I know I said no to foreign military intervention in Libya when its civil war erupted. I reasoned that such intervention would rob legitimacy from any success out of the rebellion against the Gaddafi administration. In retrospect, I vastly underestimated the popularity of the rebellion. Foreign intervention did not matter much in determining the perceived legitimacy of the new government. Even if foreign ground troops were deployed in Libya to aid the rebellion which did not happen, I would think these foreign soldiers would be greeted enthusiastically by most Libyans. Once I realized this, I decided to support the intervention. Besides, the Gaddafi government itself received foreign military aid, and even had foreigners fighting for him. The NATO/UN action seemed justified in a tit-for-tat logic. In the end, I am glad the situation in Libya turned out as it has panned out, with or without foreign intervention. What is happening in Libya so far has been very liberal when compared to its history and its neighbors.
Libya has to rebuild their country and it has a long way to go. The relevant point here is that the military struggle has ended.
Not for Syria though. What happened in Libya is happening in Syria. Protests erupted. The government used force against the protestors. Some protestors picked up armed and fought back in an organized manner. The Syrian rebels have not been as successful as their Libyan counterparts had before NATO/UN intervened so far. Its evolution is almost the same, except this time, the UN Security Council is divided. That makes foreign military intervention impossible, if not hard.
I am tempted to repeat the same argument about legitimacy, popularity and foreign military intervention in Syria. At the back of my mind however is the success of the Libyan model and if the UNSC had passed the resolution, it would probably pave the way toward foreign military intervention and I would support the intervention in favor of the rebels.
But the UNSC did not pass the resolution to call among other, for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. For me, that is a barrier towards support for the intervention.
The Syrian case added a new dimension to the issue of military intervention, or rather it accentuated it. It highlights the importance of not only the organic legitimacy of the rebellion at the expense of the incumbent dictatorial government but also international legitimacy. Libya had both. Syria has only one so far. As a sidetrack, Iraq had none (nevertheless, after all that has been said and done, I think the Iraq episode is a success story and I find it hard to deride the invasion of Iraq as I had in the past. That does not mean the invasion was legitimate though).
In the statist world that we live in, we definitely do not want countries to simply conduct hostile military action in foreign soil regardless of its justification, apart from explicit self-defense. That would mean an overly chaotic world. There has to be a check-and-balance mechanism and however flawed the UNSC is, it is one that prevents the strong from bullying the weak so blatantly. That is not to say the bullying does not happen (remember Russia and Georgia in 2008?) but the system does provide some needed discouragement.
The realist in us will realize that the UNSC is all about politics and not idealism. Russia has interest in maintaining the status quo in Syria. News reports cite that Syria is Russia’s only open ally in the region amid an either an increasingly independent Arab states, or pro-US states like Saudi Arabia and other smaller Gulf states. The fall of the Assad government may benefit the US, especially when the US is siding with the rebel forces.
Regardless of the benefits the US may gain, that does not negate the liberal impetus for the intervention and that is the protection of individual liberty which is clearly being trampled over.
The point of all this is that I want a military intervention.
But the consensual approach in the UNSC does appeal to libertarian non-interventionist foreign policy. It is a bit convoluted and can be contradictory but as I have written a long time ago, it is true that pure Ron Paul’s non-interventionism ignores violation of liberty outside of the border of a liberal state. That is a problem for me but it is also a practical approach to the fact that liberal states cannot fight tyranny everywhere out of economic reality. The UNSC with it consensual approach makes non-interventionism a default position.
But in the case of Syria, it frustrates me as a libertarian. The very libertarian foreign policy comes with a trade-off with another very libertarian principle.