Libya, Iraq and the Responsibility to Protect

If the debate about how the U.S. and the international community should respond to the carnage in Libya highlights one thing, it is that we still have not arrived at either a domestic or global consensus about when and why to intervene militarily in the affairs of a sovereign state. I include Iraq in the title of this post for three reasons. First, the pre-emptive nature of the Iraq invasion in many ways served to sidetrack the debate over humanitarian interventions. Second, the outcome of the Iraq War served to chasten the broad middle of the policy debate, if not the most ardent hawks or doves.

And third, the events in Libya serve as an uncomfortable reminder to those, like myself, who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning: namely, that even the best scenario of a known WMD proliferator willingly coming back in from the cold does not exclude subsequent humanitarian violations that confront the international community with the dilemma of whether or not to intervene. So while those who argued that the U.N. inspections regime was sufficient to contain Saddam Hussein's WMD program were in retrospect correct, in all likelihood, the question of whether to intervene in Iraq would have come up in a humanitarian context had Hussein remained in power.

If such interventions carried no costs and were guaranteed success, there would obviously be no debate. If there were some formula for determining the costs and chances of success, the debate would at least be guided by reason. Andrew Exum's four-point checklist of questions for U.S. policymakers before committing U.S. force is sound and compelling, insomuch as these decisions are based on rational calculations.

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