Tuesday, March 29, 2011
There is much to criticize about President Obama’s foreign and military policy toward Libya, and one cannot help being struck by the wide breadth of criticism from both Left and Right, from both the traditional news media and modern cable-news networks ― and even here on Mirror of Justice. We also may question the coherence of a presidential policy that promises to protect the Libyan people from massacre, while shying away from taking direct action to bring about the ouster of the Libyan leader from whom that risk of a bloodbath came and may come again. I worry especially about whether the United States under President Obama has the staying power to remain engaged and ready to stand against mass violence in Libya, once the notoriously short attention span of the world and media has shifted away.
In addition, there are important questions to ask about use of American military force within constitutional constraints. For all the infamy piled on President Bush by those who supported President Obama in the last election, President Bush sought and obtained congressional approval of military action in Iraq. President Obama has acted unilaterally and failed even to seriously consult with congressional leaders, spending much of the period leading up to military intervention on a trip out of the country.
But, while acknowledging these criticisms and challenging questions and agreeing that they deserve continuing attention in the coming days, I want to focus on the fundamental “rightness” of what President Obama has done and on much of what he said last night:
The United States and the world faced a choice. Kadafi declared that he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over 1,000 people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi ― a city nearly the size of Charlotte ― could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen.
Richard Cohen put it in much the same terms in his column today:
[Saving lives] is what this operation is all about ― the prospect that Moammar Gaddafi was going to settle the score in the most horrific way imaginable. Based upon his record and clear indication that he is crazy, a bloodbath was in prospect. What should the world have done? Nothing? Squeeze Gaddafi with sanctions, seize his Swiss accounts, and padlock his son’s London townhouse? None of these measures would have had immediate impact. Sanctions are a slow-working poison. A bullet was needed.
So, thank you, President Obama. And thank God that the United States and its allies were willing to be an instrument to staunch the shedding of innocent blood in Libya.
In the coming days and years, we should reconsider how Catholic “Just War” doctrine applies to the use of force, not to deter international aggression or for a particular nation’s self-defense, but to deliver the innocent from the hands of evil. Self-defense may be a justification for the use of force, but it ultimately is a self-centered one (not that basic personal safety is at all illegitimate as an interest). But, as President Obama rightly said last night: “There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are.”
Catholic teaching should be and is compatible with such an approach. Father Raymond De Souza writes:
The world does not need the Church to be a cheerleader for war, which always represents a failure of politics to secure liberty and justice. But what of those occasions when armed force is necessary to secure liberty and justice against a malevolent regime― as is the case in Gadhafi’s Libya? While war itself brings its own horrors, if it is a moral duty, ought not the attempt to discharge that duty bring encouragement from Christian pastors?
Near the end of his life, Pope John Paul II began to establish the case for military intervention for humanitarian reasons:
[A]n offense against human rights is an offense against the conscience of humanity as such, an offense against humanity itself. The duty of protecting these rights therefore extends beyond the geographical and political borders within which they are violated. Crimes against humanity cannot be considered an internal affair of a nation. . . .
Clearly, when a civilian population risks being overcome by the attacks of an unjust aggressor and political efforts and non-violent defence prove to be of no avail, it is legitimate and even obligatory to take concrete measures to disarm the aggressor. These measures however must be limited in time and precise in their aims. They must be carried out in full respect for international law, guaranteed by an authority that is internationally recognized and, in any event, never left to the outcome of armed intervention alone.
Let us pray for peace ― not the false peace of international indifference and passivity, but real peace in a new post-Kadafi/Gaddafi Libya.