The Montreal Gazette is running a series of stories about "NATO's secret war against Qaddafi." Yep, those bombs were mighty stealthy last spring and summer. The series is asserting that NATO took sides and sought regime change, not just civilian protection. I am shocked. Shocked I say. Or not as I labeled a blog post "Standard Libya Post" to address the false dichotomy of civilian protection vs regime change.
Yes, NATO let arms reach the rebels. Yes, members of NATO did some of the arming directly. Yes, NATO targeted Qaddafi's forces and not the rebels. Why is any of this all that shocking in 2012?
There is a larger question that this story does not seem to address and something that the R2P folks need to figure out: how do you responsibily protect people from an irresponsible government? Can you do it without changing the regime which has proven to be unable to restrain itself from killing its people? Folks who get indicted by the International Criminal Court perhaps might not be fit to be leaders anymore, so if you are going to protect civilians, what do you do about the indicted politicians who remain in power (not just Qaddafi but thinking these days of the people running Sudan)?
R2P logically implies regime change much of the time, which is why China and Russia are opposed to applying R2P to Syria (well, this is over-determined). Pretending otherwise is just silly. Yes, NATO sent mixed messages because its mandate to protect was clearer than its mandate to change Libya's government. I dare anyone to tell me how NATO could have protected the Libyans beyond the shortest term without changing the regime of Libya. Of course, the situation now is problematic, as there was no coherent alternative government to walk in and put all the militias back in the box. Yes, NATO ended up supporting folks who were less restrained and likely to engage in revenge. In these situations, you have to dance with the folks who are at the dance or you can stay home.
Which raises questions about R2P and its implementation since the realities of intervention are always going to be far from pristine--siding with militias, supporting regime change, using violence.
And Libya was the easy case, by the way.