About those Frenchmen …

À cœur vaillant rien d’impossible” [to a valiant heart nothing is impossible] – French proverb

As Libyan dictator Muhammar Qaddafi (whose name can be transliterated apparently about 100 different ways in English) continues to wreak havoc on his own countrymen, European leaders within NATO are stepping forward to make bold proclamations about what should be done. First it was the UK’s David Cameron, who insinuated that there should be a no-fly zone. He has backed off somewhat apparently, but it was a bold step. Today it was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who indicated that there should be air strikes against key Libyan targets to help stem the bloodshed.

The episodes give rise to some, hopefully interesting, comments. First, let’s get the obvious, flippant jokes out of the way.

Sarkozy may have overstepped. I half expect to see reports tomorrow that the French have surrendered to Qaddafi and are now collaborating via a governing body in Vichy.

On that note, it is interesting to see the non-US NATO members showing boldness and then (sometimes) easing back. Perhaps they’re trying to goad the Americans into action. Perhaps they actually believe in their own military capabilities, only to be told later by their advisers that these types of missions really only work out when the Americans bring their military force to bear. Whatever the reason, it is nice to see somebody else step in and give a care about genocide. Perhaps we’ll even see the British and French try to pull of some manner of military escapade to limit Muhammar’s brutality. We shall continue to watch.

If that happens, and they do it without American support, it will mark a very serious, and I suspect very useful turning point. The US defense budget is over 7 times that of the UK and France combined (while our GDP is a little over 3 times theirs combined). A not-insignificant part of that goes toward maintaining a presence in Europe (since WWII) – and thus is used to keep our NATO allies safe. Perhaps they can pitch in just a bit more for their own safety. A demonstration that they have some military capability (and they do) would possibly begin a move in that direction. We can hope.

Now, none of this gives insights as to whether we, or the Brits and French, should get involved in Libya; and if so, just how. I tend to view government, and therefore military action as a mode of defense of liberties for the citizenry. I’m hard pressed to believe that instability in Libya is a threat to the rights and freedoms of the French, English, or Americans.

That said, I am willing to take a very broad look at what may or may not constitute a defensive action. If a reasonable case can be made that the unrest could spread, or spill over the border, or something like that – then action can likely be justified on self-defense grounds.

Beyond that, there is at least a useful debate to be had about preventing genocide. No, I don’t think we or any other military should take up the cause of enforcing justice in a foreign country. The people of those lands can fight for justice themselves. (And we certainly can help, individually; but to do so at the state level seems a bridge to far.) Of course, if it actually comes to genocide, then maybe things change. Even if not for self-defense, a group of people, perhaps an entire nation, can choose to engage in military action to prevent genocide. Where do we draw the line? I’m not sure.

As for Muhammar, well, one hopes his days in leadership and tyranny are limited. People yearn to be free.

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