Peter Beaumont: Libya Reveals Perils of Humanitarian War





Peter Beaumont is foreign affairs editor at the Observer

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya last summer, Stewart Patrick, writing in Foreign Affairs, made a bold prediction. The fall of Tripoli, opined the former US State Department official, was "the first unambiguous military enforcement of the Responsibility to Protect norm, Gaddafi's utter defeat seemingly putting new wind in the sails of humanitarian intervention".
 
Even as Patrick wrote, his argument was apparently bolstered by a presidential study directive on mass atrocities that offered a menu of potential policy options in the face of large-scale human rights abuses. It was a document, he averred, which was a significant triumph for Samantha Power, the author of A Problem From Hell and the "intervention hawk" credited with persuading President Obama to back the anti-Gaddafi forces militarily.
 
That was then. Now, on the first anniversary of the uprising against the regime and with Libya in increasing turmoil, the certainties of last summer look less compelling. As recent reports by human rights groups and journalists have made clear, the country has descended into rival fiefdoms of competing militias, not least in Misrata, which, as the Guardian argued on Friday, has set itself up as a "city state" with its own prisons and justice system. Human rights abuses are rife. Corruption is endemic. The new post-Gaddafi state, far from coalescing into meaningful institutions, is becoming ever more fractured...


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