How to Get Gaddafi

Article excerpt

Byline: Niall Ferguson

Mr. President, don't send guns to the Libyans. Send them a piece of paper.

President Obama is reluctant to intervene in the bloody civil war now underway in Libya. As a senior aide told The New York Times last week, "He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic." I like that notion of organic revolutions--guaranteed no foreign additives, exclusive to Whole Foods. I like it because, like so much about this administration, it is both trendy and ignorant.

Was the American Revolution "completely organic"? Funny, I could have sworn those were French ships off Yorktown. What about Britain's Glorious Revolution, the one that established parliamentary rule? Strange, I had this crazy idea that William III was a Dutchman.

The reality is that very few revolutions, good or bad, succeed without some foreign assistance. Lenin had German money; Mao had Soviet arms. Revolutions that don't get some help from outside aren't so much inorganic as unsuccessful. Indeed, they generally don't go down in history as revolutions at all. More than one revolt has been brutally crushed by an Arab dictator--think of the Marsh Arabs' fate at the hands of Saddam Hussein. Such events tend to be remembered as massacres. We must hope that someone gives President Obama a history lesson before thousands of Libyans share their fate. It will be tragic indeed if America concludes from the experience of overthrowing murderous tyrannies in Afghanistan and Iraq that the correct policy is to turn a blind eye to murder in Libya. That, remember, was the policy pursued by the last Democrat to occupy the White House, in Rwanda as well as, for much too long, in Bosnia.

Yet it would also be an erroneous conclusion that the only form of assistance America can give to good revolutions is military. A no-fly zone was not, after all, what helped the Central and Eastern European revolutionaries of 1989 topple their tyrants. The assistance we gave them was not military. It was moral.

One of the many unsung achievements of President Gerald Ford, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, was history's biggest-ever poison pill. …