In a video debate on Bloggingheads.tv, Shadi Hamid and Gregory Gausse discuss the U.S. and NATO intervention in Libya, focusing on how the intervention will impact future foreign policy decisions and Arab public opinion.
Gregory Gause, University of Vermont: Shadi, you were a proponent of military intervention by NATO and other countries, including Qatar and the UAE, in the civil war in Libya. How do you think it’s turned out?
Shadi Hamid: I think it’s turned out fairly well, with some reservations perhaps. But, I believe more than ever that it was the right thing to do…we prevented a massacre in Benghazi. But more importantly, now Libyans have a chance to rebuild their country and to move towards democracy, and I have been encouraged by the performance of the National Transitional Council. You know, they’ve done a lot in six months. They’ve been able to unify their factions, draft a constitutional charter, self-govern in Benghazi and now, of course, they have taken over Tripoli and are getting ready to set up their government. So I think all of that bodes well…that Libyans finally have a chance to do what they want and to make their own decisions as a country. But for me the bigger takeaway is in terms of what this means for U.S policy and for us in the international community. First of all, it confirms the role of external actors… that sometimes internal pressures aren’t enough and sometimes you need to have countries like the U.S and Europe come in and tip the balance one way or another. So that’s one lesson for me. And also, I think this is one of the few times that the U.S has aligned itself with Arab democratic aspirations and Libya is one of the only places in the world where people are actually waving American flags and saying: “Go Obama.” It’s the only place in the world where people are slaughtering sheep in the name of Sarkozy. Sarkozy is probably more popular in Libya than he is in France. So, you know that to me…those are good things. And it shows that if the U.S does the right thing, that it can create good will in the Arab world—something it hasn’t been able to do in the rest of the region.
Gause: You think it’s a net positive?
Hamid: You know I have to be honest. Maybe Obama has made me into a neo-con of some sort and all that. I don’t know. But, I don’t really understand the other argument. I know Greg, we’ve talked about this before but I think in retrospect, I just have trouble understanding the argument that we shouldn’t have done anything. And maybe it’s because I’m coming more from a moral, emotional standpoint. But I think the responsibility to protect is an important norm, and Libya was the closest thing we’ve had to a pure intervention. Our vital interests were not at stake and I know that critics of the war would say “that’s why we shouldn’t have intervened.” But for me it’s the opposite. That was the better intervention because it did something for them for the right reasons—the right thing for the right reasons. I think pure interventions are good because there aren’t these ulterior motives necessary. It isn’t just about national interest. We’re doing it because we believe in the responsibility to protect civilians.
Hamid: I think Libya was fundamentally different [from Iraq] because all the elements were there. You had Arab League support, you had the Libyans themselves begging for us to intervene and where is the U.S on this? You had even the GCC supporting a ‘no-fly’ zone, you had U.N. Legitimacy, you had Arab popular sentiment more or less in favor of supporting the rebels. I guess my question is, if you’re not going to support a humanitarian intervention under those circumstances, when will you ever? I mean it was the perfect storm of various components coming together. So if you’re against the Libyan intervention, I suspect that would mean you are generally against humanitarian intervention writ large.
At the end of the day, as we all know thorny national security issues don’t just involve the military; political-military considerations invariably bleed into them. If the senior military’s leadership views are going to be just constrained to military advice … who is thinking about issues from that broader perspective?