In today's world, the international community has an obligation to protect fellow citizens from governments that forfeit their legitimacy
Opponents of Muammar Qaddafi at a London protest / Reuters
On Libya, this week has seen a bumper crop of interesting pieces (that's what happens when major news coincides with an August lull, particularly for academics). I recommend Joshua Tucker in The New Republic; Daniel Serwer on next steps; and Larry Smith in Huffpost. Many of the opponents of the original intervention have tried to move directly past the rebels' entry into Tripoli and hence effective overthrow of the Gaddafi regime (though it's not over yet) to talk about how difficult the next phase is going to be (not that anyone is arguing that it's going to be easy, as several of my Twitter colleagues pointed out). That is the "do not pass go and do not under any circumstances admit you were wrong strategy." (To those readers who are bound to raise the issue, I have admitted that I was wrong on Iraq and I learned vital lessons from being wrong.) So I have reverted to the earlier debate and lessons learned in a piece published this week in the Financial Times.
But here, I'd like to explore the question not of what the last five months of U.N.-authorized NATO, UAE, and Qatar military action in Libya means for the future of humanitarian intervention but whether it makes sense to keep talking about intervention at all. If we really do look at the world in terms of governments and societies and the relationship between them, and do recognize that both governments and their citizens have rights as subjects of international law and have agency as actors in international politics, then what exactly is the international community "intervening" in?