Does the World Belong in Libya’s War?
Foreign Policy's crack team of international experts debate whether Washington, London, and Paris were right to step in.
Just several days into their jointly led operation to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, the United States, France, and Britain have already faced significant controversy. The African Union called for an immediate end to the attacks; the Arab League’s secretary, Amr Moussa, said on Sunday that air strikes were not what he had expected, though he later reaffirmed the League’s commitment to a no-fly zone.*
Yet by all measures Thursday’s U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorizes international intervention into Libya to protect civilians, is still historic — the first time the world has pursued humanitarian intervention so boldly since the Rwandan genocide. The resolution calls for "all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country." Speaking in a televised address on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama also explained his position largely in humanitarian terms: If the world failed to intervene, he said, "The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow."
With events moving quickly on the ground, only time will tell how effective international powers will be at quelling the fighting. But one question will remain long after gunfire stops: Does the world belong inside Libya’s revolution?
Yes. Now Let’s Hope It’s Not Too Late. – By Roméo Dallaire with Jeffrey Bernstein
Not Until We Know What We’re Getting Into – By Micah Zenko
The U.S. Is Right Not to Own It – By Robert D. Kaplan
This Could Be Obama’s Defining Moment – By Shadi Hamid
The Security Council Has At Last Lived Up To Its Duty – By Kenneth Roth
How to Save Benghazi – By Robert Pape
A Day to Celebrate, But Hard Work Ahead – By Anne-Marie Slaughter
Failing To Act Would Send the Wrong Message – By Paula J. Dobriansky
Plus, from FP’s blogs:
The World, Yes — The U.S., Maybe Less So – By Steven M. Walt
The U.S. Even More So – By Kori Schake
As Quickly As Possible – By Thomas E. Ricks
With Fingers Crossed – By Peter Feaver
Yes or No, It’s About Obama – By David Rothkopf
The Real Question Is, How Will the World Get Out? – By Marc Lynch
*Text has been updated.
Yes. Now Let’s Hope It’s Not Too Late.
By Roméo Dallaire with Jeffrey Bernstein
By employing genocidal threats to "cleanse Libya house by house," Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi forced the world community’s hand in taking strong action to protect the human rights of all Libyans. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine — which requires the U.N. Security Council to take action when a country fails to protect its citizens and was unanimously adopted by all countries of the U.N. General Assembly in 2005 — has clearly and unequivocally laid the problem of Libya at our feet. That Qaddafi committed crimes against humanity was never in question; indeed he was almost universally condemned for his maniacal acts and statements. So the real question is, why wasn’t R2P unanimously invoked by world leaders?
The failure to invoke R2P early — while Gaddafi was calling protesters "cockroaches" and threatening mass, door-to-door atrocities, such as those I witnessed in Rwanda — represents a colossal missed opportunity to project the potential power of this still-developing norm. The arms embargo and targeted sanctions slapped on Qaddafi’s regime and cronies in late February, as well as the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, demonstrated the Security Council’s attention and resolve — timeliness that was absent during Rwanda and Darfur. But once it became clear these measures were insufficient to deter Qaddafi’s advance on the regime’s opponents and guarantee civilian protection, the implementation of the now-approved no-fly zone and other more coercive measures should have been seriously expedited. Furthermore, invoking R2P would have sent a critical signal to Libyans and other besieged populations the world community approves of their democratic efforts — and is willing to intervene, if necessary, when their human rights are so threatened.
There are, to be sure, some positive signs that Resolution 1973 is codifying a truly international norm. The BRIC countries on the U.N. Security Council (plus Germany) all abstained from voting — but given their very real economic interests in the region, they could have voted against. The fact that they didn’t is an important victory for R2P’s proponents. When the stakes are as high as they are in Libya, when there is clear evidence that civilians are being preyed upon, the usual skeptics will back down for fear of being on the wrong side of public opinion and history.
