How Many Should Die To Send Qaddafi to the Hague?
Here is a question I would like pollsters to ask American voters about the Libya War:
Is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for?
I haven't seen any pollster ask this question. Indeed, the fact that sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a de facto military goal of the United States in Libya isn't even being clearly acknowledged yet in the U.S. media.
However, we can make an educated guess what he response might be, because a Quinnipiac University poll recently asked some questions that are closely related. Voters say 61 - 30 percent that removing Qaddafi from power is not worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for, the poll reports. They say 48 - 41 percent that the U.S. should not use military force to remove Qaddafi from power. Furthermore, 74 percent of voters are "very concerned" or "somewhat concerned" that the U.S. will get embroiled in a long-term military conflict in Libya.
This strongly suggests that if American voters were asked, is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops "fight and possibly die" for, more than 61% would say no and fewer than 30 percent would say yes. Because sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a military objective that includes removing Qaddafi and more.
Yet, with a super-majority of Americans opposed and without Congressional authorization, that is what we are doing: fighting a war to remove Qaddafi from power and send him to the Hague.
It's very likely that you wouldn't know this if your only source of information were the U.S. press, which hasn't been reporting on the divisions among US allies on what an acceptable agreement to end the war would be. But the British press is reporting it.
The Independent reported Wednesday:
But there were signs of divisions over a plan - put forward by the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, to provide a safe-haven for Gaddafi if he were to go into exile. This is supported by Turkey but is less enthusiastically backed by Britain and the US who would prefer him to face an investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Independent notes that exile could be accomplished even without the US and Britain formally dropping their insistence that Qaddafi face the ICC, because a number of African countries are outside the ICC's jurisdiction (the ICC is widely reviled in Africa, where many see it as a Western tool that targets African leaders.)
So, Italy and Turkey want to end the war by making it possible for the Libyan leader to go into exile. But the US and Britain do not agree, because they want Qaddafi in the Hague. Thus, the US and Britain are setting a higher bar for ending the conflict than Italy and Turkey. It is quite likely that a consequence of the US and British position is that the war will go on longer, kill more people, and cost more to the US taxpayers than it would if the US were not intransigent on this point.
But Congress and the American people have never signed off on this US diplomatic intransigence, which could cost many lives. Isn't that deeply wrong?
Recall that, according to a New York Times report earlier this week, the true military/political strategy of the Obama Administration was to destroy the Libyan military - i.e., kill Libyan soldiers - until the Libyan military forces Qaddafi to leave. The Times reported:
The strategy for White House officials nervous that the Libya operation could drag on for weeks or months, even under a NATO banner, is to hit Libyan forces hard enough to force them to oust Colonel Qaddafi, a result that Mr. Obama has openly encouraged.
Now, if the strategy is to get the military to force Qaddafi to leave, it would seem obvious that insisting that Qaddafi has to go to the Hague would make the strategy much harder to accomplish. Because for Libyan military leaders to tell Qaddafi, "Game's up, you must go to the Hague," is obviously a much heavier lift than "Game's up, you must go into exile." This is not only because Qaddafi is much less likely to agree to going to the Hague than going to exile, but also because military leaders are less likely to agree to something that they could well see as a personal and national humiliation.
Remember: at least three-fifths of Americans are against this, because they don't support having American troops "fight and possibly die" to remove Gadhafi, let alone to achieve the further demand that he go to the Hague.
And this is, of course, all ignoring other costs of the present policy, such as the cost to American taxpayers, or the likelihood of Libyan civilian casualties as a result of U.S. bombing.
It also ignores a question that is even less likely to be asked by pollsters in the U.S.: how many Libyan soldiers should we be prepared to kill in order to send Qaddafi to the Hague?
I realize that the lives of soldiers in enemy countries are not something that we prize highly. But surely we can all agree that the value of those lives is not zero. After all, these soldiers have mothers, wives, sisters, children. Presumably, that should count for something, even if that is not much.
But it is a basic mathematical fact that if two numbers are positive and finite, then there is some number you can multiply by the first to get something bigger than the second. So as long as the value of getting Qaddafi to the Hague is not infinite, then there is some number of Libyan soldiers whose killing would not be worth sending Qaddafi to the Hague. How many Libyan soldiers should we be prepared to kill to send Qaddafi to the Hague?
Don't you think Congress and the American people should have some say in what the US conditions are for a negotiated settlement that would end the war, if the current US conditions are intransigent and could block an agreement that would end the war?
You can urge Congress to debate the Libya War here.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.