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Ethics of Liberal Intervention

Ali Ahmed

By Christopher S. Chivvis
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 249, Rs. 495.00


Christopher Chivvis is the quintessential policy wonk having rotated in and out of government and the academia, so typical of the career profile of public intellectuals in the United States. Given that he needs the government for access to information and the policy high table, as much as the government needs his brains, it is inevitable that he would write up a favourable account of the US role in toppling Gaddafi. Billeted in the RAND Corporation that has over the decades provided the strategic community in America grist for its incestuous debates, he is as much an insider as a bystander. Consequently, it is entirely understandable that he concludes: ‘The results are far from perfect and postwar stabilization has faltered, but ultimately the choice to intervene was the right one (p. 205).’ The book is an account of the events in 2011 in which the French and UK supported by the US initially launched Operation Odyssey Dawn to be followed soon thereafter by the NATO’s Operation Unified Protector. It covers the events leading up to the intervention; the diplomacy that attended the intervention; the military operations of the NATO; and US policy choices during the war. It makes the case that the regime’s actions in Benghazi in early 2011 created conditions for the intervention under the framework of the new fangled concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P). As a slim volume priced affordably, it has something for everyone. But it is unlikely that readers in the region will find in it much to agree with. In particular, the author’s answer that the intervention was right is rather glib. At the time of writing of this review three years after the intervention, primetime news has it that Tripoli’s airport has been shut down because of fighting between rival militia groups in the vicinity. This cannot but be attributed to the influx of weaponry and perfunctory training given by Special Forces troops to the tribal militias that sprung up in wake of the intervention. It shows how easy it is to engineer the conditions that can then be used to legitimate premeditated operations citing R2P. Similarly, regimes were displaced in Afghanistan and Iraq and there is a concerted move underway to displace the one in Syria. The human cost in volved has been borne by the societies subject to the ‘liberal’ attention of the West, but more likely subject ...

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