Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Humanitarian Beheading

by Victor Davis Hanson

Ricochet

There are a number of videos circulating about from “free Libya” showing grotesque head-loppings, executions, torture and desecration of bodies, of African mercenaries who apparently were captured or killed by the rebels in Libya. No doubt, the mercenaries were quite brutal thugs whom Qaddafi employed to coerce or kill his opponents; but the sort of barbarity we see is also the sort that we are subsidizing now with direct cash infusions, as well as with military logistics and support (and who knows whether today the on-again-off-again US participation in the NATO bombing “no-fly” zone missions is on again?). One could argue that these are isolated incidents beyond the control of the Westernized professionals who pop up on CNN and the BBC as the official face of the “rebellion,” but the filmed savageries take place amid large crowds, urging the executioners and torturers on, often in an apparently jihadist manner, which suggests both race and religion contribute to the hatred of the hired enforcers. (When I was in Libya the most common complaint quietly aired against Qaddafi were his cash subsidies of all sorts to black Africans, both in and out of the country).

Because we know very little about the rebels — who they are, what is their agenda, where they get support — we have no idea whether their utopia to come would be, as Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and Hillary Clinton seem to think, a fuzzy version of Turkish-style Islamic “democracy” or a sort of justice in the streets, Khomeini-style, as the graphic Youtube videos illustrate.

And if the president’s Libyan misadventure was intended to be a small “teachable moment” about the eclipse of American exceptionalism abroad, then he has succeeded beyond all expectation: we have been reduced to less than France. The US has no mission (humanitarianism, setting up a rebel enclave, or outing Qaddafi?), no method (no-fly zone, or bombing ground troops, or inserting trainers, or supplying others who bomb?) and no planned outcome (the rebels do what? set up a democracy, set up an Islamic republic, descend into a Somalia, or carve out a Kurdish no-fly zone?).

We have loudly and self-righteously subordinated our foreign policy to the Arab League and the UN to show how multilateral we are, and then surreally subverted that new internationalist stance by going well beyond the no-fly-zone limitations, as we must, if the rebels are to win. We have still not consulted the US Congress, apparently subordinating it to an inferior role to that of the Arab League. In less than 2 weeks we ceased in mediis rebus military operations and outsourced them to the Europeans (if our goal was to highlight their new autonomy and muscularity, it backfired, since they have not the wherewithal to win, and will only be embarrassed by us as errant adolescents who rue moving out and want to come back home and reenlist US carrier strikes.)

What is in our favor? Libya is a tiny country of less than 7 million, with a long Mediterranean shore, near Europe, a sort of ideal NATO air theater, with a hated monster in power who has little popular support. At some point and at some time, someone, either in the US or Europe, will say ‘enough is enough’ to this fiasco, come in, get rid of Qaddafi in messy and bloody fashion, and then we will see utter chaos, and the new “humanitarian” diplomacy of Samantha Power will end — or, rather, just begin.

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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