R2P or not R2P (updated with a comment by David Rieff)

Samantha Power is the author of A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide and an Obama foreign policy advisor operating under the bland title Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council. She is not much into the deployment of the armed forces of the United States to promote the American national interest. Rather, Power espouses the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect,” or R2P. According to the New York Times, she and it helped give birth to our Libyan venture.

I thought of Power in connection with news of developments in Libya this weekend. Barry Rubin summarizes the evidence that Islamists and even al-Qaeda supporters will play a central role in Libya’s new regime. “Up to now there has been reasonable speculation that the U.S. government and NATO might be installing an anti-Western, Islamist government in Libya. Now there’s proof that this is so,” Rubin writes. As far as Power is concerned, this may be a feature, not a glitch. But you have to wonder if Obama and his team of deep thinkers have given any thought to what comes next in Libya.

Yesterday also brought news via the Associated Press that rebel forces and armed civilians are rounding up thousands of black Libyans and migrants from sub-Sahara Africa, accusing them of fighting for ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi and holding them in makeshift jails across the capital. The AP’s Ben Hubbard reports that all of the detainees say they are innocent migrant workers — not a great shock — and asserts that in most cases there is no evidence that they are lying. Hubbard acknowledges further down in the article that early in the conflict Gadhafi imported mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa to help fend off the rebels.

Wow. This could get complicated.

In July Victor Davis Hanson pointed out some of the contradictions and complications of the Libyan venture. He noted that many insurgents share deeply rooted racial and religious hatred of Gadhafi’s African mercenaries. The question that Hanson raised at the time still obtains. What happens next?

UPDATE: David Rieff is a principled man of the left whose work I greatly respect. He comments on this post:

I am on record as being a fierce critic of R2P, though obviously from the other shore politically from most of the people you cite on the subject in your interesting post (see below). But in fairness to the Obama administration, the immediate impetus for military action was the belief that Colonel Gaddafi’s forces were going to seize Benghazi and that a terrible massacre would ensue. Given what Gaddafi had been saying this was not an unreasonable belief. Should the administration have said, well, it’s possible the rebellion will come to be dominated by Islamists, therefore we’ll stand by and let a massacre take place that we and our European allies are in a position to prevent? That seems an awfully difficult position to defend morally, and, with all due respect to the influence of Samantha Power (though I do think attributing the decision to go in to her efforts is at least a wild exaggeration), and to the particular brand of internationalism espoused by the current administration, I very much doubt George W. Bush would have acted any differently when he was in office, or that a President Romney or a President Perry will do so if one of them defeats President Obama next year.

On his criticism of R2P, Rieff cites his valuable National Interest essay “Saints go marching in.” I am grateful to have his comment on this post. In a subsequent message he also cites his Foreign Policy essay “Millions may die…or not.”

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