When the Bush administration wanted to wage a war of choice against Iraq, it at least spent several months building a public case. The Bush administration had to resort to some wild rhetoric about the possibility of the United States getting nuked, but at least it was making a case built (however absurdly) on American security interests. What has the Obama administration said? What interests are at stake? Why is American security at risk if we do nothing?
For realists, I would love to hear how doing nothing in Libya was going to help U.S. security interests. Having an oil-rich pariah state that could very well return to supporting terrorism and wreaking havoc in the region would be just wonderful, creating Iraq part 3 and making it more likely we'd have to intervene sometime further into the future, at much greater cost and consequence.
Like it or not we are now in it for the long-haul. The history of UN-mandated missions does not support the notion that this will be a quick or easy campaign. The UN is still present in Bosnia and Kosovo and it seems quite possible, even if this mission achieves its stated goals, that it will be in Libya for years to come. That's probable, surely, even if or perhaps especially if the end result is the partition of Libya. Indeed,a Kosovan-style outcome may now be the best available.
The question naturally becomes: what’s victory? How does this end? The United Nations has approved a tactic. It hasn’t set out a strategy. The fact that France showed more enthusiasm than the U.S. for the no-fly zone underscores the lack of agreement about just how far this intervention will go. Logically, the endstate implied by the U.N. vote is the end of Gadhafi’s rule over Libya. But it’s far from certain that’s what nations signing on to a no-fly zone are committed to bringing about, especially if Gadhafi proves to be resilient.
[T]he resolution is going to put the U.S. on the path to regime change in Libya, but one problem is that the path is still anything but clear. As of right now, the Security Council hasn’t authorized anything like a campaign to destroy Gaddafi’s forces in the rest of Libya, except insofar as it involves enforcing a no-fly zone. This won’t involve a concerted attack on the centers of his power in Tripoli and elsewhere. The war that many Libya hawks want is apparently not the one they’re going to get, at least not yet, but it raises the question of why the U.S. and our allies are going to start a war with Libya for the sake of essentially freezing the conflict more or less as it is and turning rebel-held zones into our protectorates. It’s as if the entire thing were designed to play into Gaddafi’s propaganda that outside governments want to divide Libya.
[I]t strikes me that if the United States had aggressively endorsed action against Libya from the start, this would have created a tremendous amount of suspicion around the world about our intentions, and that might have been enough to derail global support. It would have been, yet again, America plus a few allies vs. everyone else. As it's played out in real life, however, other countries have taken the lead, which forces them to be truly committed to this operation, and opposition has been muted because the whole thing didn't turn into yet another big power pissing match.
[T]hree wars is a lot even for America. It makes even a hawk like me wonder: has the US gone too long on Afghan futures? If Libya (an oil-producing country 300 miles from Sicily) is deemed not a vital interest of the US, how much less vital is Afghanistan?
(Photo: Libyan rebels celebrate in Benghazi on March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council's resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. By Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)