Libya: Five Reasons Not to Intervene

As Moammar Gadhafi’s thugs move toward Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, and the provisional government calls for arms and other assistance from the West – principally the United States – we are told to put all doubts aside and simply respond to the alleged moral imperative of preventing a slaughter. This, intone the interventionists, is an “emergency,” which means: we must stop thinking, and respond emotionally to the call to “do something.”

There are several problems with this non-argument, the first being: how do we know the West isn’t already assisting the rebels? I would be very surprised if they aren’t. Libya has too much oil, and is too strategically placed on the Mediterranean shore, to be ignored by US policymakers. And they don’t always make their policy out in the open. Even as the Obama administration is being bombarded by busy-bodies the world over for its “inaction” on the Libyan front, there are reports Washington is acting through the Saudis, providing American military equipment to rebel forces. The British, whose “diplomatic” mission in the eastern half of the country was arrested and expelled, are almost certainly helping the rebels, and the French – who have already recognized the Benghazi rebel government – cannot be far behind.

In any event, even if Gadhafi succeeds in taking Benghazi – an unlikely scenario, because he doesn’t have the troops – the idea that he will have “won,” and can resume his reign of terror, is absurd. Some sort of “consent of the governed” is essential – yes, even in a dictatorship. The withdrawal of that consent is fatal to any regime – that was the lesson of 1989. Gadhafi can march his hired thugs up and down the streets of Libya’s cities all he likes, but actually ruling the country is quite a different matter. My guess is that he will soon be forced to withdraw from the east, and Libya will be divided – perhaps permanently – between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Both governments will claim to be the true and only legitimate representative of the Libyan “nation,” although, for all intents and purposes – as I explained in my last column – Libya as a unified country is finished.

Well, then – you ask – why not help the Libyans throw off the yoke of Gadhafi’s tyrannical rule?

I come up with five distinct albeit interrelated reasons (my readers are invited to add to the list in the comments below):

1) Because the moment we intervene, we’ll own what’s going on in Libya – just like we own Iraq. Neocons eager to acquire another Middle East colony are understandably eager to jump into the fray, but there’s less excuse for the centrist-to-leftish “humanitarian” interventionists, who argue in terms of our alleged moral obligation to prevent widespread bloodletting. I don’t hear these people calling for us to arm the rebels in Bahrain or Yemen, who are being murdered in large numbers as they protest peacefully.

2)Because we can’t afford it, either financially or militarily. The US government debt is currently at over $14 trillion, and we’re already in over our heads in Afghanistan and (still) Iraq. With military assets tied up in our other Middle Eastern colonies, where will we get the resources to police post-Gadhafi Libya? And don’t think we won’t have to: see above.

3) Because there are no half-measures in war. Those who protest they don’t want American boots on the ground don’t understand the logic of their own position. A “no fly” zone means an air war against Libyan military installations, and the provision of weaponry presupposes training the rebels to use those weapons effectively: US “advisors” are the next inevitable step.

4) Because we don’t know who we’re supporting. Everyone but the Latin American version of the Warsaw Pact and the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) is against Gadhafi. Yet that doesn’t mean the rebels – or, rather, their leaders – are necessarily benign.

The present ideological configuration of the anti-Gadhafi movement seems to consist of three major factions: the Benghazi-based revolutionaries, essentially a separatist movement. Their main complaint, aside from being ruled over by a murderous and dangerously nutty dictator, is that oil resources have benefited the western part of the country, to the detriment of the east. The east, called Cyrenaica since ancient times, has always had an uneasy relationship with the cosmopolitan center in Tripoli. King Idris I, installed by the US and Great Britain (under cover of the UN), told he would be monarch of all Libya, bitterly complained that he just wanted to rule Cyrenaica, where he had held court under British protection since the end of World War II.

The other major factor in the opposition consists of defectors from the Libyan military, such as General Abdel-Fattah Younis, Gadhafi’s former Interior Minister, considered the No. 2 man in Libya prior to going over to the rebels. He likely has his own relationship with Washington, developed during the thaw in Washington’s relations with Tripoli. In any case, as a longtime supporter of the Daffy Despot, one can be sure he has plenty of blood on his hands.

A third factor is the Sanussi movement, which has its stronghold in the rural regions of the east. The Sanussi are a religious sect that derives much of its theology from Wahabist and Sufi influences, and all of its politics from a long history of opposing foreign invaders, from the Italians to the Brits. This group overlaps with the monarchists, who want to return the throne of Libya to either one of two current claimants.

A nearly insignificant faction, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), has long been run by the CIA. Oh, and don’t forget the various Islamic groups, as well as the shadowy al-Qaeda franchise. Here’s a comprehensive list of Libyan opposition groups – which ones do we support, and which ones are the Bad Guys? We cannot have the ability to know.

Which brings us to the long-awaited fifth reason for staying the heck out of an affair that’s none of our business:

5) Because actions have unintended consequences, and actions taken by governments are almost guaranteed to boomerang. This is particularly true in the foreign policy realm, where the physical and cultural distance between the generals and the field is much greater than it is at home, serving to reinforce the myopia of know-it-all government officials and “analysts” who, in reality, are just making it up as they go along. The result, as they put it in CIA slang, is “blowback,” the title of an excellent book on the subject by the late great Chalmers Johnson.

The delusion that the US government can effectively “manage” and even “plan” the domestic economy – or, indeed, any aspect of American life – is projected, by our Washington elites, onto the world stage. Yet it is no less of a delusion: indeed, it is a far greater and more dangerous misperception, on account of its sheer grandiosity – and potential to unleash deadly havoc.

Let Libya alone. Let the Europeans jockey for position and their fair share of the spoils. Indeed, neither the French nor the Brits need any prompting from us. No European leader can forget the fuel tax demonstrations that swept the continent in 2000, and David Cameron especially, who endorsed the protests at the time (and endorsed price controls as the solution). As fuel prices rise, and his government’s 70 percent take in the proceeds is deemed essential to pulling out of insolvency, he cannot afford a replay of British hauliers blocking roads. The Brits, after all, signed a security agreement with Gadhafi, and Tony Blair’s very public courtship of the Libyan dictator was as shameless as it was profitable.


I’ll be on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Freedom Watch tonight (Wednesday), on the Fox Business Channel: check your local listings for details.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].