"Obviously, a strong humanitarian appeal can be crafted in support of military intervention in Libya. Any decent human being would loathe Moammar Gadaffi and find his attacks on his unarmed population to be repulsive. But exactly the same could be said -- and was constantly said -- about the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. There's an obvious emotional appeal in vanquishing murderous tyrants out of power through the use of force. But even leaving aside the question of whether the U.S. can effectively shape outcomes in distant lands with complex foreign cultures -- even after a full decade, our confusion seems greater than ever in Afghanistan -- nations don't fight wars primarily with humanitarian aims; they fight them to advance their interests.
Humanitarianism is the pretty package in which every new war is wrapped. That's just the Manichean propaganda tactic needed to induce public support for killing human beings: it's justified because we're there to destroy Evil and do Good. Wars can sometimes incidentally produce humanitarian benefits, but that isn't the real aim of war. We can (perhaps) remove Gadaffi from power, but we'll then up defending and propping up (and thus be responsible for) whatever faction will heed our dictates and serve our interests regardless of their humanitarian impulses (see our good friends Nouri al-Malaki and Hamid Karzai as examples).
As our other good friends Saudi Arabia and Bahrain collaborate on attacking civilian protesters, there are no calls for U.S. intervention there -- even though that's arguably more serious than what's happening in Libya -- because those governments serve our interests. Nor is there much anger among Americans (as opposed to Egyptians) over our decades-long support for the dictator of Egypt (and most of the other tyrants now suddenly being vilified). That's because our conduct in the Middle East isn't driven by humanitarian objectives no matter how manipulatively that flag is waved. It's driven by a desire to advance our perceived interests regardless of humanitarian outcomes, and exactly the same would be true for any intervention in Libya. Even if we were capable of fostering humanitarian outcomes in that nation -- and that's highly doubtful -- that wouldn't be our mission."
Glenn Greenwald: Obama on presidential war-making powers
"Obama's answer seems dispositive to me on the Libya question: "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." And he went on to say that the President could constitutionally deploy the military only "in instances of self-defense." Nobody is arguing -- nor can one rationally argue -- that the situation in Libya constitutes either an act of "self-defense" or the "stopping of an actual or imminent threat to the nation." How, then, can Obama's campaign position possibly be reconciled with his ordering military action in Libya without Congressional approval (something, it should be said, he has not yet done)?
The dangers from unilateral, presidential-decreed wars are highlighted in the Libya situation. There has been very little public discussion (and even less explanation from the President) about the reasons we should do this, what the costs would be on any level, what the end goal would be, how mission creep would be avoided, whether the "Pottery Barn" rule will apply, or virtually anything else. Public opinion is at best divided on the question if not opposed. Even if you're someone who favors this intervention, what's the rationale for not requiring a debate and vote in Congress over whether the President should be able to commit the nation to a new military conflict? Candidate Obama, candidate Clinton, and the Bush-era Democrats all recognized the constitutional impropriety of unilateral actions like this one; why shouldn't they be held to that?"
Glenn Greenwald: Libya and the familiar patterns of war
"All that said, it is striking how wars -- no matter how they're packaged -- ultimately breed the same patterns. With public opinion split or even against the war in Libya (at least for now) -- and with questions naturally arising about why we're intervening here to stop the violence but ignoring the growing violence from our good friends in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere -- the administration obviously knows that some good, old-fashioned fear-mongering and unique demonization (Gadaffi is a Terrorist with "deadly mustard gas" who might attack us!!) can only help. Then there's the fact that the same faction of war-loving-from-a-safe-distance "hawks" that took the lead in cheering for the attack on Iraq -- neocons on the Right and their "liberal interventionist" counterparts in The New Republic/Brookings/Democratic Party officialdom world -- are playing the same role here. And many of the same manipulative rhetorical tactics are now wielded against war opponents: the Libyan rebels are the new Kurds (they want us to act to protect them!), and just as those who opposed the attack on Iraq were routinely accused of indifference toward if not support for Saddam's tyranny, those who oppose this intervention are now accused of indifference to Gadaffi's butchery (as always: are those refraining from advocating for military intervention in Yemen or Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or the Sudan or dozens of other places indifferent to the violence and other forms of suffering there?)."
Glenn Greenwald: The manipulative pro-war argument in Libya
"For the reasons I identified the other day, there are major differences between the military actions in Iraq and Libya. But what is true of both -- as is true for most wars -- is that each will spawn suffering for some people even if they alleviate it for others. Dropping lots of American bombs on a country tends to kill a lot of innocent people. For that reason, indifference to suffering is often what war proponents -- not war opponents -- are guilty of. But whatever else is true, the notion that opposing a war is evidence of indifference to tyranny and suffering is equally simple-minded, propagandistic, manipulative and intellectually bankrupt in both the Iraq and Libya contexts. And, in particular, those who opposed or still oppose intervention in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, the Sudan, against Israel, in the Ivory Coast -- and/or any other similar places where there is widespread human-caused suffering -- have no business advancing that argument."