Although the United Nations Security Council has approved a no-fly zone over Libya and military action against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi could begin at any time, the Obama administration is right to be wary of being drawn into the country’s ugly civil war.
We are still busy fighting two long wars in the Middle East and must not plunge into a third without a clear understanding of the need, the possible length, the cost and the likelihood of success. We also must not act unilaterally.
Shortly after the UN vote Thursday evening, Mr. Gadhafi ordered a ceasefire, but government troops were still bombing opposition forces on Friday.
The idea of ordering a no-fly zone is an appealing intervention-lite. It could, however, lead to a full-scale American engagement.
Proposals for supposedly easing into the Libyan conflict are coming from the same old crowd that brought us Iraq and Afghanistan and let Osama bin Laden slip through their fingers and continue to mastermind terrorist attacks. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy to Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has been pressing for U.S. action to arm the rebels. He wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “It is both morally right and in America’s strategic interest to enable the Libyans to fight for themselves.” But at least we have an apparently chastened Mr. Rumsfeld warning against sending troops or even declaring a no-fly zone.
Joining the intervention chorus are Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry, who point out that other countries, such as France and Britain, support establishing a no-fly zone.
As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, backing a mission is very different from committing manpower.
The advocates of one form or another of U.S. military intervention in Libya are right in one respect. They see the Arab uprising that suddenly has overthrown long-established dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and threatens other Middle East and North African autocracies as historically important. The revolts were long overdue but came on unexpectedly with the help of modern mass communications systems like Facebook and Twitter.
The right answer, seen by many including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is to provide help where it can be effective but to be wary of where intervention could lead us into another disaster.
A February Newsweek column by Peter Beinart, titled “The Case for Sitting on Our Hands,” wisely said that “the lesson of the last month is that any regime that offers its people neither free speech nor a decent job is ideologically weak whether it wraps itself in the mantle of leftism, secularism or Islam. Had American leaders understood that after 9/11, they might have realized that waiting on events, rather than trying to remake the Middle East at gunpoint, wasn’t such a bad idea after all.”
Our current leaders are smart to wait and watch, while also building an international coalition should intervention become the best solution, as the revolution unfolds.