for people to grasp?

      Folks grasp it quite well.

      The problem is that American has had a long history of sucking shit at doing it, and given that maybe foreign policy decisions should only be made on Opposite Day.

    3. America’s problem is not that we act in our own self interest. Our problem is that almost uniquely among the world’s nations, we feel the need to hide our motives under a camouflage layer of humanitarian bullshit.

      So if an American president (Bush, Obama, or whoever comes next) were to cut out said bullshit and speak as follows:

      “Yes we are letting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia do what they wish without objection because we need to keep the oil flowing. So if, my fellow citizens, you want us to take a moral stand here, we’re going to have to solve the underlying problem of our lack of energy self sufficiency”

      “Yes we are ignoring the dismal human rights record of China because they hold so many of our god-damned markers. So if, my fellow citizens, we can start paying down our public and private debt, we can take a stand against the butchers of Tiananmen. On the other hand, if we keep funding current consumption with additional debt, I’m keeping my mouth shut.”

      …..we might start taking some baby steps in the right direction.

      1. This is the crux of the problem. Dependence on foreign oil and the outsourcing of manufacturing leads us time and again to morally indefensible acts. You sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

    4. America acts in its own self-interest. Why is this such a difficult concept for people to grasp?

      Not true. America acts in its own self-interest as perceived by a blind idiot. America does not act around the world with anything resembling actual, enlightened self-interest based on preserving its future welfare in light of a realistic assessment of the future of global politics.

      Think of it this way. You know the way the average run-of-the-mill red state American voter votes against their own self-interest out of prejudice and ignorance? That’s pretty much the way America ‘votes’ in the world with its armed forces. Same thing. If you develop and promote a culture of anti-intellectualism, surprise surprise both the followers and the leaders of that culture lose their purchase on good judgement, over time.

      This explains almost everything about American foreign policy today. If you consciously reject informed wisdom you also *of necessity* have rejected any real ability to act in your own self-interest.

  5. The UN Security Council should not be involved in Libya. It is not a revolution but more of an internal power struggle. A civil war. The rebel commander, General Abdel Fatah Yunis was recently the Interior Minister while the Transitional Council is largely made of former ministers.

    Now if the UN Security Council would condemned the occupation of South Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and daily bombings in Pakistan…

    But the empire will not allow that to happen.

  6. I have friends on the ground there, who were attacked by pro-gov thugs armed with sticks, swords and automatic weapons, 3 days ago, on their way home from work.

    One is now too traumatised to leave the house. :(

  7. Oh, the US is responding to Bahrain.

    Where do you think the Saudi troops rolling in across the causeway by the thousands got their shiny weapons and spiffy military vehicles? Where do the military contractors who trained the Saudi forces hang their hats?

    The best part, it’s likely not even purchased with their own considerable resources. No need to tap into that, since the US is currently doling out a 10 year, 13 billion dollar military package to the House of Saud.

    Though, who knows, maybe the Saudis are using some of that money to bribe their own people into acquiescence?

    But yeah, the US is responding. It’s responding allllll over the place.

  8. None of these countries are the SAME. ALL of the countries circumstances are DIFFERENT. Civilians were not being bombed by jets in these other countries first and foremost. I myself am Iranian but dont expect the US or other western powers to intervene in Iran simply because protesters are being killed. If civilians are being BOMBED from jets above, which is old news in Libya now, then a NoFlyZone is apporpriate. You cant expect it for every country with internal protests.

  9. Cory, thanks for speaking out about this.

    I do not have words for my contempt of the Western governments moving in to get a piece of the action in Libya while ignoring the massacres in Yemen and Bahrain. Vomit all over it, indeed. Once again, thanks.

  10. “America acts in its own self-interest. Why is this such a difficult concept for people to grasp?”

    Because often it does not work, which would come to show that US’s leaders are stupid and can’t be bothered to have an historian as part of their advisory team.

    Being selfish in the international scene just causes resentment, and that resentment will come back to bite your in the ass.

    Do you remember Al Qaida and that guy, Osama bin Laden? They were created by an array of “self interested” US policies: supporting the Islamic zealots against the Soviets, supporting the Saud dictatorship in Arabia (angering fundamentalists, that are not that fond of the corrupt Saud clan), and supporing incoditionally Israel against the Palestinians (giving fundamentalists a cause celebre to hang on, and helping to create more of them in the process).

    And that is just East Asia.

    I am not saying that the US should go gun-ho in Bahrain, but to keep so quiet about it is frankly shameful.

    In any case, defending the indefensible, conveniency over morality, is attributable only to a person that has lost his moral and human compass, which is precisely what happens to many people in power. Only on these circumstances one can grasp the principle of self interest you are so badly trying to defend.

  11. In as much as the governments in Bahrain (with the open Saudi Arabian support, lets not forget, the same people that allegedely have bribed British companies to get their pious hands on their dath toys, and to which Tony Blair, the “peace envoy”, turned a very publiv blind eye) and Yemen are a bunch of despicable despots, they are not utterly derided.

