‘moral progress’

A child of a pro-Gadhafi soldier, Tripoli, March 6

Peter Beinart: There are plenty of smart objections to America’s Libya intervention. But when President Obama addresses the nation on Monday night, he should rebut the stupidest one: that America shouldn’t wage humanitarian war in Libya because we’re not doing so in Congo, Zimbabwe and every other nasty dictatorship on earth.

The consistency argument … has nothing to do with Congo and Zimbabwe. Most of the people who invoke those ill-fated countries showed no interest in them before the Libya debate and will go back to ignoring them once Libya is off the front page. Ask someone who demands moral consistency in humanitarian war how exactly they propose to intervene in Congo and you will quickly realize that the call for moral consistency is actually a call for immoral consistency.

The point of invoking the horrors of Congo is not to convince the US to act to stop the horrors of Congo; it is to ensure that, out of respect for the raped, murdered and maimed in Central Africa, we allow innocents to be raped, murdered and maimed in North Africa as well….

There will always be horrors that outside powers cannot or will not prevent. But the fact that they cannot be stopped everywhere is no reason not to try to stop them somewhere.

….humanitarian war is not possible everywhere because war is never waged for humanitarian reasons alone. There is nothing strange or scandalous, for instance, about considering logistics. NATO is intervening in Libya in part because Libya lies relatively close to the NATO countries that are doing the intervening, as did Bosnia and Kosovo. That means the operation can be done more cheaply, at less risk to American and European lives, and with a greater chance of success, than in Zimbabwe or Congo. Those are all valid considerations, as valid as a doctor choosing to operate on the patient he has the best chance of saving.

…There will always be horrors that outside powers cannot or will not prevent. But the fact that they cannot be stopped everywhere is no reason not to try to stop them somewhere. And showing that they can be stopped somewhere – first in Bosnia and Kosovo, hopefully now in Libya – may make dictators pause to reflect that they could be next. That’s moral progress, which in the ugly, real world is a pretty impressive thing.

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15 Responses to “‘moral progress’”

  1. 1 ari
    March 28, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    that picture is so sad and disturbing.

  2. March 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    omg. I just made the same argument over at “the only adult in the room”. this guy is spot on.

  3. 5 Ladyhawke
    March 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Excellent analysis. This can not be said often enough.

    …There will always be horrors that outside powers cannot or will not prevent. But the fact that they cannot be stopped everywhere is no reason not to try to stop them somewhere.

    I watched the State Department briefing on Friday and there was one reporter who kept harping on the fact that other countries had leaders who had lost their legitimacy to lead and why haven’t we ordered a no fly zone for them. Well you said such and such about Mubarak why aren’t you saying it about (fill in the blank). These are the typical gotcha questions dripping with sarcasm that are asked everyday. This is what passes for journalism these day. These reporters sound like gossip columnists at a coffee klatch. It’s infuriating.

    There is no cookie cutter approach to dealing with the turmoil in the Middle East. The administration has said countless times that obviously each country is different. The response to each will be different but our beliefs in basic human rights is the same for all. That just makes sense. It’s not that complicated.

  4. 6 Jessica
    March 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    That’s quite a realistic looking toy gun (it is fake right?).

    • March 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm

      I’d guess it’s real, Jessica. This is the full caption for the photo:

      A child of an army soldier hold his gun in the air as pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather to celebrate in Green Square, Tripoli, Libya, Sunday, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi’s supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli on Sunday morning, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader’s main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes.

  5. 8 anniebella
    March 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    How horrible. This little boy should be holding or kicking a soccer ball. Instead he is holding a gun as if he is on the front line ready to go to battle. How horrible.

  6. 9 Sonjia Duncan
    March 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    I feel the same way about the children on our city streets who are armed and ready to use guns against one another.

  7. 10 anniebella
    March 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Sonjia Duncan….You are so right. There are many reasons for that,but I blame the NRA for most of that.

  8. 11 Sue in Minnesota
    March 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    The sight of this child makes my heart bleed. His innocence destroyed.

  9. 12 collegekay
    March 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    That photo makes me weep for humanity. Poor children.

  10. 13 Theo67
    March 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    One of Stephanie Miller’s sidekicks was spouting this right wing talking point currently favored by the Professional Left this morning. A reasonable caller made this exact same argument. There’s something very wrong with the perpetual activists on the left, who would bash their President for acting to save lives, so they can continue to complain about someting. This latest poutrage is just wrong. They’re not opposing the military action because of some deeply held bleief, but because they heard on a right wing show that this may be an effective attack tactic. Once again,they have nothing to lose, so they will attack this President mercilessly, so they can feel right and pure – without regard for the damage they are doing for those who need help or want progress. It’s really pathetic.

  11. 14 barb
    March 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    This is so sad. Gadaffi is paying them to demonstrate on his side. The people living in Tripoli are caught in a situation were they can’t leave without risking their lives. Someone if feeding them and providing them money to live.

  12. 15 HZ
    March 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    POTUS can go to bed and sleep with a good conscience, and this is why. I am so elated in my inner core that I chose to help elect this man as our President of the United States of America. I will be proud of him wherever he goes in this world. We have much to be grateful for about our President. Thank you, Mr. President.

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