View Mapping Violence Against Pro-Democracy Protests in Libya in a larger map
The question now is whether or not an international body (NATO, the UN) can declare a no-fly zone. Given the size of Libya, the fragility of the regime, and the apparent dependence of the government forces on air supply, this may not be as toothless as it first sounds. A no fly ban (if it is enforced) could complicate the assemblage and the supply of mercenary forces, and avert an offensive against Benghazi that might lead to tens of thousands of civilian casualties. Even a few more days of respite for Benghazi might see more tribes (and more military units) drift into the anti-Qaddafi camp -- one presumes that if the repression is anywhere as near as brutal as it sounds, many officers will soon be hearing of the deaths of close relatives. On the other hand, any sort of foreign intervention would reinforce a regime narrative that Libya is under attack by outsiders -- the Egyptian experience suggests that that xenophobia is the embattled despot's best friend -- and could lead to many unforeseen complications, particularly if Libya slips into a prolonged civil war.
The WSJ goes further and asks the US to "tell the Libyan armed forces that the West will bomb their airfields if they continue to slaughter their people" and argues that "arming the demonstrators also cannot be ruled out." Greg Scoblete counters:
The Obama administration urged Mubarak to the door, so it seems at a minimum it should be calling for the same in Libya. Sanctions, too, make sense. But the idea that we should arm demonstrators and bomb airfields seems rather reckless. The question, as always, is: and then what? Help Libyans rebuild their country? Sit on the sidelines as chaos engulfs the country? Elliott Abrams, no fan of Gaddafi, describes Libya as a "shattered land with no alternative government, no real political parties, and no experience with free elections, a free press, independent courts, or any of the building blocks of democracy."
Any direct foreign military intervention on the WSJ lines, especially by the US, could, in my view, backfire horribly, by allowing Arab dictators to describe the uprisings as part of a foreign plot. I can see how dangerous a failed state in Libya could be, but this is their business, not ours, unless the West is directly threatened or attacked by elements in Libya. To see the true nature of this regime in the Hobbesian light of day is revealing also of its core instability, its amazing inability to provide basic services or freedoms while enjoying vast oil wealth. This is a horrific reckoning that we must clearly condemn - where the fuck is the UN Security Council? - but not get mixed up in.
When it comes to a functioning civil society, Libya is a near total vacuum. It is home to six million people, not Egypt’s 80 million, who have lived in almost total isolation for 41 years. Internet access is limited. So are opportunities for study abroad for anyone whose last name isn’t Gaddafi. Unlike Egypt, the county is filthy rich, but that money is meaningless for those outside of the regime.
In Libya, global forces have held a limited sway. Unlike Egypt, there are not millions of tourists arriving every year. There are only a small handful of international visitors, many of whom (including me) have received direct invitations from the Gaddafi regime to come watch their petro-dollar Potemkin village function as an “opening” state.
I am already reading calls for the United States and its allies to intervene in Libya, and I think we should all take a step back and first ask four questions: 1. Will an international intervention make things better, or worse? 2. If worse, do nothing. If better, who should be a part of this intervention? 3. Should the United States lead the intervention? 4. If so, what should we do?
All too often in humanitarian emergencies or conflicts, we skip ahead to Question 4 without first answering the first three questions. Let us not make that mistake this time. (Because I don't myself even know the answer to Question 1.)
In addition to the humanitarian implications, the rest of the Arab world has a stake in what happens, for if Qadhafi is successful, he will have crafted a path to regime survival for those facing their own protests, while if he fails, they will be more likely to give in with less struggle.