Lots of rumbling on the web today that US and Intl Community policy is inconsistent and that the Libya mission sets precedents for future events. Bah! Humbug! I tweeted today a reference to one of my favorite titles of one of my articles: Discrimination in International Relations. My piece sought to explain why countries vary in terms of which ethnic groups they support against their host states, but the larger point is pertinent here--countries discriminate! Yes, they support some actors and oppose others and stand on the sidelines at other times and places. They do not follow principled foreign policies that require them to follow a particular course of action when a particular circumstance arises. Instead, they weigh their interests, confront varying domestic pressures and stumble along.
Indeed, it may be the case that the US does not have big interests at stake in Libya, but is willing to, dare I say it, be a good ally! Which makes this Slate piece almost simultaneously brilliant and stupid. It argues that the US is supporting the coalition of the willing in Libya because of their interests, not America's, which is not a bad way to think of the stakes for the US. And then compares it to out-sourcing--which is where the piece becomes fairly idiotic. Yes, the US might actually be doing something to pay back its allies for their support in Afghanistan. Or it might be doing something to address the concerns of the allies, even if it does not really have a dog in the fight, otherwise. Why is this wrong? Isn't international relations about bargaining, about swapping concerns? We cannot merely impose our will anywhere we want. Sometimes, it makes sense to support an ally. Or two. Or many. I am tempted to wonder if this is the first time an alliance caused a country to get involved in a crisis because of the ally's concerns. Or perhaps not as this is basic, everyday International Relations. Perhaps these folks need to read a good intro to IR text. Maybe one with Zombies.
So, this event will not really set precedents. As the US is not going to drop bombs on all dictators (we are not dropping bombs on Syria today nor will we dropping bombs on North Korea tomorrow). Countries, ethnic groups and potential rebels will read into these events what they want. If they imagine themselves to be the Egyptian protesters, they will protest. If they think of themselves as the Syrian protesters, they may think twice. IR presents to anyone so many conflicting lessons (have we figured out the one right lesson from the Vietnam war yet? No? Never mind), that people will learn what they are disposed to see.
For a similar but perhaps more articulate rant on the subject, see Drezner posing as an Obama speech-writer. We don't call this blog "the spew" for nothing.