Sunday, April 03, 2011

Libya, Ivory Coast and... To Look or not to Look the Other Way?

Difficult moral and ethical dilemmas are being raised by the strife in Libya and  Ivory Coast.

 When David Cameron  first called for democratic nations to make Libyan air space a no go zone to protect civilians, after pondering the point I thought that he was wrong. The fact that the UN and some Western nations subsequently brought about a ban on Gadaffi using his country's airspace to attack its own citizens, evidences that David Cameron is a good leader and PM but does not necessarily indicate that his was the right call. Likewise the presence of French troops in the Ivory Coast does not prove that one nation's internal strife however brutal is best tackled by the help of other nations.

Yet thinking about these issues further  the ethical questions raised are not easily answered. If regime change was a legitimate moral response by third party nations to  the brutality of another country's  regime the surely the UK would have used its armed forces to oust Mugabe from Zimbabwe or at least called upon th e UN to do so.. We were after all the old Rhodesian colonial power and could be said to remain under moral obligations to that nation during its development after independence. That we did not and do not do act, speaks louder about moral imperatives,  than many clever words used in support of our imposed military involvements in other countries.

So looking for guidance I recalled the biblical parable of the 'Good Samaritan'. The priest and others who crossed over the road to avoid the plight of the man injured in a mugging attack ,are we are led to believe making the wrong, perhaps cowardly, calls compared with that of the Good Samaritan who gives succour to the victim.

But what if the Samaritan had arrived on the scene earlier during the course of the mugging. Should he have stood by and waited until the robbers had done their worst and fled the scene or should he have gone in to help and maybe even prevent more injuries and theft? My own view is that probably the good person should try to  prevent the assailant from attacking unless perhaps the odds were so against him eg by weight of numbers that it would be fool hardy and maybe pointless to try to do so. None of us is that important that we can change the world on our own. The good person's involvement would in any event not result in any innocent lives being lost but could result in one being saved.

The troubles with nation involving itself  with other nations civil strife  result from the dilemma there being impersonal rather than the personal one which the Good Samaritan faced. The difficulties are those of scale,  the sheer weight of numbers and military might, making casualties  amongst the innocent inevitable as the increasing violence in the Ivory Coast all too sadly illustrates. Also in  the Ivory Coast at least  I am not sure that the supposedly legitimate leader is any better than the incumbent one; nor is it yet clear who would be replacing the Gadaffi regime if the rebels manage to oust him with Western military support. -Frying pans into fires come to mind.

Another analogy is that of face to face chance meetings - often as on Wimbledon Common during an early morning jog, one  exchanges personal greetings with total strangers. One  usually cannot  do so whilst cocooned in a motor car, especially if the other person too is in a car. Cars tanks aircraft rockets and so on all  tend to de-personalise   so inevitably making decisions based on the use of such contraptions,  less human and ultimately perhaps less humane.

So I conclude that on a person to person basis trying to aid a neighbour in the face of violence is a matter of quick and obviously very personal  decision making on what action to take  for the best. The wrong decision would be unlikely to affect innocent people. As innocents are bound to be hurt by impersonal decisions to send in arms and  armed forces with all their vehicular and other  war machines,  made at governmental level, I doubt whether such decisions however well intentioned, should be made except when the risks of  not  doing  so  are of  imminent  attacks on the outside nations in question or a world war.

1 comment:

  1. Jerry, I think you sum up the situation very well.
    I myself incline to the view expressed ny Nicholas Kristof, a journalist I admire very much:

    "Critics from left and right are jumping all over President Obama for his Libyan intervention, arguing that we don’t have an exit plan, that he hasn’t articulated a grand strategy, that our objectives are fuzzy, that Islamists could gain strength. And those critics are all right.


    But let’s back up a moment and recognize a larger point: Mr. Obama and other world leaders did something truly extraordinary, wonderful and rare: they ordered a humanitarian intervention that saved thousands of lives and that even Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s closest aides seem to think will lead to his ouster.

    We were all moved by Eman al-Obeidy, the woman who burst into the reporters’ hotel in Tripoli with her story of gang-rape and torture, only to be dragged away by security goons. If we had not intervened in Libya, Qaddafi forces would have reached Benghazi and there might have been thousands of Eman al-Obeidys.

    It has been exceptionally rare for major powers to intervene militarily for predominantly humanitarian reasons. One rare example was the United States-led Kosovo campaign in 1999, and another was Britain’s dispatch of troops to Sierra Leone in 2000 to end the brutal civil war there. Both were successes, but came only after years of killings that gradually built up the political will to do something.

    Critics argue that we are inconsistent, even hypocritical, in our military interventions. After all, we intervened promptly this time in a country with oil, while we have largely ignored Ivory Coast and Darfur — not to mention Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.

    We may as well plead guilty. We are inconsistent. There’s no doubt that we cherry-pick our humanitarian interventions.

    But just because we allowed Rwandans or Darfuris to be massacred, does it really follow that to be consistent we should allow Libyans to be massacred as well? Isn’t it better to inconsistently save some lives than to consistently save none?

    If the Libya operation is successful, moreover, it may help put teeth into the emerging doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” — a landmark notion in international law that countries must intervene to prevent mass atrocities. And that might help avert the next Rwanda or the next Darfur.

    After the Vietnam War, many Americans were traumatized by the very idea of using military force. As a result we were too slow to react to genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, and hundreds of thousands died as a result. Then we recovered our moxie — and unfortunately barged into Iraq. The difficulties of Iraq and Afghanistan have again made many Americans — particularly on the left — allergic to any use of military force, even to save lives in a limited operation with very few civilian casualties, like the one in Libya.


    Critics complain, correctly, that we don’t have a clear exit strategy. But plans made in conference rooms rarely survive the first shot anyway. The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 lasted 11 weeks, entailed civilian casualties and faced constant sniping from critics — until it abruptly succeeded and largely put an end to the slaughter there.

    Gulf countries could leak word of a $15 million reward for the arrest of Colonel Qaddafi. That might empower his aides and bodyguards to get greedy. The mounting defections of aides like Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa suggest that even some members of the inner circle believe the tide has turned. They’re opportunists, and they apparently believe Mr. Qaddafi is going down.

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