Use of Force in Libya Questioned

As the pope appealed for a halt to the violence in Libya, U.S. bishops issued a tentative endorsement of the Obama administration's use of force in the North African state in order to "to protect civilians in Libya from their own government," calling on the administration to stay focused on this limited goal and mission.

The coalition campaign against forces still loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, initially begun to interrupt the fall of the "rebel capital" Benghazi when such an event seemed to promise a massacre of civilians, has taken on the appearance of an air support campaign on behalf of a revived rebellion. U.S., French and British sorties are going well beyond enforcing a no-fly zone over opposition territory and directly targeting pro-Qaddafi units that seem inclined to advance against the somewhat haphazard rebel forces. As a result, Qaddafi's impromptu opposition has now reclaimed nearly all the territory recently lost to the more professional and previously better equipped loyalist battalions. Denied air support since the no-fly zone was initiated, Qaddafi loyalist fighters have now been stripped of tanks and artillery by coalition attacks; their material superiority essentially neutralized.


The change in the "tone" of the campaign was noted by Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who said today that such support is not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council resolution which authorized the the Western coalition's intervention in Libya. "We believe that coalition's interference into the internal, civil war has not been sanctioned by the UN resolution," Lavrov said. "Protection of the civilian population remains our priority."

U.N.S.C. resolution 1973, passed on March 17, imposed a no-fly zone over Libya to protect the civilians from aerial bombings and authorized any military action needed to implement such a ban, short of an occupation. Despite having veto power, Russia abstained from voting along with China, Brazil, India and Germany, while rest of the 15-member Council voted in favor of the measure.

Seeming to confirm the Russian's suspicion that the coalition now has its sights on the near-term removal of Qaddafi, in a joint statement released today, the leaders of France and Britain called on Qaddafi's remaining supporters to drop him before it was "too late."

"Qaddafi must go immediately," Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron said, urging his opponents to join together in a political process that would force his departure and appealing to the rebel National Transitional Council to work on a transition toward democracy. On Tuesday, foreign ministers from 35 nations are scheduled to meet in London to discuss the progress of military action in Libya and plans for a post-Qaddaffi landscape future for the country.

Pope Benedict XVI appealed March 27 for a suspension of fighting in Libya and the immediate start of a serious dialogue aimed at restoring peace to the North African country. The pope said, "My fear for the safety and well-being of the civilian population is growing, as is my apprehension over how the situation is developing with the use of arms."

"To international agencies and to those with political and military responsibility, I make a heartfelt appeal for the immediate start of a dialogue that will suspend the use of arms," he said.

The pope's apparent call for an immediate cease fire was quickly endorsed by the region's Catholic bishops. In a statement signed by Archbishop Vincent Landel of Rabat (Morocco), President of CERNA (the Episcopal Conférence des régions de l'Afrique du Nord), the Bishops of Northern Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya), "faced with the processes of historical development concerning Arab countries and especially the Maghreb, wish to reaffirm our urgent appeal to find an end to this painful conflict, just and dignified for all."

The bishops acknowledge that the conflict is the result of a “legitimate claim for freedom, justice and dignity, particularly by the younger generations" in the region. "This demand translates into a desire to be recognised as responsible citizens with the opportunity to find a job that allows them to live decently, excluding all forms of corruption and cronyism.”

“Today,” the bishops wrote, “this wind of change passes through Libya. And we especially unite with our brother Bishops in Tripoli and Benghazi, and with all communities in the Country.”

But the bishops reaffirmed their opposition to violence and war: “We know that war solves nothing, and when it breaks out, it is just as uncontrollable as the explosion of a nuclear reactor. The first victims are always the poorest and most disadvantaged. Moreover, whether we like it or not, the war in the Near East, and now in the Maghreb, will always be interpreted as 'a crusade.'"

In what could be described as damning with faint support, U.S. bishops said the purpose articulated in U.N.S.C. 1973 to demand “a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians” appears to meet the traditional criterion of “just cause,” but said that they joined Pope Benedict XVI in following the military action in Libya with “great apprehension.”

