By Jordan McGillis
The killing of Muammar el-Qaddafi has sent waves of euphoria across Libya and much of the Arab world, bringing to a close a long and bloody chapter in the country’s history. For forty-two years the autocrat ruled Libya with a peculiar mix of socialism, Islamism, and strongman nationalism. Qaddafi’s political ideology was rife with inconsistencies and his behavior erratic; thus, for parts of six decades, the Libyan people lived in terror under the reign of one man’s subjective whim. To be sure, such a man has no place in the modern world.
In the wake of Qaddafi’s death, NATO, the UN Security Council, and President Barack Obama have been praised for the extensive air strike campaign which was instrumental in helping the Libyan rebels gain the upper hand and eventually ousting the dictator. In spite of the outpouring of transcontinental support and the tactical success of the air strike campaign, known as Operation Unified Protector, we must still scrupulously evaluate the validity of the endeavor. Did Operation Unified Protector serve American interests? Were the objectives justified? And ultimately, was this the proper course of action for the United States of America?
In order to accurately identify the interests and objectives of the United States of America—foreign and domestic—we must first establish the proper role of the American government. We must determine what the government should and should not do, and determine the scale and scope of acceptable government action. These premises establish a standard by which all governmental decisions should be made. Simply put, the proper role of the American government, as established by the Constitution, is to protect the individual rights of its citizens. These individual rights include the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to property – no more, and no less. In the realm of foreign affairs, the mandate of the United States government is no different than at home: defend the individual rights of Americans. Did Operation Unified Protector fit that billing? Was the objective of the action to defend the individual rights of Americans? Clearly, the answer is no.
American involvement in Operation Unified Protector was not motivated by threats against American lives, liberty, or property. In fact, it had very little to do with America whatsoever. American military engagement in Libya was instead motivated by a dubious, developing international norm known as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect provides the following introduction on their website:
Recognizing the failure to adequately respond to the most heinous crimes known to humankind, world leaders made a historic commitment to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity at the United Nations (UN) 2005 World Summit. This commitment, entitled the Responsibility to Protect, stipulates that:
1. The State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
2. The international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility.
3. The international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State fails to protect its populations or is in fact the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.
In March, when Operation Unified Protector had just begun, President Barack Obama offered his justification for the decision to use American military might apart from any American interest. He said, “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and—more profoundly—our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.”
The underlying philosophy of Operation Unified Protector and R2P is one that has now set a terrifying precedent for the United States: a philosophy of self-sacrifice. According to this developing international norm and President Obama’s speeches regarding actions in Libya, the United States military is no longer an instrument responsible for securing the inviolability of the rights of American citizens, but rather one with, in the words of the president, “responsibilities to our fellow human beings.” According to this doctrine, American tax dollars and even the lives of American soldiers can permissibly be expended anywhere in the world if officials in Washington deem we have “responsibilities to our fellow human beings.” This line of thinking, devoid of rationality and completely detached from America’s constitutional foundation, tears at the fabric of our republic and could lead to ruin.
The United States of America was founded on the principle of individual rights. And it is only the individual rights of Americans that the US government has a responsibility to protect. Before again sacrificing American troops and treasure abroad, President Obama would be wise to consider where his true responsibilities lie.
[Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army]