The Case for Intervention on Strategic Grounds
My first in Foreign Policy — Libya Is Too Big to Fail: International intervention is the right move — and not just for humanitarian reasons.
Despite what you may be hearing from critics of March 17’s U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians from harm, Libya is not peripheral to the world system. It is at its very core. Libya possesses 1,800 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline. The country produces 2 percent of the world’s oil, with 85 percent of exports going to Europe. Libyan nationals have been prominent jihadists in Iraq. Since the beginning of the Great Recession and the slump in global demand in 2008, Libya has allocated $200 billion toward new infrastructure spending.
And yet Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, curiously described U.S. interests in Libya as “less than vital” in aWall Street Journal op-ed last week. He cautioned that even the modest step of participating in a multilateral no-fly zone would be incommensurate with America’s limited strategic interests. Harvard University professor Stephen Walt made a similar point. “For starters,” Walt argued, “let’s acknowledge that the United States has no vital strategic interests at stake in the outcome of the Libyan struggle.”
In 2008, I changed my career as an academic of Syria to become instead a professional engaged in the American and European efforts to bring Qaddafi in from the cold and forward the agenda of pro-market economic reform and Western investment in Libya. My logic then was the same as it is now: Libya is too important in the world system to have Western strategic priorities in Libya unfulfilled and U.S. businesses shut out. This logic is grounded in history and is also best for the aspirations of the Libyan people. Over the last six decades, successive U.S. and British administrations have consistently concluded that the “Libya question” merited great economic and diplomatic sacrifices. It still does.