Still, as we have learned tragically from past failures to respond in a timely fashion, domestic groundswell is instrumental to garnering international support to prevent mass atrocities. The world community’s response to Libya has been lightning-fast when compared with past, snail-paced efforts — laudable, no doubt, but inadequate, still. We must be quicker and more efficient in mobilizing if we are to deter leaders from even considering the use of deadly violence to cling to power. As cheers rain upon the streets of Benghazi from Libyans confident that their pleas for support have been answered, we from our Western perch can only remain hopeful that our promises have not been too little, delivered too late.
Lt. Gen Roméo Dallaire was force commander of the U.N. peacekeeping mission for Rwanda in 1994. He is currently a senator in the Canadian Parliament and co-director of the Will to Intervene project at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. Jeffrey Bernstein is project officer for genocide prevention to Lt. Gen Dallaire.
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Not Until We Know What We’re Getting Into
By Micah Zenko
As the United States, France, and Britain take the plunge into Libya’s internal conflict, we need to be very careful about understanding what the objectives really are. Proponents of intervention offer a mix of three distinct objectives being sought — and they don’t necessarily match.
First, yesterday’s U.N. Security Council Resolution allows for the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians, which is great except that nobody who knows anything about military operations — and no one who I have talked to in the military — believes that the no-fly zone will achieve that. If you look at the tactics being used by the Muammar al-Qaddafi regime, it’s ground forces that are executing the regime’s oppression. Where we have seen bombings, it is primarily of rebel arms depots or barracks.
A second objective being advanced by intervention proponents — but not supported in the resolution — is the need to tilt the balance of power away from Qaddafi. The no fly zone stands little chance of achieving this either; it’s a more than 600-mile trip from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to Tripoli, and even if the rebels had air support on their journey, Qaddafi’s forces could clean their clocks as they advanced. To really tip the balance, you’d probably need sustained close air support and arms. Yet paragraph nine of the earlier resolution (1970) expressly forbids arming the rebel forces. So if we really want to tip the balance of power and arm the rebels, as the Egyptians seem to be doing, we need to recognize that we will be in violation of a U.N. Security Council Resolution. And again, there’s no guarantee it would work.
The final objective is the maximalist one: regime change. Nearly every Western leader has said it: Qaddafi must go; he’s not fit to lead. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even called him a "creature." But if you want to achieve regime change, you need to have broader debate, and frankly, you would probably need foreign military boots on the ground. Yet everyone who supports this maximalist objective has approved only minimalist tactics.
In short, while we believe we are ready to "do something" in Libya, we are having a debate over what tactics we find acceptable, rather than what strategy will succeed.
This actually plays into Qaddafi’s hands. Now he knows that the air option is out. But he also knows that Western powers will be unwilling to send in troops — the only thing that would assure he is removed from power. The message he’ll take away is to go hard on the ground war.
It’s not clear we know who we are supporting, either. In any conflict between two parties, the weaker party always wants third-party support. The rebels know exactly how to play the tune that we want to hear. They have been waving banners — both in Arabic and English — asking for a no-fly zone. There are reports of volunteers recruited to the rebel forces who are first required to shave, because they don’t want their men to appear Islamist. The rebels have silenced or hushed some of the Islamist leaders who are involved on their side. And the spokesmen they put forward speak solid English and talk about Jeffersonian democracy. They know exactly what key words to mention; they know how to play on the moral language. The West will "let us down," without intervention, they argue.
The trouble is, although we are prepared to "do something" and pull out the most impressive kit in the U.S. toolbox — military power — we aren’t actually willing to get involved at the level required to win. This minimal engagement does more harm than good. Not to mention that there are plenty of conflicts that are far more — or at least equally — pressing. In October and again this spring, for example, the African Union requested a no-fly zone from the U.N. Security Council to patrol Somalia. Guess how many French and British planes are flying over Mogadishu today? None.