    What is happening in Bahrain and Yemen, nasty as it is, it is not in the same league as what what was happening in Lybia.

    Gaddafi was using war palafernalia in order to deal with civil unrest. Tanks, planes and goodness knows what else, he was also cutting supplies to whole towns ( a war crime ) and making abundantly clear that people should prepare themselves to be slaughtered.

    That is an humnitarian crisis that Yemen and Bahrain are simply not experiencing.

    My heart goes to the people in those countries trying to rid themsel;ves of those kleptocrats, but they will need proper political organization if they ever achieve to rid themselves of them, protests only work if the stablishment is divided, otherwise nothing will happen except the common people suffering.

  12. My head is still spinning over the fact that many of the same people who have been complaining for the last two years that Obama is not getting us out of Iraq and Afghanistan fast enough are now complaining that he’s not getting us into Libya, Bahrain, et al. fast enough. Doves are suddenly morphing into hawks; pacifists into neocons. And, the frightening truth of the matter is, I’m not entirely sure they’re wrong. I guess politics and foreign policy have a tendency to make hypocrites of us all. Even though I roundly condemned the Bush administration for its neoconservative foreign policy that tried to turn the United States into both a global policeman and an armed crusader for freedom and democracy around the world, I must say that I found it emotionally satisfying when the UN Security Council passed the “no-fly zone” resolution for Libya. Though, in my less emotional moments, I have to agree with the sentiments expressed by then Secretary of State (later President) John Quincy Adams 190 years ago:

    [W]hat has America done for the benefit of mankind? let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity. She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. … She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. … Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

    [emphasis added, because I love the bit about monsters]

    1. Iraq was illegal from the start because the world was told that there were weapons of mass destruction which there were not. It was not to save the people but was over oil being sold in euros

      1. And if the US or any other country were to intervene militarily in Libya or Bahrain without a clear mandate from the UN Security Council it would be every bit as illegal as the Iraq War.

        The legality of an act of war under international law does not depend on whether the President of the United States is acting with pure or impure motives; nor does it depend on whether the leader of the country we’re attacking is a beloved statesman or a brutal tyrant. Rather, the legality of an act of war is determined by whether or not it is permissible under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (in particular under Articles 42 and 51) along with other relevant international agreements and principles of customary international law.

        We must either say that we believe in multilateralism and the rule of law in international relations – in which case we must wait for a Security Council mandate before using force, whether it be in Iraq, in Libya, or in Bahrain – or else we become neocons and decide that we can use force whenever the President of the United States thinks it prudent – in which case we have no grounds for arguing that the Iraq war was any less justified than the intervention in Libya. As frustrating as it may be, I’d rather wait for the UN to give its official mandate to the intervention – even if the delay costs lives – than to go down the dangerous path of taking unilateral action in violation of international law, as we did in Iraq. Because American military power is so much greater than the military power of any other country or coalition in the world, we must be especially careful to adhere to international law when it comes to the use of force. We can either be a law-abiding member of the international community, or we can be an imperial power that acts as if it is above the law. We can’t be both. We must choose.

        1. What bothers me is the agendas of the people making decisions.

          I am an idealist and I admit that it’s almost useless to be one, so are the people who are fighting for the rights that I am enjoying at this moment writing about it.

          1. I meant of our time, sorry, and if anyone can help these people i just think they should instead of forgetting that they have worth if only for the simple fact that they do have ideals and can visualise something better

    2. Even though I roundly condemned the Bush administration for its neoconservative foreign policy that tried to turn the United States into both a global policeman and an armed crusader for freedom and democracy around the world, I must say that I found it emotionally satisfying when the UN Security Council passed the “no-fly zone” resolution for Libya.

      I feel like you are exaggerating the inconsistency between (a) not wanting to topple a stable if dictatorial state, risking civil war with only the vaguest plan for instituting democratic reforms; and (b) wanting to intervene on behalf of the democratic faction in an unstable state that has already plunged into civil war, particularly if it turns out they want our help.

      I agree with you about the value of international law vs. unilateral action, but I don’t see why people keep thinking the exact same arguments about Iraq ought to apply when the situation is different.

      1. Yeah, I realize there are a lot of differences between Libya and Iraq; but there’s at least one troubling similarity: Neocons support US military intervention in a Muslim country, arguing that we have a moral duty to topple an oppressive regime in the hopes that a pro-Western democracy will spring up in its place; and they want the US to act with or without a UN mandate and support from the international community. It’s really creepy to hear this same argument being made by people who utterly rejected it vis-à-vis Iraq. Given the events of the past decade, I have good reason to be more than a little skeptical – if not cynical – when it comes to neoconservative foreign policy arguments, no matter who is advancing them.

        Even if we set aside the neoconservative calls for unilateral action without UN approval, and insist on having a UN mandate and international support for everything we do in Libya, the bottom line is that we’re still intervening in order to support regime change (no matter how much we claim that we’re just trying to protect civilian lives, we all know that the US and its Western allies won’t be satisfied until Gaddafi is removed from power); and this is still the essential objective of a neoconservative foreign policy: using US military power to remove corrupt foreign leaders and to spread freedom and democracy around the world.

