I have not had an opportunity to express my thoughts on the situation in Libya in the last couple of weeks since the U.N. resolution calling for the use of military force to protect civilians against the repressive forces of Gadhafi.
In general, I am opposed to the use of military force before using diplomacy. However, in this instance, I support the U.S. and U.N. intervention on the basis of humanitarian grounds.
I believe that there is often a false dichotomy between a realist foreign policy and an idealistic one. The former suggests that the U.S. should only militarily intervene when there is a clear threat to the country’s national interest. The latter suggests that the U.S. can intervene on broader humanitarian grounds even when the national interests are not clearly affected.
But the question is who defines the national interest? Was it in the national interest to have unilaterally invaded Iraq?
For the most part, national interests are defined by the ruling elites in this country who stand to benefit through military intervention in order to protect economic interests or potential economic interests.
Those who determine the national interest do not for the most part consider the interests of ordinary Americans who then are asked to bear the brunt of military intervention in loss of lives and economic hardships. Elites determined our current intervention in Libya, but at least in the case of the Obama administration more than economic interests were involved and human rights won the argument.
This is not to say that there were not political motives. President Obama in looking forward to the 2012 elections and does not want to be accused of being a weak commander in chief. He would have been severely criticized by Republicans if nothing had been done and Gadhafi had annihilated the opposition.
For whatever reason, the focus of our intervention was to protect civilian lives. I don’t advocate other interventions, but I do argue that human rights should play as significant role in our foreign policy as material and strategic interests.