Micah Zenko is fellow for conflict prevention at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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The U.S. Is Right Not to Own It
By Robert D. Kaplan
President Barack Obama’s decision to militarily intervene in Libya is already off to a good start. I say this as someone who has been deeply skeptical of intervention. I feared that the United States would wind up leading the effort and thus — no matter how successful it turned out militarily — it would commit our top policymakers to not only toppling Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi but to making Libya a semi-stable polity afterwards. Once we intervened, we would own the problem, in other words, just like in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But at least in its initial phases, the optics have been far better than I expected. The United States does not seem to be out in front. The French and British are there with their air forces and navies full-bore with us. Not only have the Arab League and the United Nations supported the operation, but the Egyptian military is supplying the rebels in eastern Libya. The very slow and seemingly lackluster American leadership that the Obama administration is being criticized for by both neoconservatives and liberal internationalists may be precisely what will keep us from owning the mission — and that lack of ownership is an insurance policy against getting politically bogged down in Libya as the weeks drag on. I don’t think Obama has been timid; I think he has been sly. It has been precisely the deep skepticism of intervention in Libya from some quarters of the administration that has forced the Arab League and the Europeans to pony up and relieve us of the political burden.
Had we intervened decisively a week or two ago, we would have owned the mission, and then we would possibly have had a small-scale Iraq or Afghanistan on our hands. But delay has brought us allies, not only in name but in fact.
No one knows exactly how this will unfold from here. The United States might still emerge too far out in front, given its far stronger military assets compared with those of our allies. Protracted civil war or chaos could still ensue in Libya, a country that has been fairly described as a weak state. But it has started well, with the drumbeats of war coming as much from London, Paris, and Cairo as well as from Washington.
American grand strategy at a time of ongoing military burdens abroad and fiscal tightening at home requires that we leverage like-minded, democratic others to share the responsibilities and to take the lead at times. I’m glad Obama has backed into this at the last moment rather than leading the charge from the beginning. It will lesson American exposure going forward and thus allow the president and his team to keep their focus on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other U.S. commitments.
We should be clear: The goal is to prevent the kinds of atrocities that would constitute a moral catastrophe. We aren’t in it to help govern Libya.
Robert D. Kaplan is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.
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This Could Be Obama’s Defining Moment
By Shadi Hamid
The U.N. resolution demonstrates that the United States can lead — if it wants to. Up until Thursday, the United States had appeared agnostic and, at times, dismissive about military action. The leadership vacuum was striking, as Britain and France tried to push for a no-fly zone but only seemed to face resistance. Even the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference backed the no-fly zone. But they did not have the capability to implement it. The lesson was clear: Even in an age of apparent American decline, the United States was indispensable. However, America’s failure to act decisively one or two weeks ago cannot be undone. The rebels remain in a precarious situation with Benghazi as their last stronghold. What would have been an easier operation weeks ago has now become considerably more difficult. There is a cost, then, to "careful deliberation."
Skeptics will argue that Libya is not vital to our national security interests. Even if that were the case, the fact that the world chose to intervene for largely humanitarian reasons and to support rebels fighting for democracy is something that should be applauded. And this is why Libya is not even remotely comparable to Iraq, where the U.S. invaded for reasons of "national security," including WMDs and terrorism. Where, in Iraq, we stood alone calling for war while most of the world opposed it, the dynamic, this time, was reversed. The United States — along with Russia, China, and Germany among the major powers — stood increasingly alone in opposing the emerging Arab and international consensus favoring intervention.
One hopes that military intervention in Libya (or merely the threat of it) will succeed in ending Muammar Qaddafi’s brutal regime. If it does, it may convince the United States that doing the right thing is sometimes the right thing to do. After five decades of supporting repressive autocracies, Washington has a chance to align itself with Arab democratic aspirations, something it has so far failed to do three months into the uprisings. Libya, then, could prove a defining moment for the Obama administration, compelling it to embrace, however reluctantly, a policy of aggressive support for democrats and democracy in the new Middle East.
Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
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The Security Council Has At Last Lived Up To Its Duty
By Kenneth Roth
Just when the "responsibility to protect" doctrine seemed to have become irretrievably tainted at the United Nations, the Security Council at last lived up to its duty to prevent mass atrocities. For the second time in three weeks, the council accomplished the politically impossible, first referring Libya to the International Criminal Court, then, yesterday, authorizing military force to protect civilians from Muammar al-Qaddafi’s wrath.
What accounts for this remarkable turn of events? In part, it was the perfect villain: Qaddafi’s over-the-top threats to "show no mercy" to the people of Benghazi, along with his regional meddling and megalomaniac ideas, left him few friends or defenders.
The Arab League also played an essential role by easing its usual opposition to Security Council action against its members. The league had watched silently as Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir committed crimes against humanity in Darfur — or, less recently, as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein massacred Shia and Kurds, and Syria’s Hafez al-Asad destroyed the town of Hama. But the league apparently sensed the winds of change wafting through the Middle East and North Africa, and felt compelled to respond. The Egyptian presidential aspirations of the leagues’ secretary-general, Amr Moussa, certainly helped as well.
And of course there were the people taking to the streets throughout the region, risking their freedom and lives for the ideals of democracy and human rights that autocratic leaders had denied them for so long. Those ideals were precisely the ones practiced at home by India, Brazil, and South Africa — emerging powers all currently on the Security Council that either supported or tacitly acquiesced in the council’s action. The power of these ideas prevailed over the anti-imperialism that, anachronistically but persistently, has played a major role in these governments’ foreign policies. Even Russia and China did not want to be left behind.
The challenge now is not only to translate this remarkable Security Council consensus into effective protection for Libyans. It is to extend the human rights principles embraced for Libya to other people in need. The atrocities unfolding in the Ivory Coast demand just as much attention. Other people of the Middle East and North Africa are seeing their hopes for democracy quashed by authoritarian leaders. The people of Burma and Sri Lanka have endured massive war crimes with no justice. Can the Security Council respond to their plight as well? Can it begin to recognize that a leader’s atrocities against his own people are a global concern, not an internal affair? No one believes these steps will be easy, but the task before us is to translate the Security Council’s principled reaction to Libya into a broader doctrine of genuine protection for people facing mass atrocities.
Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch. Follow Kenneth Roth on Twitter: @KenRoth
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How to Save Benghazi
By Robert Pape
The United States and much of the world are now moving to protect the large number of Libyan civilians who have risked their lives to oppose Muammar al-Qaddafi’s brutal regime — and they are right to do so. Indeed, Qaddafi’s ability to repress the Libyan people stems largely from the vast amounts of money his regime has earned through the sale of oil. As the world’s largest consumer of oil, the United States has a strong moral responsibility to act. Looking away from the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Libya would contradict America’s democratic values and only fuel the belief that the United States would not lift even a finger to save Muslims, no matter how many were at risk — handing al Qaeda a major propaganda coup.
The U.N. decision to use "all means necessary" to protect civilians in Libya is a crucial first step, but now is the time to decide on the actual military strategy to achieve this humanitarian mission. The essential goal over the next few weeks is to safeguard the vast numbers of Libyans who have risked their lives to oppose Qaddafi in Benghazi and other major cities along the eastern coast. At the moment, they are highly vulnerable to Qaddafi’s ground forces: concentrations of tanks, heavy artillery, and troops that are reportedly less than 100 miles from Benghazi and could attack the city directly over the next few days — and indirectly over the coming weeks and months by cutting off food and other basic necessities.
Accordingly, the strategy to safeguard Libyans in the East should emphasize three core steps.