        As a pragmatic liberal, I fully support the spread of freedom and democracy around the world by peaceful means and in accordance with international law. I’m just troubled by the idea of the US acting as a “global policeman” or, even more troubling, as an armed crusader in the cause of democratic regime change. I really do wish we would adhere to the principles laid out by John Quincy Adams in the quote I provided above: lending our unwavering moral support to the cause of liberty around the world, but steadfastly refusing to lend arms to that cause except in our own self-defense, no matter how tempting it might be to join the fight against tyranny wherever it may be found, because we know that armed intervention abroad puts us on the slippery slope towards imperialism. Neocons want America to be an imperial power, exercising hegemony over a global empire of liberty. But, as a pragmatic liberal, that is the LAST thing I want for the United States. I do want us to be an active member of the international community – I’m certainly no isolationist. I want us to play our part and pitch in where we can to help resolve international crises, maintain stability, and enforce international law as necessary. But I want us to do this as a leading, yet law-abiding member of the international community – first among equals, perhaps – not as a hegemon who takes unilateral action against the wishes of other nations and without regard for international law.

        For the most part, I support President Obama’s approach to foreign policy. I could quibble with a few things here and there – after all, no one is perfect – but, on the whole, I think he’s trying to strike the right balance between our nation’s ideals, its interests, and the practical constraints on its power. Unlike the neocons that ran our foreign policy before Obama came to office, the current administration seems to recognize the value of “soft power” as well as “hard power” – of influence as well as force, of “carrots” as well as “sticks”. I think he was right to seek, and to wait for, UN approval before taking action in Libya; and I think he is right to insist that other nations take the lead in enforcing the “no-fly zone” with US support, rather that insisting that the American military do the heavy lifting. He’s gonna be criticized, no matter what he does, from both sides: the neocons on his right and the idealists on his left will say he’s not doing enough to protect innocent civilians from their oppressive governments; the pacifists on his left and isolationists on his right will say he’s getting the US involved in another bloody war in the Muslim world for no good reason; Glenn Beck will say that this is all part of some global conspiracy led by George Soros – we all know how the game is played. But I think he’s trying his best to take a pragmatic course that is true to our liberal values while rejecting the neoconservative vision of a Pax Americana. If I were president, I would probably make the same decisions that he has made regarding Libya.

        However, I still find it troubling that we’re taking military action against yet another tyrannical regime in the Muslim world. I find it troubling that so many people are jumping onto the interventionist bandwagon without giving thought to the potential consequences. (Keep in mind that it’s always a whole lot easier to get into a war than to get out of one.) I find it troubling that so many of the same people who have taken pacifist positions on our actions against extremists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere are starting to sound like neocons when it comes to Libya and Bahrain. I find it REALLY troubling that so many people have been calling for unilateral US action without UN authorization or widespread international support.

        Unfortunately, war is sometimes necessary. But it should always be troubling. We should never rush into war without giving some serious thought to the consequences, or without first exhausting all peaceful means to resolve the crisis without the use of force – even if the delay costs lives and makes it harder for us to effectively prosecute the war once it has begun. I expect neocons to be warmongers – that’s what neocons do. I just find it really disturbing when people who supposedly reject the neoconservative vision of American hegemonic power start advocating for an American-led war of liberation, using what are essentially neoconservative arguments in support of going to war. I think President Obama has taken a prudent course on Libya thus far. I’m not in the least bit surprised that the neocons are not satisfied with his actions, since the neoconservative approach to foreign policy is anything but prudent. But what does surprise me is that so many people who claim to be utterly opposed to neoconservatism are just as dissatisfied with Obama’s handling of Libya as the neocons are – not because Obama has been too eager to use force, but because he has been so seemingly reluctant to do so. Frankly, I want a president who is reluctant to use force unless it is absolutely necessary and sanctioned by international law; and I, for one, am glad we currently have a president who makes it clear that military force ought to be our last resort, not our first resort, as the previous administration seemed to believe. (And, yes, I realize that Obama has not been perfectly consistent in this; but consistency must sometimes be sacrificed in the name of pragmatism. I’d much rather have a president who was inconsistently right on foreign policy than one who was consistently wrong, as we had for the eight years prior to Obama’s taking office.)

        1. See, what makes this different from Bush and Iraq is that . . . is that Qadaffi has violated numerous U.N. res– uh, wait, no, hold on . . . is that Qaddafi has been brutalizing, I mean, BRUTALIZING, his own–no, wait, that won’t work either. . . . Oil? Nope, don’t want to go there. . . . I’ve got it! Weapons of Mass–no, shoot. . . . Well, it’s different, let me just say that. Obama is one of us, and Bush is, well, Bush. Clearly.

          1. What makes it different is that the country is already in a war, so acting may minimize rather than increase collateral damage, and an army of people is actually asking for help. But I guess if you don’t care about stuff like local people and what they want, you might not care about the differences either.

