To intervene or not to intervene

The West is struggling to deal with the question of what to do, if anything, with Libya. Gaddafi is proving more difficult to oust than previously thought, which suggests without EU, UN, or U.S. military invention, the rebels will be able to do no more that hold eastern Libya, if that.

So far Obama and Clinton in State have stopped just short of military action. France and Britain, however, are calling for airstrikes; Germany is opposed, and Russia and China are almost certainly opposed no matter what happens. So the UN is out; the EU is possible, though not likely, as Italy has too many interests in Libya to sign on.

That leaves the U.S. And as much as I am opposed to optional unilateral military action, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan… if we were going to make an exception, there is a case to be made here. The revolt has handed the West a casus belli to remove a longstanding thorn – one that, unlike Iraq, is a proven open-and-shut terrorism supporter.

A no-fly zone is impossible without destroying the Libyan air force and all its air defenses. If the U.S. does that, we might as well send in the Marines too, like we did two hundred years ago in Tripoli.

Obama has continued to play his cards close to his chest, keeping everyone guessing on his foreign policy. So I can’t predict what he’s going to do. However, given his decisions on Afghanistan, I’d think he will intervene with force if he can wrestle a request for aid from the resistance and thus get that last available  ounce of legitimacy – it’s much easier to argue for intervention when there’s a cry for help.

That said, Libya wasn’t exactly at the top of the U.S. problem pile a few weeks ago. There are more pressing issues at home. We already have two wars. The U.S. can’t solve all the world’s problems, especially on a weak economy. So the middle-of-the-road wait-and-see strategy is looking attractive.

2 thoughts on “To intervene or not to intervene”

  1. Good post, Mike, and a fair representation of what is at stake. But for me, Obama sanctioning the use of military force in Libya would be a staggering event: not only would it be an endorsement of Bush’s policy of nation building (via the use of the military), it would be an action that would come in the wake of Obama’s active reaffirmation of Guantanamo and military tribunals. All of this, plus re-instituting the Patriot Act, levels of spending that top the ones for which he boldly faulted Bush in ’08, etc., etc., etc. If Libya becomes the third theater, we will finally know what “Hope and Change” meant. It never described an end toward which the Obama presidency would work, but rather posited implicitly that Obama’s election WAS the change — an end in itself. This truth was previewed by many of the signs in Grant Park on that ecstatic evening of the election: the signs that read “YES, WE DID!”, telling us that the slogan never referred to changing America through a shift in policy. It really referred to changing America by electing Obama. Fair enough. But with an intervention in Libya, doesn’t the administration lose a significant chunk of the moral high ground it has been claiming (as the Bush antidote) since ’08?

  2. That would require us, Adam, to believe that Obama campaigned on full withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan – which he did not.

    More seriously, though, every decision a president makes does not have to be a totalizing referendum on his consistency. there’s a site somewhere that has already done this – it tracks all the promises he’s kept and broken since the campaign.

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