The United States and other countries have found themselves in a situation similar to that of this witness to a robbery and certain execution. News reports and government intelligence reveal that certain governments, some friends and some enemies, are engaged in violence and murder of their own people. In the case of Libya, a decision was made to intervene in order to prevent further bloodshed.
There’s an important difference, however, between the intervention by the man in the alley and the intervention of nations in Operation Odyssey Dawn. Whereas the man in the alley risked only his own life and reasonably concluded that any others in the area wouldn’t be harmed because of his intervention, the intervening countries risk the future of Libya and evils they cannot possibly foresee or imagine. Intervention today may negatively affect Libya for years, decades, and perhaps even centuries.
And so I appreciate Freddie’s admonishment of the interventionist:
A colossal, almost impossible arrogance underpins all interventionist logic. Beneath it all is a preening, self-satisfied belief in the interventionist's own brilliance and understanding. So I ask you, as an individual reader-- are you that wise? Are you that righteous? You understand so much? When was the last time you read a Libyan newspaper? Talked at length with a Libyan? A year ago, what did you know of Libya and its internal struggles? Because what you are saying, when you advocate intervention, is not only that you know so much that you can separate good from evil, but that your knowledge is so great and so benevolent that it is sufficient to completely undermine the self-determination of every man, woman, and child on Libyan soil. Make no mistake. That is your gamble. Those are the stakes you are wagering.The criteria of traditional just war theory—lasting, grave, and certain damage, clear prospects for success, proportionality, and the failure of alternatives—each demand a sufficient degree of knowledge. For a nation to justly go to war, it has to know that the aggressor will inflict lasting and grave destruction, that success is likely, that it won’t produce evils graver than the evil to be eliminated, and that all alternatives to war have been tried or are known to be ineffective. Just war, and I would include military intervention, requires a sufficient amount of knowledge. If Freddie is right, though, and I think he is, then the intervention in Libya, not to mention in other countries, cannot be justified because the degree of knowledge necessary to justify intervention simply cannot be had.
An understanding of the limits of ones own knowledge is the essence of wisdom, and modesty of goals compelled by limited knowledge the essence of good governance. Democracy requires-- requires-- demos, an informed, engaged populace. We have an enormously difficult time figuring out our domestic politics. This is asking too much, even without considering the imposition on the self-determination of Libya. Libya was for Libyans before you all trained your munificent gaze on it. Libya will be for Libyans long after you have turned your righteousness to the next news cycle. The question is what respect and what deference you will show to Libyans now, when absolutely every element of their future hangs in the balance.