The bishops said important questions about the coalition's use of force remain: "How is the use of force protecting the civilian population of Libya? Is the force employed proportionate to the goal of protecting civilians? ... Is it producing evils graver than the evil it hopes to address?” and “What are the implications of the use of force for the future welfare of the Libyan people and the stability of the region?”

“We know these are difficult questions to which there are few easy answers, but it is our moral responsibility as a nation to rigorously examine the use of military force in light of the need to protect human life and dignity,” wrote Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a March 24 letter to National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon.

Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli and president of Caritas Libya, enthusiastically welcomed Pope Benedict's call for a cessation of violence. “The Holy Father's appeal was wonderful news and gives us great comfort," he said. “We have translated today's appeal by the Holy Father into Arabic and we will send it as a voice message to the Libyan Foreign Ministry, for their information,” says Bishop Martinelli. Archbishop Martinelli reported that Libyan police have been stationed in front of his church, (St. Francis in Dahra, Tripoli) "officially charged with protecting us." He added that conditions in Tripoli were growing more difficult with long lines for petrol and "there is even difficulty to buy food.”

Of the coalition's bombing atacks, Bishop Martinelli said, "Tonight we did not hear the bombing. We know that they struck near Sirte. In recent days there have been civilian casualties. I know of at least one person died of a splinter in the skull, perhaps produced by a blow to the anti-aircraft exploded at a very low altitude."

Read more of America's coverage of Libyan crisis here.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Mel Watson
7 years 9 months ago
Busted Halo has a great article this week on the conflict in Libya and digs into the issue of "Just War"
7 years 9 months ago
''Please gentlemen (and ladies), make an argument from Catholic Just war principles that can be applied to Libya''

Most of what we do is very economical.  Not in the sense is this a good buy but in the sense will I be better off after I do this.  Even our posts here on this site are based on some sort of economical outlook in terms of our personal well being.  

There are a lot of equally bad or worse scenairos around the world than Libya and yet we choose to ignore them or would not consider intervening.  I see no compelling reason why we are in Libya rather than some other place other than it is convenient with little short term negatives associated with it and may be some short term positives.  In other words it is economical.

I do not believe it has anything to do with a just war or any other theological or philosophical position.  It is convenient to do it at the moment because others say it is all right.  That is the difference.  If others said it was not convenient then it would be a bad thing and nothing else has changed within Libya.  So a lot of what we do is based on can I get away with it at the moment or is it convenient for me to do it at this point in time.  I do not know what moral philosophy that fits in to or if the bishops or the pope consider it one.
7 years 9 months ago
Virtually all the arguments for war in 2011 would have justified the Invasion of Iraq in 2003... Saddam was a regional threat, a despot against his own people, he did actively threaten his own people and others... and he was actively hostile to the US/UN planes enforcing a previous no-fly zone established precisely to protect those regions of his country that rebelled following the Gulf war in 1990-1.

But of course, Bush was a Republican so anything he did was 'immoral', whereas Obama is a Democrat, so ipso facto, it's all good. Meanwhile the argument, the list of reasons for use of US military might are the same with the exception that Libya was not a near or long term threat to the US, had not recently committed acts of war against us or our allies (like attempting to assassinate Bush I), and had in fact until now been cooperating with 'the world'....

So the conclusion seems to be: military might can be employed for any or no reason so long as the commander in chief is a Democrat and needs to "look strong" for domestic political reasons. Otherwise, protecting civilians from immediate threats seems the excuse and exception, not the rule.
Vince Killoran
7 years 9 months ago
I wasn't clear whether Juan was responding to the article and its report on the bishops and the Pope or something else.

In any case their hesistancy to endorse fully military action is wise.  Every time these occasions for intervention arise we are faced with undesirable choices. Many-not all-of these crises would be avoided if the US and other major powers did not sanction states with poor human rights records. A truism but, nevertheless, true.
7 years 9 months ago
"So the conclusion seems to be: military might can be employed for any or no reason so long as the commander in chief is a Democrat and needs to "look strong" for domestic political reasons. Otherwise, protecting civilians from immediate threats seems the excuse and exception, not the rule."

