Marc Lynch, who has "many, many reservations about the military intervention," puts the war in context:
Libya matters to the United States not for its oil or intrinsic importance, but because it has been a key part of the rapidly evolving transformation of the Arab world. For Arab protestors and regimes alike, Gaddafi's bloody response to the emerging Libyan protest movement had become a litmus test for the future of the Arab revolution. If Gaddafi succeeded in snuffing out the challenge by force without a meaningful response from the United States, Europe and the international community then that would have been interpreted as a green light for all other leaders to employ similar tactics.
The strong international response, first with the tough targeted sanctions package brokered by the United States at the United Nations and now with the military intervention, has the potential to restrain those regimes from unleashing the hounds of war and to encourage the energized citizenry of the region to redouble their efforts to bring about change. This regional context may not be enough to justify the Libya intervention, but I believe it is essential for understanding the logic and stakes of the intervention by the U.S. and its allies.
My problem with this argument is that it conflates the broad-based peaceful movements in Egypt and Tunisia and Bahrain, with an opportunistic rebellion, fed by tribal rivalries, that was violent from the get-go and initially opposed any Western intervention. But maybe I am misreading this and Libya really is affecting what is happening in Yemen, for example.
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