So this is a bits and pieces post.
In the last few weeks, the issue of whether a massacre would have happened in Benghazi has a emerged as a major empirical divide between those who counseled intervention in Libya and those who did not. My own sense is that a massacre was a likely possibility, so I reluctantly supported intervention. My earlier thoughts on this are here, here, and here. Here is a very good review of the reasons, and here are Walt’s thoughts that the purported massacre was a bogus rationale.
The last link is Walt’s latest rejoinder. I still am not convinced. As I argued on Sunday, it is a mistake to suggest that Gaddafi’s behavior in the other towns is an indicator – the bloodbath will come after he wins, not while the war is raging (it is a diversion of critical resources). Also, I think Walt’s figure on Benghazi’s population (650k) is low. That city is now swollen with battlefield refugees, and by voting with their feet to go to Benghazi, not Tripoli, they have signaled their sympathy for the rebels. It is hardly a stretch to suggest that many of these people would be targeted for revenge killings. Finally, 650k is still quite a sizeable number. Most of Libya’s cities and towns are a lot smaller.
Walt does make the important point that we must think about just how many people must die or be threatened to meet an R2P threshold (dicsussed below for the Syrian case too). I admit I don’t really know the right answer to that one; that is an awfully uncomfortable moral proposition – albeit one that R2P advocates must answer somehow. My own sense is that Benghazi would not have been Rwanda, but Srebrenica. So Walt is probably right that there would not have been 100k dead and that such numbers were scare tactics. Maybe figures like that were used by human rights groups to morally bully western decision-makers into intervention. But still, Srebrenica was pretty god-awful. It’s very hard to figure this one out…
Besides this blog, I write for another service now running a scenario on Arab Spring in Syria. As with my commenters on my Libya posts here, I have been pressed about applying the Libyan logic to the brewing Syrian mess. Here are my thoughts:
Without a UN mandate and local Arab endorsement (ideally from the Arab League) – as was the case in Libya – a Libyan-style western intervention option would be widely viewed as re-run of the Iraq War. The Libyan intervention decision was already fraught enough – both Germany and Turkey in NATO opposed it. Only the growing evidence of a looming bloodbath in Benghazi forced the West’s hand in Libya. To run that scenario again, and so soon, would likely split NATO yet again (as it was over Iraq 2 and Libya), and the Chinese and Russians, and the other BRICS too, would howl in protest.The only possible way an unsought NATO intervention might occur is if Israel were seriously considering intervening, which might spark a local war with Iran involved as well. NATO would then preempt that. Beyond that, an unrequested NATO intervention would alienate the planet, split NATO , and dump yet another Arab/Mulsim nation-building problem on the hands of the West, complete with Iranian meddling and all the disastrous, thoroughly foreseeable consequences that would flow from all that.
Abstaining from taking action, and waiting for an international call for action is almost certainly the right way to proceed, at this point. Everyone knows the US/West is dramatically overextended now, with huge budget deficits and debt, with a ‘neo-imperial’ reputation (rightly or wrongly) tarnished by the Iraq War. This means intervention can only be a last ditch measure, as it was in Benghazi to stop what look liked an impending massacre akin to Srebrenica. If the current Assad crackdown devolves into a major civil conflict in which thousands face annihilation, as they did in the 1982 Hama massacre, non-intervention will have to be re-evaluated. But the ‘responsbility to protect’ (R2P) threshold must stay somewhat high (Walt’s point above), otherwise the West could get chain-ganged into multiple human rights intervnetions that will increasingly look to Arab audiences like neo-imperialism. Libya was different because the Arab League, and UN, provided local moral cover, as did the clear warning alarms from human rights NGOs about a possible slaughter. I doubt that will happen again, and the Libyan intervention also is not going too well. So unless genuinely brutal suppression is verifiably imminent, intervention carries huge risk to be avoided. As I have argued before, the West can’t do everything, which leaves one in the uncomfortable position of helping the Libyans more than the Syrians, because the Libyans moved first. That feels terribly inadequate, I agree. Nothing about this Arab Spring is getting any easier…
3. Some Media:
A shortened, more professionalized version of my essay on the comparison of German and Korean unifcation was posted by the East Asia Forum here. The East Asia Forum is a good site on Asia-Pacific politics and economics; like Foreign Policy, it mixes scholarship and policy thinking into short, digestible presentations. I wholeheartedly recommend the site to readers of this blog.
Also, I spoke on a local radio station on Korea-Japan relations – what a tangle. Please go here if you are interested. Scroll down the page and click on the big green button with Korean lettering. My comments begin around 16:15.