I had the exact same thought reading this post.  Regime-change suddenly seems ok (or at least not as bad because we have the French on our side this time) when a Democrat espouses it.  I cannot help but think (and ask many of my Obama-supporter-friends) "What would have happened if W. had done this - launched military strikes against a Muslim country without first addressing the American people or sufficiently informing Congress".  I think anyone who thinks the answer would be any less than sheer outcry is being less than forthcoming.

We live in a dangerous world where (whatever the particular role American foreign policy may or may not play) bad people will do bad things; it has never been and can never be American policy to put a stop to all of this. 
ed gleason
7 years 9 months ago
Obama critics say they  don't understand what he is doing.
1. humanitarian action to prevent  promised slaughter in Benghazi. 2. No fly zone, no ground troops. 3. Use of force on Qaddafi ground forces. 4. Obama would prefer Qaddafi to  quit or flee.
What not to understand.?? watch tonite..and hear how we are turning over problem to allies.
It will be over in a week or two. Sooner if Qaddafi loses at Miscerata or Surt and  falls this week. ..Critics will be left out to dry.    
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 9 months ago
The us has lost too much credibility to pursue such actions due to the previous two adventures.  Obama should stay out but it,s  probably about the oil.  Bush started two military fiascos with nary any backtalk from the mainstream media-  I wish conservatives would stop their crying-.  Don't worry. The media is owned by GE et al.  There is no mainstream progressive media. 
7 years 9 months ago
''Obama would prefer Qaddafi to  quit or flee.''

Not what a leading Obama apologist thinks.  Jonathan Alter has his own ideas on what is necessary for Obama to look good.  Here is what he said.

''It could be that we get lucky; that somebody in the Gaddafi government puts a bullet in his head and you know everything comes out fine. '' 
7 years 9 months ago
''Don't worry. The media is owned by GE et al.  There is no mainstream progressive media. ''

Au Contraire.  GE is a progressive's dream.  GE is Obama's pet business poodle. 

''President Obama has acknowledged the special relationship that GE has with the federal government by anointing GE's CEO, Jeff Immelt, as his favorite businessman. Earlier this year, Obama appointed Immelt to head the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Many considered the appointment ironic in view of GE's layoffs in the U.S., and in view of the fact that Immelt seemingly prefers lobbying over competition.'' 
Vince Killoran
7 years 9 months ago
Is anybody going to reflect on Kevin Clarke's post, i.e. the stance of the bishops and the Pope?!

Jim McCrea
7 years 9 months ago
Oh, the bitchops have a stance?  What, is there abortion involved somehow?
ed gleason
7 years 9 months ago
Where is the Vatican on this? waiting?  Libya was an Italian colony ... So where the h-ll is another Garibaldi to help the rebels?
7 years 9 months ago
Maybe the bishops should pay attention to this

The loony's in the mid East just might think these prophecies are true and start to act on it.  And dying to make it come true will be seen as a grand reward.  It will make what is happening in Libya look like a game of checkers if these people start to act on it.
7 years 9 months ago
A tidbit on posting procedure.  The link in my last post was live and then I editied the comment and the link showed up as live in the edit but when it was posted, the actual link was no longer there even if the url was still in the comment.  Hopefully, it is a live link now.  

