Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Moral miscalculation on Libya

My recent engagement with the political and economic thought of Phillip Blond, a trained theologian who is now the director of the U.K. think-tank ResPublica, includes reading an interview with him that appeared today in the English language version of the on-line publication Il Sussidiario, a publication for which I am a regular contributor, BLOND/Some reflections on the killing of Gaddafi and the European Union. I have enjoyed greatly reading his attempts to update and make relevant the economics of distributism, but I was utterly appalled to read his response to the first question posed by the interviewer: "What do you think about the killing of Gaddafi and its consequences for the UK and other Western countries?"
I think that no Christian should celebrate the death of another human being, but nevertheless, I think Gaddafi was a deeply corrupt, murderous individual whose removal is clearly a good thing. I think that Britain and France acted well. I think Cameron and Sarkozy both showed European military leadership, which was sorely needed
I think Peter Hitchens stated the matter in a more Christian, that is, morally honest manner when he wrote that "no decent person can approve" of Gaddafi’s murder by a mob. Hitchens proved further correct when he wrote that the murder of Gaddafi "is typical of the sordid revolution," which NATO, led by the U.K. and France (the U.S. "leading from behind"), aided and abetted. Hitchens went on to note that a "new state that begins with such an event will poisoned and polluted by it ever afterwards."

Blond gets it just as wrong when he insists that in the case of Libya, Europe and NATO are "on the right side of history, moving against a dictator, who undoubtedly would have killed thousands and thousands of his own people and who has now been removed." This statement shows great ignorance of the on-going atrocities committed by those who banded together to oust Gaddafi, who was certainly no benevolent ruler. Human Rights Watch reports that in the days following Gaddafi's capture and murder, the revolutionaries summarily executed 53 of the late dictator's supporters at a hotel in Sirte. One can argue quite effectively that NATO's intervention prolonged Libya's civil and war greatly increased violence. The end result will likely present more long term strategic difficulties for the West than Gaddafi, even in the days prior to his rapprochement with West and accepting responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing. The Islamists, who have already seized power and announced that shar’ia law will constitute the fundamental law of the new Libya, are now set-up to continue more than four decades of repressive rule in that country.

Indeed, the new rulers of Libya are summarily torturing and killing prisoners. I agree with Peter Hitchens that "all those who supported this ill-advised intervention will share responsibility for every lynching, whipping, unjust detention and miserable dungeon in the New Libya they helped to make." It doesn’t help to have Christian theologians, like Phillip Blond, give moral approbation to these atrocities. This brings me to Blond’s answer to the second question, which reveals the source of the confusion so clearly evident in his first answer when, in light of all this, he insisted that in the case of Libya, "All we can do is act well, within the horizon of what it means to act well." To take the cake, he insisted that “one cannot engage in moral sophistry when facing the murder of innocent civilians.”He began his second answer by insisting he is not a utilitarian and does not take action by first calculating outcomes. Apart from the fact that this is not utilitarian in any recognizable sense, he seems to lead with this to justify NATO intervention against the regime of Gaddafi despite the fact that what the alliance hoped to accomplish "may fail," that is, "the democracy policy may fail to be established."

The failure of the "democracy policy" seemed to be a given up-front, even prior to Hitchens’ insistence that a state that begins with lawless violence doesn’t have very bright prospects moving forward. Any morality rooted in reason has to calculate outcomes beforehand, looking at likely and probable outcomes. Now, it is not the only calculation to be made, but it is certainly a necessary one, especially when the course of action itself is a violent one. In short, he couldn’t be more wrong when he magisterially opines that NATO’s intervention in Libya "fulfills the just war document." Such an assertion is, to put it prudently, highly debatable. I, for one, would not want to be on Blond’s side in that debate.

To demonstrate explicitly that Blond is incorrect in his assertion that NATO's intervention in Libya met just war criteria, just war theory holds that not only must the ultimate goal of a just war be to re-establish peace, but, more particularly, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

All I can say is that this strikes me as moral relativism borne of political expediency. I guess it's for Blond to decide whether he wants to be taken seriously, or is content to be Prime Minister David Cameron's court theologian and social theorist.

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