          2. Mostly what I care about is getting Congressional approval before committing American military forces in a situation where the USA is not threatened.

            I’m in total agreement here with that well known bloodthirsty neocon, Dennis Kuchinich.

          3. Well, one thing that makes it different is that Iraq already had a functioning No-Fly zone before Bush (Jr) invaded it.

            I mean, seriously, am I missing something? I know no-fly-zones aren’t exactly risk free, but it’s not like anybody’s saying “let’s go in, topple the government, and then maintain order for the next 30-40 years”, is it? A no-fly zone is pretty much saying, “the situation here’s pretty serious, and a lot of people are getting hurt, so we’re going to take a few weapons off the table while you get you sort your shit out.”

            I don’t think it’s any hypocrisy to support a No-Fly Zone and not support the wholesale permanent invasion of another country.

        2. Sapere, war should always be troubling, but this is already a war. It is creepy to hear neo-conservatives argue for intervention, and fair to wonder about their agenda given their past actions. And I’m not particularly disappointed Obama’s course thus far.

          All I’m saying is that trying to base our decision on Libya on the assumption that it’s another Iraq, and insisting it’s stupid or hypocritical to respond differently to a completely different situation, is a very bad course. It only serves to block discussion, and it shows how little we actually care about the people in those countries.

    3. Qt lyng y cnfltnst wrmngr. You know full well that Iraq is a manufactured war against a personal enemy and aiding Libya would be a popular action against an acknowledged dictator with international support.

      Those are nothing alike. You’re like a cop who says “Yesterday I got in trouble for beating those kids, now you want me to go arrest a lawbreaker – make up your minds!”

      If you really want to know, we (everyone else) want you to act as if you had to justify your actions in court (which we will drag you into one day, you pompous jerks).

      For instance, in Libya the people are asking for help against an easily identified terrorist organization. That’s like your neighbor asking for help against hooded-KKK members.

      Iraq on the other hand, is you attacking an old foe with manufactured evidence, despite what everyone was telling you. That’s just murder.

      Here’s hoping you swing for your part in justifying it. No, seriously.

      1. wn,

        When you’re ready to stop hurling insults, let me know and I’ll turn your account back on.

  13. Speaking of vomit, how many airliners filled with civilians has the current Bahraini chief of state personally authorized the in-flight bombing of? None? Khadafi has 2 to his “credit”.

    Have the forces repressing the bahraini opposition benn bombarded with artillery, helicopters & Jets yet? No. Khadaffi has.

    Have members of the Bahraini royal family come on TV promising to exterminate resistance house to house? No. Once again Khadafi & co have.

    Note that I’m personally in favor of more democracy in the gulf states including Bahrain, but the Libyan & Bahraini repressions have little in common other than the inspiration so far.

  14. You’re right. The US should withdraw its support for intervention in Libya or anywhere else until it is willing to go to war with every despot everywhere right now. That way it can meet the unrealistic expectations of naive critics who are already predisposed to hating whatever the US government does regardless of motivation or outcome.

  15. Well Corey, as Glenn Reynolds will probably say pretty soon:

    “They told me if I voted for McCain, we’d be committing troops to more military adventures without a debate or vote in Congress — and they were right!!

  16. When the people first protested in Bahrain, it was a peaceful protest and they had no intention of violence so much so that they took whole families to camp in the city. These people can’t be equated with the uprisings in neighboring countries because it is different.
    I noticed that all some people seemed bothered about was the Grand Prix race that had been scheduled while these people are protesting about living in poverty.

  17. Ok, hang on. Certainly America has exhibited some incredible selfishness and hypocrisy in its foreign policy, but I think there are a couple points to be made here.

    First and foremost, the US has actually been very reluctant to engage in military action in Libya – the charge for air strikes was mostly lead by France and the UK. Gates in particular has been pretty outspoken about how air strikes could get very messy and might not get what we want anyway. It is NOT fair to say our posture on Libya is AT ALL like our shameful warmongering over Iraq.

    Secondly, regarding Bahrain. I’m intensely frustrated by the fact that we’re having to sit back and watch our “ally” Saudi Arabia help put down peaceful demonstrations with stunning force. But I think the reality is that we don’t have any real choice. We don’t seem to have very much influence over Saudi policy, and actual military action against them would cause far, far, far more harm than good.

    Third, the idea that there could be any one-size-fits all policy for dealing with countries in the middle east is absurd and, frankly, offensive. It *may be* that air strikes are the best way to deal with Libya and *not* the best way to deal with Bahrain, realpolitik aside. Again, I am NOT trying to defend any policy of any nation, but even the least hypocritical BoingBoing-ideal utopia would have to recognize the stunning political and historical differences between the various countries.

    I get frustrated with Obama’s responses to a lot of things, but I think if you take a deep breath, step back and look at the big picture, you realize he’s desperately trying to walk a brutal tightrope between about a million different conflicting pressures, even before we get to America’s unutterably bad choice of allies in the past.

