In lieu of the news roundup I usually post on Saturday, I want to throw out a question to readers: do Western powers have a credible and consistent standard to justify their military intervention in Libya? To help us think through the question I want to flag two comparisons journalists have made between the civil war in Libya and crises elsewhere, namely Cote d’Ivoire and Darfur. Here are some excerpts.
David Lewis (at Reuters Africa Blog) on Cote d’Ivoire:
With a crisis like Libya taking place, is it only natural that Ivory Coast should drop down the agenda?
Civilians in Ivory Coast, where there is a U.N. peacekeeping mission with a robust mandate, have also been promised protection. Yet, so far, no robust action has been taken, even though the U.N. has accused pro-Gbagbo forces of using heavy weapons against civilians in Abidjan.
What is the difference between Ivory Coast and Libya? Is it just the scale of the abuses or are there other factors at play? Some analysts and this blogger say Libya’s oil makes it more important than Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower.
The African Union had only just finally ironed out internal divisions over supporting Ouattara when it then had to set up another crisis team to deal with Libya. It is wary about too robust an intervention in either case and was still speaking out against military intervention in Libya even after a U.N. resolution had authorised it, and the Western forces had fired their first shots. Can the AU play a meaningful role in resolving Ivory Coast’s crisis. If so, what?
Glenn Kessler (Washington Post) on Darfur:
“The United States has a moral obligation anytime you see humanitarian catastrophes,” [presidential candidate Barack] Obama declared. “When you see a genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia or in Darfur, that is a stain on all of us, a stain on our souls. . . . We can’t say ‘never again’ and then allow it to happen again, and as a president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.”
Stirring rhetoric, yes. But once Obama became president, the Darfur crisis appeared to fade in importance. Rather than confront the Sudanese government, as candidate Obama suggested he would do, the administration’s special envoy for Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, attempted to win Khartoum’s cooperation by offering incentives. As he memorably put it: “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries — they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.”
No one can expect a presidential candidate to stick to every campaign promise. Circumstances and priorities change. The tragedy in Darfur has been a slow-motion conflict, unlike the rapidly developing civil war in Libya, potentially requiring a different set of tools. But the conflict in Darfur has not gone away, despite Obama’s campaign rhetoric that “I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.”
Some day, those words may come back to haunt him.
What say you? Is there hypocrisy at work in the Western reaction to Libya when compared with the reactions to Cote d’Ivoire and Darfur? Or does the situation in Libya differ in a crucial way from these other conflicts?