The video in the link is apparently being circulated in Iran at the present moment and being translated to Arabic for bulk of the Muslim world.  These are the people behind most of the attacks on Israel using Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria as their surrogates.  They are a serious bunch and are not promising a nice future.  Apparently they see the end game swiftly approaching. 
ofer barsadeh
7 years 9 months ago
how ironic that when faced with a mass murderer of his own people who has paid for terror against the US, the UK and every other western country, AMERICA calls for forgiveness, and when faced with an entire nation that reacts to the vile intentional slaughter of its sleeping babies, AMERICA calls for boycotts. 
how lucky that this publication is america in name only...
7 years 9 months ago
One of the problems with the bishop's and pope's statements is that there may not be any good guys in all this.  One of the justifications for the intervention into Iraq was to give the good guys a chance.  The likelihood that a benevolent democracy would arise in any part of the Arab world is exceedingly thin.  The scenarios were a thuggish dictatorship which is quite common in the Arab world, the potential for a hyper religious theocracy such as Iran or the occasional somewhat benevolent dictatorship in the form of a dynastic king such as in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The intervention into Iraq was to introduce a new possibility, namely a real democracy and only time will tell where that ends up.  But it is unlikely to happen on its own.  So what is happening in the Middle East now is often romanticized as an Arab Spring but in reality it could be another long winter instead.  So the bishops must come down on the side of less killing but they have to be careful in taking sides because the so called oppressed rebels may lead to something much worse than Mubarak or Gadaffi.  It is hard to imagine someone worse than Gadaffi but Iran represents such an option.  And then there is the Suni version of Iran in Al Qaeda.  And Bin Laden is on the move to take advantage of the current unrest: 
7 years 9 months ago
My "issue" is two fold. One, that in the run up to the war in Iraq a considerable amount of print from bishops, theologians, pundits, US catholic magazines, and a few sparse comments from the Holy father about war in general were amassed on 'one side' against the US invasion of Iraq....but no attempt was ever made to piece these 'statements' together into  an ARGUMENT contra bellum. The just war theory is fairly ancient, has a lot of principles and precedents throughout history, and so we could have developed a theoretical framework to discuss what Bush proposed in 2002-2003.

Instead it was virtually knee-jerk: Bush bad, Saddam 'bad...but not that bad'. Ergo, US war must be unjust, illegal, etc. but on no solidly Catholic grounds other than the opinions of various clergy and religious (and partisan laity).

This lack of a cogent ARGUMENT from sound principles, with historical precedents as exemplars of good or bad action, is a real problem for all 'sides' in the peace/justice issue which affects all of us Catholics and humanity as a whole.

My second 'issue' with respect to vague statements from the USCCB or Vatican or US Catholic pundits is the apparent lack of memory between what they considered justifiable under Clinton....but not under Bush and how they can possibly make these assertions minus the aforementioned Just War theory arguments worked out. I completely understand political expediency, automatically taking the opposing view just because, and the felt need to stand by one's team, tribe, or political camp. But loyalty to Plato shouldn't bring Aristotle to betray his loyalty to truth... if it was OK for Clinton to bomb Serbia over Kosovo... then it's OK for Obama to bomb Libya. But precisely because neither Serbia or Libya posed a clear and present danger or even a long term threat to the US.... giving it a green light necessarily means the wars in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iraq/Iran are far more 'justifiable' than any churchman or pundit previously wanted to acknowledge. So....short term political expediency to rally around "our guy" actually does the "peace and justice" goals a huge and permanent disservice.

So.... we desperately need a cogent and current Just War theory that's based on principles and precedents and we need as Catholics to be consistent in our political praise or ire regardless of party affiliation.