  18. Ever had a friend that did something stupid? Repeatedly stupid? Do you try to tell them privately to get their act together, maybe offer to help, or did you immediately publicly threaten disown them and to kick their ass?

    No, you tried to leverage your friendship first to effect change. Even when that friend was an embarrassment that reflected badly on you. After trying to help, then you had to decide if it was still worth being friends.

    Enemies, well, you ignore them or kick their ass.

    Countries treat each other the same way.

  19. American policy is actually very easy to understand. The US is an enthusiastic supporter of democracy, peace, liberty, etc when those forces are going to win. When those forces look like they can’t win, the US becomes dully calculating.

    Egypt was actually an excellent example of this. The US wasn’t sure who was going to win and so fumbled to find a voice to respond with. If Mubarak is what Egypt was going to be stuck with, the US didn’t want to burn the bridge. As soon as it looked like Mubarak was going to be knocked out of power, the US slowly abandoned Mubarak and got on the side of cheer leading his fall.

    What is going on in Saudi Arabia and Libya are examples of the US doing what it normally does. It pretty openly rooted for Libyan rebels because pretty much anything is better than that psychopath. In lands influenced by the House of Saud, the US we more or less mute because those forces stood no chance and if they loose, the US doesn’t want to damage its relationship with Saudi Arabia.

    I’m not trying to judge the policy, just point out that it isn’t mysterious. The US, on the whole, defaults to enthusiastic supporter of democracy and liberty. The less interest and ties it has to a region, the more enthusiastic the US gets. The US truly believes that a world of functional liberal democracies is a better world, but the idealism only goes so far. The US isn’t going to get in a real fight with China or Taiwan, piss off a stable energy supplying regime like Saudi Arabia, but is happy to hoot and holler enthusiastically when a democracy movement actually wins, like in the case of Egypt.

    1. The US is an enthusiastic supporter of democracy, peace, liberty, etc when those forces are going to win.

      Not even. The US has been happy to undermine successful, functioning democracy before. The US is happy to be its enthusiastic supporter when people vote the right way, but try nationalizing oil companies and see how much they truly believe in liberal democracy.

    2. Rindan, I think you’re largely right. The US is willing to take a strong pro-democracy position only when the nation in question is at or near the tipping point.

      Given the image of the US in the Arab lands and west Asia, this is pretty smart. It would suck to de-legitimize a nascent democratic movement by clicking “America Likes This” on its Facebook page.

      Finally, please note the major differences in policy and approach between the Bush II and Obama administrations. US foreign policy is not now the neoconservative hammer it has been. Maybe.

  20. Is it better to proclaim high ideals and often fall short of them? (the west)

    Or have openly selfish ideals and stick with them? (the east)

    China/Russia clearly state that they don’t want anyone interfering with a countries internal policies, because that could lead others to interfere with them. If Libyians want to kill Libyians, that’s up to them. Especially if that country has business deals or provides valuable resources (see Africa).

    Remember, one of the reasons the slow roll in the UN was the assumption that it would be vetoed by Russia+China.

    I understand the irritation of hypocracy, but is that really worse than not trying at all?

    1. To actually have ideals and fall short would be one thing but the USA has consistently shown itself to not have ideals.

      Supporting a dictator because you don’t want to burn bridges is like dealing with a known slaver, or murderer, because you want their favor later. It makes you complicit in their deeds.

      Everyone realizes you can’t simultaneously go to war against all injustice, but the USA causes more than it stops. Saddam HAD WMDs, poison gas and such, that we sold him. What the fuck were we doing selling anyone poison gas for any reason, let alone a known murderer who set himself up as dictator?

      But we never help countries when they need it. In the late 90s there were cries to help Afghanistan – send in some peacekeepers to stop the religious extremism, build some schools, etc. Had we gone then, when asked, the country wouldn’t have been a good hiding place for Osama, and we wouldn’t now be fighting a bitter war in it.

      Ditto if we’d worked to stop Saddam when we realized he was dirty, when we easily had the means. Instead we saw the cheap way out and BUILT HIM UP, causing the need for our other current war.

      They aren’t ideals when you ditch them for convenience!

  21. While I think you are largely correct about Libya and Bahrain, it’s slightly cringe inducing given the fact that most here would cough up massive hairballs if the Imperial American Army went to fight anywhere… Libya or Bahrain included.

    Brush off your “No Blood For Oil” signs folks. Our President (and the one most if not all here pushed for very hard) is most likely sending us into yet another war in the Middle East. Scratch out “Bush” and insert “Obama” in your “________ is Hitler” signs as well.

    Let the new civility continue!

  22. There is a very obvious difference: The people of Libya have explicitly asked the global community to intervene. The US is always accused (rightly so, I must admit) in intervening in other countries’ internal affairs, and so the current administration is understandably cautious when called to intervene in yet another arab country.

    By the way, why is America always singled out? In the current coalition, the US is very consciously taking a back seat to France and the UK. Other countries – in Europe, south America and the former eastern Bloc – have sold weapons to all sorts of dictators. Why is no one condemning Russia for selling weapons to Iran?

