Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The fallacy of the "Holy Civilian" Doctrine justification for war

Kurly's Kommentary

“War does not determine who is right - only who is left”

~Bertrand Russell~

Lake Worth – Earlier this week, President Obama presented the case for the imposition of a no fly zone to the American people in a speech given at the National Defense University in Washington.

The President justified US intervention in the Libyan civil war around the safeguarding of the lives and human rights of the “civilian” population there. He stated that use of military force by Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi against Libyan rebels, which included the use of fighter aircraft, validated the intervention.

In his speech, Obama defined the rational for the use of American war machine in Libya in liberal internationalist terms, cloaking the action as a grave responsibility within the American value system and our historical precedents. “To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action," said Obama.

The President argued that the action to establish the no-fly zone prevented a “looming genocide” in Benghazi, a rebel stronghold and Libya’s second largest city. It also avoided a massive refuge problem that would have greatly impacted the stability of newly formed Arab Spring governments in Egypt and Tunisia. Obama acknowledged that American security was not threatened by events in Libya and talked about the wish for ultimate regime change in Libya.

All wars, big or small, have always involved both targeted and incidental civilian casualties. Like it or not, innocent people die in wars. That’s never going to change. The annihilation of civilian populations has always been a basic and important tenet of war itself.

In recent times, genocide conducted in wars around the world has magnified American’s consciousness of the severity of war against civilians. As a result, an almost "holy" military doctrine for protecting civilians at all costs from collateral damage and targeted murder has evolved in Western democracies in the planning, weaponry, and prosecution of war.

A big problem with this “Holy Civilian” doctrine is how “civilians” are actually defined. The Libyan civil war (and Iraq and Afghanistan) is to a major extent a primeval conflict between tribes. If a civilian clan member in Benghazi actively supports the war efforts of tribal leaders, can they be considered combatants themselves?

Another big problem in regard to “civilians”-less altruistic nations and terrorists have molded their war strategies to use their populations as shields in battle, taking advantage of these moralistic self imposed limitations to win battles and limit the effectiveness of their enemies.

At what point does the protection of these civilians outweigh protecting US troops and a strategy for winning a war? Our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have been characterized by this admirable “Holy Civilian” doctrine to protect civilians at all costs. The result: this doctrine has impeded both our political strategies and the proper and justified use of force necessary to win our objectives in these theaters of war. Most importantly, it has cost American soldiers their lives.

Now, President Obama has broadened the breath of the “Holy Civilian” Doctrine from a major consideration in war strategy to a moral justification to start a killing war itself, particularly in fights that don’t involve important US interests.

America should never turn its back on great humanitarian issues in the world and continue to be a moral, democratic example to be emulated. However, like any nation, we have limits in how much we can help others in the world. More importantly, no matter how hard we pontificate or try, we cannot realistically protect civilians in every civil war from becoming victims of genocide-particularly when they are truly combatants in the fight.

In these times when a number of autocratic nations (many of which the US bolsters for economic and military reasons) around the globe are experiencing historical upheaval, our government needs to frame going to war in truthful strategic, military and economic terms. We don’t need to engage in anymore civil wars between clans and religious sects in the Arab world, even if they are falsely presented by CNN and the Obama Administration strictly as popular “civilian” uprisings.

The use of the ‘Holy Civilian’ doctrine by President Obama as justification to fight a war where we have no issue (except maybe continuing the flow of high grade oil) is disingenuous and misguided.
It cheapens the altruistic goals of preserving innocent life, ruins our credibility, and sets a dangerous precedent for the future conduct of war by American forces.


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