Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

U.S. action in Libya key to fostering democracy

The scene is familiar. Impressive missile strikes pounding a foreign land, broadcast live on televisions around the world. We saw it in Bosnia in 1995, in Iraq in 1998, in Yugoslavia in 1999. We saw it in Afghanistan in 2001 and again in Iraq in 2003. We see it now in Libya.

Yet, we have not grown accustomed to it. What were once impressive displays of American power now inspire questions into our purposes and goals. You’ve probably heard it by now — “What are we doing in Libya?”

What we are doing, quite simply, is preventing a mad man from slaughtering his people. President Obama said it best: “We can’t stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people there will be no mercy.”

We can’t do it because we don’t have the heart to do it. We can’t sit on the most powerful military in the world and watch evil unfold in distant nations, knowing bombs thrown from our ships could save thousands of human lives. And we can’t hope that the despots who brutalize their own countries in order to remain in power will never turn their sights to our homeland, especially when they have killed Americans in the past.

The public, weary from protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is understandably concerned. We can’t afford it. We can’t lose any more lives to unnecessary conflict.

Yet, in an interconnected world riddled with hotspots, America is perhaps the only nation both capable of and willing to bear the sacrifice required to lead the international community towards peace and stability. If for no other reason than to protect ourselves from the violence that inevitably flows from unstable nations.

This operation is different from those that preceded it. Instead of making the case for war, we were reluctantly persuaded to lend a hand by our allies. The United Nations approved our intervention, which was supported by the Arab League. British and French fighters are executing much of the mission. We are told command will soon be handed off to another country, and ground troops will not be deployed.

As a public relations strategy, this is all fine. Operationally and strategically, dealing with cumbersome international institutions under the leadership of less capable armed forces may inhibit our success. President Obama, following the lead of our allies, was late to the scene. If we had acted early and decisively, one wonders if might we have succeeded in helping Libyan rebels with less drastic methods.

Regardless, when the time came to act, our resources were necessary, and we were there. The “indispensable nation,” as Madeline Albright put it.

What does this mean for American foreign policy? A president who was elected at least partially on his opposition to the war in Iraq has increased our troop presence in Afghanistan and has now authorized the use of force in a new theater. Governing is harder than campaigning. President Obama’s administration has been mugged by the inescapable reality that, as messy as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may have been, a world devoid of American leadership would be even messier.

Perhaps he also recognizes that the forces fighting for freedom in Libya, like the protesters in Egypt before them, were likely motivated, at least in part, by the seeds of freedom that have been planted in Iraq. Fortunately, it is much easier to support a revolution in progress than to create one. Still, the message is clear – the human desire for freedom is strong and universal. The Bush doctrine, it appears, isn’t dead after all. Our foreign policy must recognize this.

That doesn’t mean we have to abandon undemocratic allies or invade every dictatorship, but it does mean that when people rise up to fight for control of their own destiny, we are bound to support them. We have already seen the emergence of a free, democratic Eastern Europe and its impact on the peace and stability of that region. We have also seen to the emergence of a fledgling, but functioning, democracy in Iraq.

Hopefully, we will one day be able to say the same thing about Libya, and the entire Arab world.


Tray Smith is the opinions editor of The Crimson White.


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