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Saturday, March 19, 2011


Those who remember the October War in the Middle East will find the numerical designation of this particular UN Resolution ironic, to put it mildly. The war launched to prepare the ground for peace— so claim the defenders of the late Anwar Sadat—led to the most dangerous moment in the Cold War since 1962.

Talleyrand, like many other people, is very perplexed by this most recent action. Several European nations, the United States and a few token others have decided to intervene militarily in a civil war on the losing side, and just at the moment when these forces were on the verge of defeat.

The assumption appears to be that Col. Gaddafi and those with him will be so intimidated, demoralized or simply disrupted as to surrender in short order and cede control of the country and its resources to a capable and effective national government led presumably by those now active in Benghazi. If that assumption proves incorrect, the next assumption appears to be that he will be defeated, also in short order, by superior air power. If that assumption proves incorrect, the next assumption appears to be that his Libyan enemies will be so emboldened by outside intervention that they will finish the job themselves. If that assumption proves incorrect, the final assumption appears to be that the “coalition of the willing” will just keep bombing until something else happens. That something else is vague, but the assumption appears to be that it will be better than the state of affairs in Libya during the past four decades.

The larger assumption, of course, is that this action, in addition to being the “right” thing to do, will keep the Arab democratic revolution alive and its well-wishers in good favor with the judges of History, their earlier actions and policies, and residual guilt, notwithstanding. And of course, that assumption is based paradoxically on another assumption: the immediate effects of this action will remain confined to Libya.

Talleyrand does not know if any of these assumptions is realistic. Unlike those making them, presumably, he knows very little about Libya and Libyans. But he is reasonably confident that one particular assumption will prove true: Colonel Gaddafi will be the last ruler ever to surrender his WMD, for any reason or at any price.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Libyans to the Slaughter

Talleyrand hears the same siren calls for armed intervention again and again from all those well meaning Americans who, for some curious reason, seem genuinely to enjoy the sight and sound of warplanes in the sky.

They call now for a “no-fly zone” [sic] over Libya. They do with great passion and conviction. Woe to the poor Libyan freedom fighters!

Ann Marie Slaughter, the distinguished lawyer and professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, summarises the arguments against so valiant an action. She picks them apart, one by one, to explain that intervening against the Libyan regime with force is the only moral option overriding all other considerations, including a near total ignorance of the country, its people, its geography and its politics, not to mention any assumptions that run counter to her own.

She is an unfortunate spokesperson, alas. Perhaps the idea of overthrowing Colonel Gaddafi by force occurred to her when she visited the country as his guest. Or perhaps whilst she served as head of planning [sic] in the American State Department. We must praise Providence that she didn’t have the same job in the Pentagon.

America’s honorable tradition of liberal internationalism has done many good things for the world. But when it has come to defend the armed intervention against weak, poor countries, especially those embroiled in civil war, it has almost always resulted in disappointment, even disaster. Professor Slaughter ought to study the record in Mexico and elsewhere of Professor Woodrow Wilson.

Yes, let us all strive to make the world safe for democracy and to teach the barbaric, backward peoples of the world to elect good men. But let us also remember: it is not so much what we do, but how we do it, that matters most in the end.


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“ surtout, pas trop de zèle “



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