A reader writes:
When you argue that "democratic revolutions only have a chance if they emerge indigenously," I can't help but think that Libya has done so already. We are past its emergence - the question now is, what end result do we want there and how badly do we want it?
And to your point (which seems to be that a new democracy can only be stable and valid if achieved without reliance on outside help), well, look at the American Revolution. France pitched in quite a bit.
In fact, it was the French navy under the Comte de Grasse that cut off any possible sea escape for the 9,000 Brits dug in at Yorktown, who were besieged not only by Washington's 12,000 Continentals but also by 8,000 French troops under the Comte de Rochambeau. Without France, there wouldn't have been a Cornwallis surrender in 1781, and therefore no Treaty of Paris in 1783, and therefore no victorious United States without a lot more suffering and expense (if at all).
Now, does this mean we need to establish a no-fly zone over Libya? Of course not. France jumped into our revolution because France wanted to hurt Britain, and there is no motive so clear-cut for us to jump into Libya. But let's not reject involvement based on an incomplete read of history, either.
Yes, foreign powers have sometimes intervened in civil wars or uprisings in other countries to advance their own interests. The first question is whether military intervention, with unforeseen consequences, in a third Muslim country advances US interests or not. Maybe tipping the air-war in the rebellion's favor could help stop the massacres. Maybe it would have a trivial effect, given the capacity of Qaddafi to move his paramilitary and mercenaries around on the ground. If it fails, we endure another chorus of criticism from those in the Muslim world who despise us. If it succeeds, the US all but "owns" whatever comes after Qaddafi.
Can we morally stand by and watch so many innocents killed? We did so on a far larger scale in Iraq even as we were responsible for Iraq's internal security. If we can stand by and observe the murder of tens of thousands under US occupation, by what argument do people argue that the US has an obligation to jump back in and protect those hunted down by Qaddafi's thugs?
Two wrongs don't make a right? Sure. But what we learned from Iraq is that once you take the leap into intervention, no one can know what follows. Ten years after 9/11 we are enduring more casualties in Afghanistan than at any point in the last decade, while also killing nine boys by mistake. Imagine a story about Qaddafi hunting down children by helicopter gunship. We are also still in Iraq with numbers of troops no pro-war advocate anticipated in 2003. And yet the very same people who backed the Iraq war are now backing intervention in Libya, including, I might add, Senator John Kerry.