PS The Church preached the Peace of God.... then when that failed, the Truce of God... and when that failed, the Crusades.... including the crusade to wage a PRE-EMPTIVE naval war that resulted in the naval victory of Le Panto.... and the land-war victory at the gates of Vienna which involved armies fighting beyond their nations' borders in 'offensive-defense' of Europe. If those campaigns were Just wars we need to explain why. If you find out why, then you can apply the principles to modern times. If you don't or won't (because it would mean Iraq 2003 was a just war) then you are utterly incapable of making any case for Libya 2011.....
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Cosgrove, you seem to be unnder the mistaken impression that I think Obama is a liberal.  If he is, he is a very domesticated one.  He hasn't really reigned in Wall Street or challenged the oligarchs or even the oiligarchs.  He is gungho for nuclear power and the fukushima catastrophe hasn't even played out yet.  I sometimes wonder why you folks get in such a tizzy over him. He has a lot more in common with you and Jeff Landry than he does with me.  When he won the election, I was afraiid of another Clintonesque republicrat presidency and here we are.  I voted for change and got nearly nothing.  I reiterate.  There is no mainstream liberal media.  It is an Orwellian mirage.
ed gleason
7 years 9 months ago
The Obama critics cannot see any good outcome even when a good outcome is very easy to see. e.g. . Qaddafi is 80 years old, his sons behave like slugs, the overwhelming number of Libyans want him to go;.   the terrain favors air power with no place to hide tanks and artillery. France and Brits are 'all in'. Can it be that partisan ideology so blinds  many posters here and some of the more desperate 2012 GOP candidates? [Palin, Trump' Newt] ??Would it not be smart to at least keep quiet for two weeks to see what happens. If it's over in two weeks with no American casualties what in the h-ll will they have to say.?? Maybe they see an Obama victory in Libya  as an insurmountable lead and they are 'all in' hoping for defeat or a bad outcome. .
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Gleason, for the love of St. Pete, remind us all again why Bush was told by virtually the entire Left/democratic party and plenty of churchmen to not even think about bombing Iran.... but it's suddenly perfectly OK for Obama to bomb Libya in support of some nebulous 'rebels'?

If it IS now (and forevermore) OK for the US military to be used on behalf of any population suffering at the hands of some unjust aggressor...explain to me again why the US war in Vietnam was wrong please - as our presence did forestall communist pogroms and bloodshed and enslavement for 2 decades...

Or provide for us some principles by which we can decide whether to intervene on behalf of Taiwan should the PRC invade, or in Congo or Ivory Coast. If 'because we can' automatically means it's morally licit, does it follow that we must? if we can, but choose not to intervene, because we simply don't care, wouldn't it follow that we as a nation are immoral?

Suddenly clear and present danger, imminent threat, and other 'thresholds' from war are broomed and we teeter on the brink of war for no particularly good reason other than "some people might be hurt".

And what will preclude some other power from invading or bombing us in the future on behalf of some small group being threatened by the US government? Wouldn't Mexico be morally allowed to bomb Arizona to protect their citizens there? If not, why not?
7 years 9 months ago
''Qaddafi is 80 years old''

He is 68.

''Obama critics cannot see any good outcome even when a good outcome is very easy to see''

I doubt anyone here or anyone I know who doesn't thing that Qaddafi is a low life the world would be better without.  It is just the whole hypocrisy of the situation that boggles the mind.  What are we trying to do.  Here are two quotes from Obama from his speech.

''But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.''

''We will safeguard the more than $33 billion that was frozen from the Gaddafi regime so that it is available to rebuild Libya. After all, this money does not belong to Gaddafi or to us – it belongs to the Libyan people, and we will make sure they receive it.''

And who will use this $33 billion.  That is the question a lot want to know.  There was not one mention of who was fighting Gaddafi. 

Why don't we bomb Cuba, it is a lot closer and much more oppressive.  Oh, they do not have $33 billion in the bank for rebuilding.  How about North Korea, Zimbabwe, Belarus and maybe a few other places that make Libya look like a paradise.  As I said the hypocrisy is incredible and when Bush suggested such an approach he was mocked as either stupid or too much of an idealist.  And by the way I support getting rid of Gaddafi but worry even more about what will replace him.  I have a few more on the list.

Here is a question for our Obama supporters.  What is the Obama doctrine?  And how is it being applied in Libya.  Charlie Gibson tried to trick Sarah Palin by asking her if she supported the Bush doctrine and it turned out Charlie didn't have a clue about the Bush doctrine.
7 years 9 months ago
''Maybe they see an Obama victory in Libya  as an insurmountable lead and they are 'all in' hoping for defeat or a bad outcome. . ''

Very good insight.  This whole thing is about domestic partisan politics and not Libya as our commenter has astutely noted here.  It would favor Obama if Gaddafi goes peacefully but he has to go as Jonathan Alter said even if it takes a bullet in the head. (It would mean a good shot, figuratively or literally, in the polls for Obama.)  
ed gleason
7 years 9 months ago
JR Cosgrove. you agree that there are some who are hoping for a bad outcome in Libya.. Any Dems that you can name? I named the desperate trio...Palin, Newt, Trump.. your turn..