First: Declare "a line in the sand" protecting Benghazi — destroying any large number of Qaddafi’s military vehicles and troops that concentrate and move to attack the city. This is a mission that America’s precision-guided air power can decisively achieve with B-2, B-52, and other aircraft flying from the United States, Diego Garcia, and the airbase in Qatar. After suppressing any Libyan air defenses with cruise missile strikes, U.S. forces could drop joint direct attack munitions and other anti-armor precision weapons on Libyan government ground forces. Of course, if Qaddafi’s forces do not attack the city, military action need not occur.
Second: Immediately begin massive economic shipments to Benghazi to give the ordinary people in eastern Libya the wherewithal to maintain themselves independently of any coercive pressure Qaddafi can bring to bear. Libya’s coastal cities import 90 percent of their food and other basic necessities, and while they do have stockpiles, these will start running down in a matter of weeks. Economic shipments will take time to arrive and should begin now.
Third: Organize a broad international coalition for sustained protection operations similar to "Provide Comfort," the operation to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1990s. The purpose should be to provide a "protection zone" that would effectively prevent Libyan military strikes against commercial shipments from Europe into the ports of Benghazi and other cities along the eastern coast. This force should involve the militaries of Arab countries as well as the West.
This plan will sustain the people of eastern Libya without imposing regime change on Tripoli, invading Libya, or seizing its oil. It will also provide the core framework for a political transformation of Libya over time, with the West and the Arab world on the right side of history.
Robert A. Pape is director of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism and the author of Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War.
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A Day to Celebrate, But Hard Work Ahead
By Anne-Marie Slaughter
I see five key take-aways from the U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone and any additional measures necessary to stop the abuse of civilians in Libya.
1) For once the U.S. is actually playing a supporting rather than a leading role in enforcing the NFZ itself. Barack Obama said on Friday, "We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone." Asking the countries from the region that is most directly affected by the crisis to take the lead is financially and politically necessary and strategically important. U.S. security, economic, and moral interests will be advanced in a world in which more states take responsibility for enforcing international rules. If you believe that the U.S. should be able to break rules unilaterally, that position does not hold. But if you believe that the U.S. will be increasingly disadvantaged in a world in which other nations can break rules with impunity, then — as the Pentagon is fond of pointing out — the United States has a vested national interest in strong, just, and sustainable international order.
2) Without this action, the U.S. position on the broader Middle East protests would be increasingly untenable. Even though Hillary Clinton was rebuffed by the Egyptian youth movement for her early statement concerning the stability of Mubarak’s regime, the U.S. actually played an important role, mil to mil, in convincing the Egyptian army not to use force. If the Egyptian army had used force, the revolution that is inspiring others (following Tunisia) would have had a very different ending. The U.S. also pushed the Bahraini government hard after its initial use of force in Pearl Square, and temporarily succeeded. Our position on Friday was to condemn the violence by the Yemeni Security forces and to call on them to exercise restraint and to allow Yemeni citizens freely and peacefully to express their views. It is hard to imagine the U.S. (or the Arab League) taking any military action with regard to Bahrain, Yemen, or other countries, but we are at least backing our words with deeds in what has thus far been the most brutal and egregious case of a government attacking and killing its own people. And if Muammar al-Qaddafi is pushed out, other governments will be more likely to start thinking about what deals they can cut.
3) What is missing from the U.N. resolution, as has already been widely noted, is a goal stated crisply enough to be formulated as an if/then statement — e.g. "if X happens, the NFZ and any other additional measures taken will no longer be necessary." For many observers, that ambiguity is where the quagmire begins. Stopping all abuses of civilians is too broad — it is not a verifiable or even an objective goal. On the other hand, the existence of a ceasefire is too narrow — a ceasefire could be declared and even enforced and yet still leave Qaddafi’s forces imposing terror and privation on the many cities they have retaken from the rebels. The best hint in the resolution itself is the affirmation that the Security Council "stresses the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people." That reference points to a negotiated political solution that includes the departure of Qaddafi himself. The question will be which demands of the Libyan people are "legitimate" (and who decides) and how strong different factions will be to make demands at all. Certainly Qaddafi is in a far better negotiating position than two weeks ago, when he reportedly offered to leave if guaranteed impunity and the family riches but was quickly rebuffed by over-confident rebels.
