To put our servicemen and women into harm’s way, America must be guided not only by lofty ideals but by self interest and most importantly national security. Our incentives in Korea, Viet Nam, and even the Cold War were guided by a combination of the three. Obviously in recent years, human atrocities have occurred in places like Darfur without our intervention, and we have backed governments that, while lacking protection of human rights, have supported our interests in a hostile environment. While I am sometimes discomforted by our hegemonic decisions, I try to understand the complexities.
The demonstrations begun in Tunisia have now spread headlong into Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, our chief military and economic allies of the region. Our support for Libyan freedom fighters cannot be seen as a support in the eyes of our Allied kings for continued violence against regional leaders. I see the complexity. However, Muammar is a crazed dictator responsible for Lockerbie and state sponsored terrorism. He is a despot that has fairly easily differentiated characteristics from our allies. His willingness to turn military against his own people places his regime in a category of its own.
We are now policing Iraq, at war in Afghanistan, and allied with Israel in an embroiled region that is critical to our national security and standard of living. As the consumer of a quarter of the world’s oil, disruptions from the region will have dramatic effects on our economy. (As an aside, people are not yet speaking of the Step change down in Japan’s energy dependent economy because of its permanent loss of about 6% of its power output that will take several years to replace) So does Libya, who produces less than 3% of the world’s oil supply, pass the ideal, self interest, and national security hurdles?
I say yes, with the understanding that there are risks of enforcing a no fly zone but they are minimal. We placed a similar zone above Iraq, who had a more advanced military, without material losses. None-the-less, the risks of not supporting Libyan freedom fighters is the long term ill wind against America that will blow across the new governments of Northern Africa.
Our resistance to support Sudanese, Iranians, Tunisians, Algerians, Egyptians, Yemenis, Bahrainis, Saudis, and now Libyans while securing Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and our friend Israel will have long lasting detriment to our economic security that could be mitigated by some show of support for the democratic ideals that all people see as America’s beacon. If our economy is severely threatened by loss of oil, infinitely more loss of American lives will ultimately be shed.
This old man believes in ideals. Some might fear I forget that ideals are an old man’s folly and war a young man’s end. I believe that given the pragmatic alternative of spending some effort today to secure the historic democratic alliance of a critical world region versus the alternative of major military conflict later with great loss of lives to secure safe transit of oil amidst a resentful coalition, I cautiously prefer the former.