March 26, 2011

Op-ed By Chairman Kerry: Libya And The Just Use Of American Force

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote an op-ed that appears in today's Wall Street Journal titled "Libya And The Just Use of American Force."

The full text of the op-ed is below: 

Wall Street Journal

Libya And The Just Use Of American Force

By John Kerry

The seas of people who thronged Cairo's Tahrir Square are gone now. But walking across its now-celebrated ground this week, I couldn't help but remember the inspiring scenes of Egyptians from all walks of life peacefully demanding freedom and dignity. The world watched in awe as the protesters and their young leaders changed the direction of a country and, together with Tunisians, perhaps the whole Arab world.

On Monday I shook hands with young Egyptians and listened to them speak of their hopes for their country. At a town-hall meeting I could sense some questioning whether the United States would really be there when it counted. I was proud that our answer came this week in Libya.

Everything I believe about the proper use of American force and the ability of the community of nations to speak with one voice was reaffirmed when the world refused to stand by and accept a bloody final chapter of the uprisings sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East. With a mandate from the Arab League and the Gulf states, the United Nations Security Council approved a limited military intervention to avoid a massacre. Multilateralism may be messy, but it's powerful when diplomacy pays off.

Make no mistake, neither the U.N. nor any nation should be drawn into military intervention lightly. But there were legitimate reasons for establishing a no-fly zone over Libya and forcing Gadhafi to keep his most potent weapons out of the fight. If you slice through the fog of misinformation and weigh the risks and benefits alongside our values and interests, the justification is clear and compelling.

What is happening in the Middle East could be the most important geostrategic shift since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Absent U.N./NATO resolve, the promise that the pro-democracy movement holds for transforming the Arab world could have been crushed.

Other dictators would have seen the world's failure to challenge Gadhafi as a license to act with impunity against their own people. The vast majority of the protesters in these countries are crying out for the opportunity to live a decent life, get a real job, and provide for a family. Abandoning them would have betrayed not only the people seeking democratic freedoms but the core values of the U.S. and other democratic nations. It would have reinforced the all-too-common misperception on the Arab street that America says one thing and does another.

We are already spending billions of dollars to fight increasing extremism in many parts of the world. We didn't choose this fight; it was forced on us, starting with 9/11. To fail to see the opportunity of affirming the courageous demand of millions of disenfranchised young people for jobs, respect and democracy would be ignorant, irresponsible and short-sighted. It would ignore our real national security interests and help extend the narrative of resentment toward the U.S. and much of the West that is rooted in colonialism and furthered by our own invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Remember, the pleas for help came not just from the Libyan rebels, but from the Arab League and the Gulf states. Silently accepting the deaths of Muslims, even at the hand of their own leader, could have set back relations for decades. Instead, by responding and giving the popular uprising a chance to take power, the U.S. and our allies sent a message of solidarity with the aspirations of people everywhere that will be remembered for generations. Rather than be forced to debate "who lost Libya?" the free world is poised to say "remember Tripoli" every time demagogues question our motives.

The particular nature of the mad man who was vowing to "show no mercy" to the "dogs" who dared challenge his rule demanded that his threats be taken seriously. Gadhafi is after all the man behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, which claimed the lives of 189 Americans.

The military intervention in Libya sends a critical signal to other leaders in the region: They cannot automatically assume they can resort to large-scale violence to put down legitimate demands for reform without consequences. U.N. resolve in Libya can have an impact on future calculations. Indeed, the leaders of Iran should pay close attention to the resolve exhibited by the international community.

Every potential conflict is unique, and there is no simple formula for when to weigh in with force. It is fair to ask, why Libya and not other humanitarian situations? The truth is that we must weigh our ideals, our interests and our capabilities in each case when deciding where to become involved.

We must not get involved in another lengthy conflict in a Muslim country. With French and British willingness to lead, we do not need to take on the primary ownership of this conflict-and the Obama administration has made clear we will not. (With the burden we are already carrying in Afghanistan and across the globe, no one can legitimately doubt America's sacrifice.) So the risks are manageable and, in my view, the rewards are potentially enormous.

The military intervention was not directly intended to force Gadhafi from power, but the international community will remain united in maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on a thug who has lost any legitimacy he ever possessed. There are many options and tools available to us to achieve our ultimate desire of seeing Gadhafi go. While it is impolitic perhaps to suggest it, I'd underscore that destroying his Soviet-era military capacity has been the biggest step towards that goal.

By supporting the Libyan opposition and keeping alive the hopes of reformers across the Arab world, we can counter the violent extremism of al Qaeda and like-minded groups, encourage a new generation of Arab youth to pursue democracy, and transform the way the U.S. is perceived by Muslims world-wide. This is a moment where we are able to advance our values and protect our interests at the same time.

The Arab awakening began in Tunisia and flowered in Egypt. Saving lives in Libya is the least we can do to give those dreams the opportunity to flourish and change the history of the entire region-as well as our relationship with its people.

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