16 Ways the U.S. Can Help in Libya

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Direct Military Action

(11)  No fly zone (NFZ). This has been extensively debated in the media as well as in Congress. But all sides seem to agree on this: better to do it with approval from the UN Security Council, both because we could use the help and to brand it as a global --- rather than an American -- mission. But this approval could be very tough to get unless circumstances deteriorate dramatically. While an NFZ would unquestionably help the rebellion and hurt Qaddafi, it would also require attacking Libyan air defenses. Keeping the patrols aloft would be an expensive burden, especially if it drags on for weeks or months. This could be especially unappealing to state that wouldn't want to be seen as supporting a U.S. military effort against a Muslim country. Remember how few countries lined up to join us for invading Iraq? Any U.S. military action risks plunging us into war in Libya and and shifting the narrative away from popular uprising to a Western war against the Arab world or against Islam.

(12)  No fly forever. In this less discussed variant on a no fly zone, we could take out the entire Libyan air force, fixed wing and rotary, with carefully targeted air strikes. This would require an initial attack on Libya's air defenses, like the NFZ, but it wouldn't require the same continuing, open-ended commitment. It would probably have to be done unilaterally, however, since discussion in the Security Council would alert Qaddafi's military to the incoming attack and make it harder to find and destroy their aircraft.

(13)  U.S. air support for rebel ground forces. This is the approach we took in both Kosovo and Afghanistan, where indigenous military forces pursued the ground war with U.S. air support. This would involve us deeply in the conflict in Libya and arguably make us morally responsible for the behavior of the Transitional Council ground forces, which may well exact ferocious revenge on Qaddafi's loyalists. It would also require close coordination with an irregular Libyan force that appears loosely organized.

Covert Measures

(14)  Establish a direct channel to Qaddafi and encourage him to leave Libya. While those who want to see Qaddafi held accountable would object, we could open a back door by which he could leave Libya. Zimbabwe and Venezuela are thought to be ready to receive him. The ICC could get him later, as it did with former Liberian President Charles Taylor. But finding him a new (if temporary) home might make Qaddafi more willing to leave. A number of states -- perhaps Chad or Turkey, for example -- may be able to establish intermediaries to help negotiate Qaddafi's flight.

(15)  Provide intelligence to the rebels. Battlefield intelligence could help the rebellion in meeting the challenges posed by Gaddafi's superior firepower and reach. This could include early warning of air and ground strikes.

(16)  Put U.S. special forces into Libya, ready to move against Qaddafi if an opportunity presents itself. This is fraught with risk. The troops could be found out and used to embarrass the U.S. or the rebels. They could be killed or, worse, captured. The Dutch have already been caught with marines in Libya on a mission to evacuate Dutch citizens. But it would enable us to move quickly and decisively to take out Qaddafi if we find a good opportunity or, in extreme cases, if the risks of allowing him to remain simply become too dire.

There is of course a possibility that anything we do will poison the ongoing revolutions in Libya or even throughout the Arab world. Doing nothing is also option. But, with hundreds dying, thousands fleeing, and no peaceful end in sight, nothing may be the riskiest option of all.
Image:Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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Daniel Serwer is a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Scholar at the Middle East Institute. He writes regularly at peacefare.net.

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