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Libya: Never say never again

News update Saturday 9 am: Western allies dither while Qaddafi invades last rebel stronghold. Was the agreement on the no-fly zone so easy because it would be too late and so wouldn’t actually happen?

BREAKING NEWS 2:30pm: Obama announces US will help enforce UN resolution on no-fly zone on Qaddafi: not alone but as part of European and Arab coalition, and with limited objective of protecting civilians.

Readers of this blog know that this author is NOT a big fan of external military intervention as an instrument of a ludicrously broadened concept of “development” that includes resolving civil wars. However, any social scientist can only argue on the basis of generalizations over a large number of cases, and generalizations have exceptions. Never say never. There COULD be that golden moment when an outside military force does something good (like the famous example of the British commandos in Sierra Leone).

Of course, we also have to take into account that unaccountable outside powers will invoke the (usually low) probability of a good outcome as justification for even more (usually bad) interventions (often motivated by their own interests). Let’s not pretend that the accountability problem is anywhere near a solution.

Still, for the sake of the people of Libya, all of us can only hope this will be one of those golden moments.

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  1. Imran wrote:

    Interesting take. Will there be a golden moment for Bahrain if dozens die tomorrow? Does this golden moment in Libya have any thing to do with rising oil prices? What price for “collateral damage” and recent history is full of examples of such.

    Posted March 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  2. Manuel wrote:

    You don’t need to be a new Hayek to foresee lots of unintended consequences springing out this fateful decision…

    Posted March 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink
  3. I think we should not underestimate the “people just hate Qaddafi” factor. After all, the Arab League is in on this: that is the truly remarkable thing.

    Posted March 18, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  4. ewaffle wrote:

    This has nothing to do with “development” however one would define it. David Cameron made it clear that armed intervention in Libya was about regime change and retribution for past terrorist acts. While Cameron, in speaking to the House of Commons, partially couched it in humanitarian terms and trumpeted the legal basis for the use of force it comes down to this:

    “We should not forget his support for the biggest terrorist atrocity on British soil. We simply can not have a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border.”

    Posted March 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink
  5. ple wrote:

    Oh for god’s sake Manuel! You think you and Hayek are sooo profound. Ever since we came down from the trees there have been unintended consequences. One of which is you.

    Posted March 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Permalink
  6. Poker Donk wrote:

    Man i hope they will do something quickly. The situation there is getting worse every minute. I heard they shot a Jet today.

    My Poker Blog

    Posted March 19, 2011 at 6:26 am | Permalink
  7. I agree with the no-fly zone even though many people might disagree that it’s not our business. The people of Libya have been fighting hard for their freedom. They have the right to choose a better future and the rest of the world should help them achieve that.

    Posted March 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  8. Robert Tulip wrote:

    Tell that to the Marines, Muammar. *

    As the line in the Marines Song “to the shores of Tripoli” says, the USA has a proud record of standing up to pirates and thugs in Libya.

    Stagnant Arab fiefdoms need democracy as a precondition of development. After the imperial overstretch in Iraq, the USA has done the right thing to lead action against Gaddafi, showing that America is a true friend of democracy. It is not about turning Libya into a Western protectorate, but rather giving the country back to its own people.

    * Roosevelt’s 1942 speech on the need for American global engagement is at

    Posted March 19, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  9. Anna Carella wrote:

    Didn’t the main impetus for this intervention come from France and the UK, with the US just playing a supporting role? Interestingly, 15% of all of Libya’s oil goes to France. (see p. 4) Perhaps the decision had something to do with this: “Libya’s government threatens to base decisions on future oil deals on how other nations react to the uprising seeking to oust Moammar Gadhafi.”

    Posted March 20, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  10. Jacob AG wrote:

    By the way, happy 8th anniversary of the 2003 invasion of Iraq! What better way to celebrate than to invade Libya?

    Posted March 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Permalink
  11. Jim wrote:

    Is the third time a charm? Have we learned from past failures in Afghanistan and Iraq? Unfortunately, I don’t think so, but I am somewhat more optimistic this time around. There are several factors that lead me to believe that Libya has a slightly better chance of actually benefitting from our intervention. The first, and most important, is a population committed to change. The second is the absence of polarizing religious divisions within the country. Unlike Iraq, the overwhelming majority of the Libyan population is Sunni. Lastly, Libya has enough oil money to keep its population content, which is an essential prerequisite for the sustainability of any democratic regime. Hopefully Libya will be “the exception.”

    Posted March 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink
  12. TimeGiven wrote:

    What do people think about the criteria to intervene given by the International Commission for Intervention and State Sovereignty?

    Posted March 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  13. Steven wrote:

    When I first learned of the external intervention that was to take place in Libya, I initially thought, “thank god”. The acts taking place in Libya under the rule of Qadaffi, are deplorable and appalling. However, under further thought, I’m not so sure anymore. Although this is completely different then what took place when we took action in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe there are unfortunately, some devastating similarities. I don’t know the White House’s plans, but it seems like we went in there without much of an exit strategy, much alike the Iraq and Afghanistan campaign. I fear that now since we’ve already taken action, we may be stuck there, and more troops may be required. Who knows when we’ll get out of this campaign either?

    Posted March 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

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