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Uh Oh, Your Humanitarian War May Be Racist

For your consideration, I nominate “a humanitarian crises has been averted” as the most racist statement of the year. This nominee is certain to lose to Halle Berry’s old-timey-one-drop-theory or Mel Gibson’s lifetime achievement award. But, still…it should be considered.

From the outset of the “Why Are We Going to War in Libya” debate I have asked: if we are going for humanitarian purposes, why we don’t go to Ivory Coast, Congo, or Yemen? I have been told that consistency doesn’t apply to foreign policy. I have been told that the “if you don’t go everywhere, you can’t go anywhere” argument is stupid. Fine. Submitted.

So, don’t be confused, I’m not making the consistency argument here. Now, I’m just trying to figure out how we inconsistently pick where we will go to stop humanitarian crises. As Ted Koppel asked on Meet the Press this weekend, “how did Libya win the humanitarian defense sweepstakes of 2011?”

Was it because of:

Scale – No one knows for sure, but by most rough accounts Quadaffi has killed about a thousand people in Libya. Granted, this is more than the dozens killed in fledgling humanitarian crises in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. But check out these numbers:

Democratic Republic of Congo – 5.4 MILLION(!) dead
Sudan – 400,000 killed in Darfur
Ivory Coast – 200 people killed and 450,000 displaced

By this standard, Libya doesn’t even crack the top two.


Feasibility/Capability/Do-ability – This is the popular “we do what we can, when we can” argument. And I like it. It just doesn’t work in Libya. Yes, there is now a popular revolt against Gaddafi. Yes, we can launch planes from nearby Italy and aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. And, I understand, there is no regional power to oppose our intervention as Iran would in Syria.

But on the do-ability scale surely we have to factor in that Gaddafi has the semblance of a real army. He has tanks. He has planes. These African dictators are murdering people by the hundreds of thousand with machetes and popguns. And there is no one on the continent to stop us should we want to help.

Proximity – This is the “we help our neighbors” argument. It’s natural to feel an affinity for your neighbor over someone who lives in another town. By this standard, if Mexico were suffering a humanitarian crises (is it?), we wouldn’t hesitate to intervene. Similarly, the Libyan crisis is on Europe’s doorstep.

Two quick problems with this argument though. Europe is not the United States and Libya is no more on our doorstep than is the Ivory Coast. But here’s the bigger hole in the “neighbor theory” of why have chosen Libya over other humanitarian crises: if Argentina were ruled by a terrible dictator, embarking on crusade of genocide, do you think we’d hesitate to act? I don’t. (PS – Argentina is far away.)

So we are inconsistent, as I have learned, as to whom we militarily help through humanitarian crises.  But I don’t understand how we pick those we choose to help. Why do we help Libya, but we don’t help Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and Ivory Coast? Is it because those countries are black and poor? Is our humanitarian motive racist?

Probably not. In my heart-of-hearts I don’t really think we have a racist mindset dictating where we’ll send planes to stop people from murdering themselves.  But what else am I left with? If we continue to insist this is a humanitarian war, I don’t see what makes Libya a priority over the Congo.

In the end, I think it’s all a lie. I don’t think we’ve gone to Libya for moral, humanitarian purposes. And I more easily could have stomached one of these justifications:

National Security Interest – Always an easy sell: it’s for our own good. But while Gaddafi once funded terrorists, it doesn’t appear he was doing so anymore. So, I’m not buying.

Strategic Interest – A little bit of a harder sell: Libya has oil and keeping the global oil supply flowing is in Americans’ interest, whether they like it or not. But Libya doesn’t really have that much oil. Not enough it seems to risk American lives. So, I’m still not buying.

Revenge – Gaddafi ordered the attack on Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 that killed 270 people, 190 of which were Americans. It’s now time to take him out. Maybe, but as John Derbyshire recently said on NationalReview.com, “We should be practicing cold statecraft, not vendetta.” So I’m not buying this either.

I don’t like any of the reasons we have intervened in Libya. But telling me that we are at war for humanitarian purposes is the only one that is insulting.  At best, that justification is inconsistent, more likely is it’s a lie, at worst it’s racist.

Will Cain is a media entrepreneur, small business owner and host of “Off the Page” on National Review.com. He is also a CNN contributor and regular on In The Arena. You can follow him on Twitter @willcain

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