On March 18, President Obama explained his decision to mobilize the United States military for international intervention in Libya. “Left unchecked,” he said, “we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners.” (As if it hasn’t been already?)
That last sentence was a Realpolitik, national-interest justification for the U.S. intervention. But it rang hollow. Regional destabilization would be likelier to center on Egypt, where a nascent and fragile democracy’s first vote reflected growing power for the Muslim Brotherhood and marginalization for young secularists; or on Yemen, where an important ally in U.S. counterterrorism efforts is following a script uncannily similar to Egypt’s, but with greater sectarianism; or on the tiny kingdom of Bahrain, where all the elements of a perfect Middle East storm — Sunni vs. Shia, Arab vs. Persian, and American-backed vs. anti-American — are cooling America’s relations with Saudi Arabia, and threatening the cold peace between the latter and Iran; or even on Syria, where a regime that kept Israel’s northeastern border relatively quiet for 40 years is endangered. The citizens of Benghazi, on the other hand, are hardly essential U.S. allies or linchpins of geopolitical stability.
The real motivation animating the intervention was humanitarian. At a private conference with foreign-policy experts last week, President Obama’s advisers reportedly admitted as much. In justifying a “limited humanitarian intervention,” White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross explained to the conference that “We were looking at ‘Srebrenica on steroids’ — the real or imminent possibility that up to a 100,000 people could be massacred, and everyone would blame us for it.” That allusion has been common (a Wall Street Journal op-ed was subtitled, “Benghazi would have been the president’s Srebrenica”). And it is especially apt for one reason: Samantha Power.