  23. The other difference between Bahrain and Libya is that the Libyans had essentially set up a second government. The French have even given them formal recognition as the government of Libya. They had conquered (liberated?) territory. In Bahrain, you don’t have a group saying, “We control X territory, we are a government, recognise us”.

    Protestors in Bahrain are trying to follow the Egyptian/Tunisian model, except the Bahraini (?) government has military which is willing to shoot, or the ability to hire people who are willing to shoot. I think that if the Bahraini protestors took a town, setup a government and held back government forces for a week, there would be a different response from foreign governments.

  24. I’m dumbstruck that anyone, at this point in time, could advocate another intervention using the U.S. military. How could this improve any situation? What is the deal? What are you saying: sure we’re naked imperialists in Iraq, we keep building bases wherever we can, and when we move in, we act like occupiers intent on a sort of colonialism, but hey, there’s a chance for America to do good, so let’s all believe in the spin that we’re the bastion of freedom and lover of liberty? Anybody remember last year? Last decade? Last few decades? The entire post WWII period?

    If you call for American intervention, then don’t bitch when you get just what you asked for, because if the U.S. goes in, it will be on behalf of oil and corporatism and not one whiff of morality, decency, or the common good.

    I believe that Libya is a horrible distortion of what a national political state should be, but if we intervene, it will just be a different form of horrible distortion, with the intent of picking some really disgusting winners and some really needy, helpless losers.

    How about we worry about regaining the rule of law in the U.S., where the finance industry isn’t a de facto ruling class, untouched by the iron laws of markets, constitutions, or simple fairness. How about we worry about a constitutional republic turned global empire and driven to entrench a financial elite, an oil oligopoly, and feudal corporatocracy on the world and not pretend the U.S. is a force for fairness and decency?

    You want us in? We’re evil fuckers.

    1. “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

      Barack H. Obama
      December 20, 2007

  25. Pro-American dictators are no more stable than ones who are anti-american. They are scum as well. Why does the US not condemn the Yemeni and Bahraini governments? It does not matter that they did not use planes to attack civilians. That’s an idiotic argument “oh, they are stable dictators because they did not use firepower against the people.” BS! “Oh, the US gives them weapons so they have leverage over them.” More BS! If the US is SO concerned about human lives, then it would use its influence to stop those shootings in bahrain and yemen on day 1. No excuses!
    The US is a supreme hypocrite. It bombs Afghanistan, iraq and Pakistan but then demands a no-fly zone over Libya. Iam becoming more certain that a being bi-polar schitzo is a requirement for every top US government job, including the post of president.
    The US does not give a DAMN about the Libyasn masses. It does not want to help them. It only wants to help itself to their resources. Those who think that the US intentions in Libya are legal and honorable are missing a chromosome.

  26. Mubarak: It was a putcsh. He was old and ill and his sons would not be tolerated to rule. Citizens take to the street and the old man is forced out by the military, from whence he and his entire government came, and a constitution is rushed through without anyone having ever read it. The result: A nominal democracy where electors get to vote every so often for one of two wings of the same party. Not unlike the US.

    Libya: An attempted putcsh. Libya, over the last ten years has become a friend of the West. As this ( http://zeroanthropology.net/2011/03/18/the-libyan-revolution-is-dead-notes-for-an-autopsy/ )excellent analysis supports, Gadhafi may not have been so daffy about his accusations of Al Qaeda links. But the West has been happy to find common cause with Al Qaeda before even while torturing people for such relationships. The opposition in Libya, the armed opposition, is peopled by former regime people. They thought Gadhafi would topple. Not so. Here comes NATO.

    The timing of the brutal and murderous repression of democracy activists in Bahrain and Yemen, dictatorships and tyrants we love to do business with, is not a coincidence. These regimes would have been given a green light to act by their American patrons at the same time the UNSC puppets were having their strings pulled.

    More of the same. Blood for oil.

  27. Thanks Cory.

    I’m glad someone else thinks this. I was feeling a bit frustrated with our hypocritical policies.

  28. I suppose this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Bahrain is home to the 5th Fleet, is predominantly Shia (as is Iran a short distance away, or the fact the dollar would (is) risk losing as the common trade currency.

  29. The neocons are coming out of the woodwork again. (Trust me, I’ve been watching CNN all day; and if I see that pompous asshole from the Hoover Institution one more time, I swear I’m gonna puke. They’ve had him on every night since the crisis in Libya began, and he’s done nothing but condemn Obama for not enforcing Pax Americana in the Muslim world. And, yes, he actually used the term “Pax Americana” on CNN last night, in a positive sense, and without any hint of irony.)

    McCain and Lieberman were on CNN this morning criticizing Obama for not acting swiftly enough, and warning other leaders in the Muslim world that, if they don’t shape up, they’ll meet the same fate as Gaddafi. They’ve also shown clips of Lindsay Graham saying pretty much the same thing.