4) A very clever section of the resolution that has received no attention in the media thus far is entitled "Ban on Flights." This provision "Decides that all States shall deny permission to any aircraft registered in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya or owned or operated by Libyan nationals or companies to take off from, land in or overfly their territory" with various enumerated exceptions like emergency landings and flights specifically approved by a U.N. appointed committee. This provision effectively prevents Qaddafi’s sons or other relatives and high-level supporters from bailing out, leaving him to fight to the death. They cannot flee, and thus must live or die with him. As the military noose tightens, they are less and less likely to want to share his professed desire for martyrdom on Libyan soil, increasing the pressure on him to go.
5) A separate article could be written about the voting pattern for the resolution. What do Brazil, Germany, and India — each of which abstained alongside Russia and China — have in common? Their protestations of concern for the general principal of non-intervention ring hollow alongside requests for a NFZ from the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Union and look downright shabby next to the votes of Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Lebanon, and Colombia, each of whom has had plenty of experience with colonialism. But inviolable sovereignty and non-intervention are still articles of faith for the Group of 77, which is a U.N. bloc of developing nations that now includes now over 130 countries and is an essential constituency to be won for any chance of permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council. Abstention was first-class pandering. That might not seem so bad — after all, the resolution passed. But this resolution is one of the first to authorize the use of force with an explicit reference to the responsibility to protect. In 2006 the Security Council passed a resolution, which was also endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly, accepting that all governments have a responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and grave and systematic war crimes and that if they fail in that responsibility the international community has the right to intervene. This was an enormous normative step forward, akin to an international Magna Carta, even if it will take decades to elaborate and implement. It is the state corollary to the recognition of individual human rights with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1949 and subsequent more specific treaties. For would-be members of the Security Council, a willingness to stand up for this principle is a true test of leadership, the kind of leadership that a great power must be willing to exercise. By that metric, Germany, Brazil, and India just failed.
We face heavy, hard days ahead. But the international community actually acted. No vetoes were cast. Many nations from many different parts of the world, North and South, former colonies and former imperial powers, came together to stop the slaughter of Libyan civilians. That is something to celebrate.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and the former director of policy planning for the State Department.
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Failing To Act Would Send the Wrong Message
By Paula J. Dobriansky
How the international community deals with Libya will send a powerful signal to emerging democratic forces in the Middle East, the authoritarian regimes that seek to continue repressing them, and the radicals who want to hijack the process of democratic change.
Muammar al-Qaddafi has repeatedly asserted that he will kill all his enemies — there will be "no mercy for the rebels — we will go door to door and track you down." Given the fact that Gaddafi’s opponents mostly come from an ethnically distinct set of Libyan tribes, these statements amount not just to threats to commit political killings and atrocities, but constitute evidence of planned genocide. This alone is sufficient justification for the world to act.
However, there are other compelling realpolitik reasons for the international community to intervene. Countries in the region, through the Arab League, have made an unprecedented appeal to the United States, Europe, and others to come to the defense of the rebels and to remove Qaddafi. This request underscores their grave concern about the consequences of the bloodshed to come, in a region already beset by crisis and threatened with instability, if the international community does not step in now to stop the violence. Additionally, the rebel Council in Libya — which has been recognized as a legitimate government by France — has called for international assistance and protection. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya also provides a legal framework from which military force can be used with undisputed legitimacy.
Failure to act would have sent a clear, tragic message to other freedom activists not only in the Middle East but in other countries across the globe that they cannot count on democracies for help. Indeed, inaction would have meant that we only rhetorically espouse certain values, but are unwilling to defend them. The international community is on the right side of history by doing the right thing — coming to the assistance and protection of the Libyan people.
Paula J. Dobriansky served as undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs from 2001 to 2009.
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