- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2011


During the revolution in Egypt, the sentiment among most of America’s political and intellectual cadre seemed to be one of a hands-off approach, saying in effect, this is the time for the Egyptian people to be heard and take charge of their country.

This sentiment is waning when it comes to Libya. Calls for U.S. involvement are on the rise as the death toll rises and Col Moammar Gadhafi’s grip on the country seems to be strengthening. What the United States needs is a heaping dose of humility. We cannot solve every country’s problems, for as history has shown, our involvement usually makes the problem more complicated. The proposed actions - or the ones we have used in similar situations in the past - will fail. These include:

c Sanctions: With money still flowing in from its top trade partner, Italy, U.S. sanctions - even if backed by NATO or the United Nations - will unlikely have a large effect on the bottom line. Also, with Col. Gadhafi sitting on billions of dollars in reserve, even if sanctions do have substantial economic consequences for the country, he will still be able to pay his military and mercenaries long enough to put down the resistance. Plus, sanctions usually miss the mark. The political ruing class in Iran, Zimbabwe and North Korea are living lavish lives while the people suffer. Their suffering can be turned into anti-American sentiment through the effective propaganda measures that link the populace’s misfortune to U.S. sanctions. If Col. Gadhafi falls and the United States goes in as a stabilizing force, we will need the good will of the people on our side.

c No-fly zone: To enforce a no-fly zone that would limit Col. Gadhafi’s ability to send air strikes against the rebels would require U.S.forces to shoot down Libyan aircraft. If we do that, we better be ready for war. With forces still in Iraq and Afghan- istan, the U.S. is spread thin militarily already, not to mention the financial strain another war would bring to a country struggling to find its way through trying economic times.

c Aid to rebel forces: Whether it was the U.S. support of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, Pinochet in Chile, Afghanistan a- gainst the USSR, or Hosni Mu- barak in Egypt, the resources and weapons shipped in by the United States are commonly used in ways that we never intended. If we are to give military or financial aid to the rebel forces, we must first accomplish the near-impossible task of guaranteeing that those forces will promote democratic values if they are victorious. If we are to give the rebels anything, it should be lessons on self-government. A people who have never governed themselves in a country with no infrastructure for democratic government will be in utter chaos, should Col. Gadhafi fall.

It pains any decent person to watch what is happening in Libya, but that doesn’t mean an outside force working towards the overthrow of the regime is the right thing to do. We must remain humble in our ability to produce positive change but remain ready to help people put the pieces back together if they win and want our help. The West should not install a leader - even an interim one - but it should be a facilitator in the process, helping the tribes deliberate and choose for themselves the proper course of action. As facilitators, we should make recommendations about what the new government should look like - perhaps one that incorporates features of federalism to help eliminate tension among competing tribes - but most importantly, one that is “by the people” of Libya.

As with anything of value, self-government cannot be given or imposed - it must be earned. It is a hard, ugly truth we must deal with when we see suffering and especially when you are the one suffering. It was after years of denial and suffering that Fyodor Dostoevsky came to his faith. Without that process, he would not have had his faith and we would not have had his stories. “Thus it is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess Him. My Hosanna has burst forth from a huge furnace of doubt.” Libyans, like all people, must come to self-government on their own. Others can be there to assist but no one can do it for them.

Kyle Scott is a lecturer at the University of Houston.

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