    After the Iraq war turned out to be such a disaster, the neocons quietly faded into the background for a while. But now they see an opportunity to get people behind their misguided foreign policy ideals once again. (Let’s never forget that the majority of the American people SUPPORTED the Iraq War at one time. The neocons are experts at manipulating popular opinion; and they are aided by the fact that Americans have poor memories and short attention spans.)

    As far as I’m concerned now, anyone who criticizes the US for not taking swifter or more decisive military action against Libya, Bahrain, et al. – and especially anyone who argues that we should have gone in without a clear mandate from the United Nations – is to be presumed a neocon until proven innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. And the only thing I have to say to the neocons of the world – including any that may be trolling here, posing as concerned liberals or idealists – is STFU!! You’ve already ruined at least one country with your crusades against Muslim despots. We dare not let you ruin any more. If the Libyans are to be free from tyranny they must free themselves. The international community (NOT the United States) should intervene only to the extent permitted by international law and demanded by the principles of justice and human rights. America cannot and must not dictate what happens in Libya. That’s for the Libyan people to do. America – acting lawfully, and in concert with the international community – can only provide safe cover for the Libyan people to shape their own destiny.

    @wm: So, you’re saying, “We’ll be greeted as liberators,” huh?

    1. The neocons are coming out of the woodwork again.

      There are plenty of us paleo-cons and libertarians who are not on board with them.

      I wonder if the anti-war movement will come back to life too? You remember, the one that folded up like a cheap suit sometime around the beginning of 2009?

      1. Well, CNN just reported that Dennis Kucinich has called President Obama’s use of military force in Libya without Congressional approval “an impeachable offense”. So some of the anti-war folks are apparently still anti-war, and haven’t jumped on the idealist, “Let’s make Libya safe for democracy,” bandwagon.

        Personally, I just wish that people would chill out and take a balanced, rational, pragmatic look at the situation and what is called for rather than polarizing into starkly opposed pro-interventionist and anti-interventionist camps. Though, I’ll admit that, as a political scientist who studies foreign policy, I find it fascinating that the pro-interventionist camp seems to include both right-wing neocons and left-wing idealists, while the anti-interventionist camp seems to include both left-wing pacifists and right-wing isolationists/paleocons. Strange bedfellows.

        I would advocate a more centrist approach: Force should always be the last resort, to be used only when diplomatic efforts fail; but we should be willing to use it if necessary – but only in a manner consistent with international law. The President acted correctly: exhausting all peaceful means of resolving the crisis, and seeking UN approval, before using military force, and then acting multilaterally as part of a larger international coalition, in which other nations play a leading role and the US plays only a supporting role, rather than taking unilateral action or insisting that America must play the dominant role in the anti-Gaddafi coalition. As for the issue of consulting Congress, that is a notoriously thorny matter of constitutional law that has never been adequately resolved – basically the courts have refused to get involved, deeming it a “political question” that is nonjusticiable. (The attitude of the courts has always been that, since Congress has both the “power of the purse” and the power of impeachment, it has adequate means of checking the president’s power as Commander-in-Chief over the military without the intervention of the courts.) Personally, I see nothing in the President’s actions thus far that explicitly violates the War Powers Resolution. (Though the WPR itself presents a number of thorny constitutional issues which have never been resolved by the courts. I’ll leave that discussion for another day.)

        1. Pro-intervention and pro-illegal-intervention are also two positions it is worth distinguishing.

          1. True. But those of us who are pro-intervention-only-if-and-to-the-extent-that-it-is-authorized-by-the-United-Nations-and-only-after-all-peaceful-means-to-resolve-the-crisis-have-been-exhausted are the ones who are supporting President Obama’s actions. Those who have been so critical of President Obama’s handling of the Libya situation are clearly NOT making the distinction you are making. Anyone who suggests that Obama didn’t act quickly or decisively enough is really arguing that he should have intervened illegally (since there was no UN mandate for him to act any sooner than he did, or to take any actions other than those he has taken). And anyone who suggests that Obama has gone too far is really arguing that the legality of the intervention under international law is irrelevant (since everything that Obama has done has been fully authorized by a clear mandate from the UN).

        2. Thanks for your thoughtful post #64.

          In my view, the best standard for committing American military forces overseas was set forth by John McCain (a person for whom I generally do not have much use) in discussing the run-up to the action in Kosovo.

          1. We should have a clear view of what the end result should look like, and communicate that to the American people.
          2. Our involvement should be decisive. We should commit enough troops to move steadily to the end result defined in (1).

          We (marginally) followed these principles in Kosovo and Iraq. We clearly did not follow and are not following them in Afghanistan, nor in Libya.

          1. It’s weird to think that there was actually a time when I sorta respected John McCain. I was even half-way tempted to support him when he ran for President in 2000. A lot has happened since then. *sigh*

            Anyhoo, regardless of what I think of McCain, those principles seem pretty sound to me – similar in many ways to the Powell Doctrine. (And I have a whole lot more respect for Colin Powell, even after the part he played in leading us into the Iraq War, than I ever had for John McCain.)