J. Lion
A Belgian colonel on site in Rwanda said with his three companies of Belgian troops he could have stopped the machete slaughter of 800.000 Rwandan but he was ordered to JUST protect Belgians.
7 years 9 months ago
''you agree that there are some who are hoping for a bad outcome in Libya..''

I don't pay attention to the news that much in the sense that I haven't watched a TV news show but about once a month for a few years now and that is probably more than what I see.  I depend on the internet and found this about Sarah Palin.  Is she wishing for a bad outcome.

''Well, Qaddafi has the blood of innocent Americans on his hands. As we understand it, he's sanctioning the killing of so many Americans with the Lockerbie bombing, and he needs to be held accountable for that. So what happened all those years ago, well, now is our opportunity to make sure that he is held accountable.
So what our president said at first, that our mission is to see Qaddafi go, he's got to go, but then we're told by one of his top advisers, the president's top advisers, saying, well, no, really, Qaddafi is probably going to prevail on this. He's probably going to prevail over the opposition. And then our president changes the tune again, saying, well, it's not our mission to oust Qaddafi. A lot of confusion.
I would like to see, of course, as long as we're in it - we better be in it to win it. And if there's doubt, we get out. Win it means Qaddafi goes and America gets to get on out of there and let the people of Libya create their own government, choose their own leader. And America, no nation building. We get out. We take care of our affairs elsewhere.''  The whole interview is at 

That sort of sums up my sentiment.  Sarah is often right on.  I hope you agree because Obama's dithering and blowing with the wind is dangerous in the long run. 
7 years 9 months ago
''A Belgian colonel on site in Rwanda said with his three companies of Belgian troops he could have stopped the machete slaughter of 800.000 Rwandan but he was ordered to JUST protect Belgians.''

Did the order come from the UN?  I understood that the UN told its peace keepers not to keep the peace. 

And five times as many were slaughtered in the ensuing years but alas, no headlines on that.  I wonder why.  All that remorse over failure in Rwanda and somehow a much greater tragedy was hid from us.  Did the Clinton State Department know?  Surely they must have been aware of millions being killed in the same area as Rwanda.  Nice track record for someone who some have said was our first black president.

''The phrase ''our first Black president'' was adopted as a positive by Bill Clinton supporters. When the Congressional Black Caucus honored the former president at its dinner in Washington D.C. on September 29, 2001, for instance, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the chair, told the audience that Clinton ''took so many initiatives he made us think for a while we had elected the first black president.'' 
7 years 9 months ago
Still tit for tat.

Please gentlemen (and ladies), make an argument from Catholic Just war principles that can be applied to Libya...but not to Iraq (or Iran, or Cuba, or North Korea, etc.).

Let's say an ideal candidate was President and the US economy was going great. Take the partisan heat out of the equation. Now, what gives the USA (or any other nation) the right to bomb another country's military and police forces which are engaged in putting down an insurection or rebelion or civil war?

If we can do it, so can other nations, both now and forever more. So let's at least try to come up with an intelligent case for the morality for use of war shall we?

Or let's have the courage to say that the USA and any number of 'coalition partners' under any flag of intentional diplomats (UN or NATO or whomever) do not automatically gain moral rights to wage war merely because they can. After all, one could be very tempted to unleash a lot of bombs on 'bad' regimes around the world if the use of violence is considered a quicker path to a better tomorrow....

So which is it? An application of some principled theory of the moral use of war in a contingent circumstance..... or an arbitrary use of war for expediency sake and it has color of morality because the 'right' sort of political party is 'in charge'?


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