Libya or Syria: Which war of choice should the US be fighting?

The NATO charter states, in Article 5, that

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.


No matter what President Obama says tonight about the conflict in Libya, he cannot credibly claim that such an attack has occurred on any member of NATO, so there is no alliance rationale for us being involved there. Both Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates stated this weekend that our national vital interests are not at stake in that civil war. Both of these being unarguably true, the question then is, why are we involved in Libya at all?

The answer is that we’re answering the United Nations’ Responsibility to Protect, which is a fairly new doctrine outlining the world’s responsibility to intervene when governments start killing their own citizens. Given the fact that government are, essentially, monopolies of violence and that many governments turn this monopoly into bloody tyranny, R2P can become quite broad if applied everywhere fairly. American troops will be “volunteered by others” in an awful lot of internal conflicts in other countries.

One might argue, as Sen. Joe Lieberman does, that the intervention in Libya puts us on the side of the people and sends a clear message to would-be tyrants everywhere not to harm their own citizens. But the intervention sends a different signal, thanks to the choice not to intervene elsewhere. At the same moment that Libya is waging war against its own citizens, Syria is also killing its own citizens. But we’re not intervening in Syria and the administration has publicly ruled out any future intervention there. R2P then is both overly broad and useless as a guiding principle. We’re involved in Libya because some members of the administration decided that we should be. We’re not involved in Syria because those same administration figures decided that we shouldn’t be.


Because Syria is Iran’s cat’s paw, we will not act against them. Acting against Syria would undoubtedly trigger a response from Iran, and get the US accused of waging war on behalf of Israel. That would be true to an extent, but that in itself is not a reason not to wage the war. Israel is an ally, and though they’re not a part of NATO, they’re as close an ally as we have in the region. Syria uses its proxy terrorist army to attack Israel repeatedly, at Iran’s bidding. Syria’s unrest is an opportunity that the Obama administration is choosing to pass up on.

While we won’t “wage war for Israel,” this administration is happily waging war for what amounts to Europe’s oil. Both Italy and France buy most of their oil from Libya; the US buys very little oil from Libya. With Libya’s oil output down about 75% since the unrest began, our European allies are feeling a very direct economic pinch. But as Secretary Gates said, our national interests are simply not at stake in Libya. But our forces are aiding the rebels there anyway, even though some of those rebels are by no means moderninsts and have been waging war against us, and given the opportunity, will wage war against us again as soon as they can. Our fighter jets and Tomahawks may end up installing a regime put into power by al Qaeda militants. Among other things, this will not end up helping ease the Europeans’ wallet concerns.


Of the two, bringing down Syria is far more strategically useful to the United States than bringing down Gaddafi. If I could chose to bring them both down, I would, but if I have to choose between them as the Obama administration is, Syria is the more dangerous and should be the one to experience kinetic military action. Syria is Iran’s puppet, it is Hezbollah’s succor and it is America’s and Israel’s enemy. Syria is both a threat to its own people and to the region. Gaddafi was once a threat to his region and the world, but he hasn’t been for years now.

There simply is no coherent moral or strategic reason to engage against Libya while leaving Syria alone. Whatever the president says tonight, the fact is, we’re fighting a war of choice in Libya and leaving another war of choice unfought. And this administration chose to fight the wrong war.


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