            As for Afghanistan, I see it as a good war gone bad, in the sense that we were justified in going into Afghanistan, but we botched the war so horribly that it made us worse off than we would have been had we never gone in in the first place. Iraq, on the other hand, was a bad war gone worse: we had no business going into Iraq at all; and once we went in, in spite of a swift and decisive victory over Saddam’s regime, we ended up screwing the whole thing up because we weren’t prepared for what came after we toppled Saddam. Contrasted to both of these, Kosovo was a good war that actually went pretty well. Obviously no war ever goes perfectly; but Kosovo went about as well as any war could be expected to go. We went in for the right reasons (to protect innocent civilians against a brutal regime that was trying to slaughter them), and we achieved our political objectives in a relatively short period of time, with minimal force, and relatively few casualties. Of course, at the time, there was lots of opposition to the Kosovo war in the U.S., including in Congress. Basically everything that is being said about Obama’s actions in Libya today was said about Clinton’s actions in Kosovo back then. About half the members of Congress were criticizing him for committing U.S. forces to a conflict that was not clearly in our national interests with no clear exit strategy, and the other half were criticizing him for not using sufficient force and for giving our NATO allies too much control over the operation. Both sides were sure the Kosovo war would end in disaster for the United States. But Clinton ended up proving his critics wrong. (Not that they would ever admit it, of course.)

            As for Libya, it’s too early to tell whether it will go down in history as Obama’s Kosovo or as Obama’s Iraq. But the U.S. role in the Libya operation is supposed to be kept limited. We’ll see how that works out. But I don’t think McCain’s principles really apply here. They would apply if the United States were going to war in order to topple Gaddafi’s regime. But what’s happening in Libya right now is not supposed to be an American war against Gaddafi. It’s supposed to be a United Nations-mandated police action, with limited objectives, executed by a multilateral coalition that happens to include the United States in a supporting role. The sort of overwhelming force that McCain recommends would be completely inappropriate in this sort of operation. (But, on the other hand, those critics who are saying that bombing Libya shouldn’t be necessary in order to enforce a “no-fly zone” are simply being naïve about what is involved in this sort of military operation. You can’t enforce a “no-fly zone” without first taking out enemy air defenses, which is exactly what we’ve been doing.)

          2. What world do we live in? America claims to be number 1 yet almost no one refers to history when we talk about these things.

            America is a land based on lawlessness. And to debate how we go about the world enforcing UN laws, yet deprive some of those very fundamentals here.

            Libya will be a nightmare because no one knows what the goal is, the country isnt supporting it, no one asked them or asked the congress.

            There is no oversight, or budgeting for this. A reckless group of elites to send the young off to die for corporate profit.

            Libya is how you turn democrats into war lovers. Now democrats are defending war, because we have to do this one or america is in jepardy. If it really was, if america was in such a shape for actions in libya, congress and the american people would be behind it in large numbers.

            Yet our “president”, a constitutional lawyer, has already said, what he is doing is illegal. He just happen to say it before he was elected.

            For all the new pro war democrats can defend obamas statements about the power of the president to move troops and use force.

            “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

          3. Iraq was actually perfect by those standards. It’s just the intended result, a purely unregulated market for foreign investment, actually only produced a 60% unemployment rate rather than the paradise the neo-conservatives expected, and things collapsed after that.

  30. The situation in Bahrain while ugly and tragic isn’t even close to the same league as the massacre and potential genocide happening in Libya. We can’t get involved with internal affairs of every country, nor should we. Libya is a special case because the level of atrocities is so high and because Gaddafi has gone off the deep end and become a liability to the entire region. Also, both the people of Libya and the Arab League declared Gaddafi’s rule as illegitimate and requested a NFZ.

  31. I have a theory about this, which relates to Yemen.

    That is the idea of “spheres of influence.”

    We accept that great nations have spheres of influence. We don’t invade Tibet because that’s in China’s acknowledged “sphere of influence.” We don’t defend Taiwan, even though bound by treaty, for that reason, although there the border is so tenuous that China doesn’t either. (Instead it’s doing a creeping economic annexation.)

    Saudi Arabia doesn’t have China’s military might, but it does have a sphere of influence based on economic power, which I think present circumstances indicate covers the whole of the Arabian peninsula. I think both parties will acknowledge this. (It’s an elite understanding.) The influence is based on economics. We won’t cross that line — neither party will.

    So the Saidis effectively invaded Bahrain and occupy it. They probably have that responsibility regarding Yemen — a veto over what happens there we won’t cross.

    It makes no sense for Republicans to object or argue over this point, because their policy would be no different.

    Oh, and we entered Iraq, and before that into Kuwait, based on their approval. We’re their proxy army.

    These are not comfortable truths to state, given the absolutist nature of the family-owned state. But the only effective way out is through a true War Against Oil, fought by tapping the abundant solar, wind, and Earth energy all around us, using technology and devices created through use of this resource you’re soaking in.

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