Clark Opposes Libyan No-Fly Zone

In a sort of rebuttal to Sen. John Kerry’s affirmative case yesterday Gen. Wesley Clark has an op-ed in the Washington Post opposing military intervention in Libya:

To me, it seems we have no clear basis for action. Whatever resources we dedicate for a no-fly zone would probably be too little, too late. We would once again be committing our military to force regime change in a Muslim land, even though we can’t quite bring ourselves to say it. So let’s recognize that the basic requirements for successful intervention simply don’t exist, at least not yet: We don’t have a clearly stated objective, legal authority, committed international support or adequate on-the-scene military capabilities, and Libya’s politics hardly foreshadow a clear outcome.

We should have learned these lessons from our long history of intervention. We don’t need Libya to offer us a refresher course in past mistakes.

In the op-ed he considers U. S. military interventions since Vietnam and applies the same standards to them: is there a clearly stated objective, legal authority, committed international support or adequate on-the-scene military capabilities, and the local political situation. In some cases the interventions meet the standards; others fail. Libya fails.

He does not argue for complete passivity:

In Libya, if the objective is humanitarian, then we would work with both sides and not get engaged in the matter of who wins. Just deliver relief supplies, treat the injured and let the Libyans settle it. But if we want to get rid of Gaddafi, a no-fly zone is unlikely to be sufficient – it is a slick way to slide down the slope to deeper intervention.

Gen. Clark’s views approximate my own. I’d add another standard to his criteria: political support for the intervention at home and the willingness and ability to sustain it for the duration of the intervention.

I also think he’s premature in pronouncing U. S. intervention in the former Yugoslavia successful. The situation there remains politically unstable and is likely to do so until EU and NATO forces are withdrawn (if ever).

However, I agree with him that the situation in Libya does not meet the national interest and prudential standards necessary to wage war.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t think I’ve read anything very persuasive in favor of a No-Fly Zone, but I don’t believe Clark is giving the other side the benefit of it’s position. Kerry is arguing for a no-fly zone to keep the level of violence the government can wield against it’s civilians to a certain civilized level. I don’t think regime change is necessarily being advocated; it may be necessary to bring the situation to a close, but the situation might be brought to a close by the government reasserting it’s authority with conventional levels of violence against it’s opponents. It is no doubt an act of war.

    In any event, the proper analogy isn’t with the wars of occupation being discussed by Clark. It’s re-examining the decisions to impose no-fly zones in Iraq after the Gulf War or in the Balkans. It’s with the bombing of Libya in ’86.

  2. Boyd says:

    What’s a knee-jerk, I-hate-all-Democrats-especially-former-Presidential-candidates Republican stalwart to do? We must come up with a third way, so we can pronounce both Kerry and Clark as idiots, or preferably, as America-haters.

    NB: I’m merely making a joke here. I’m none of the above, although I do enjoy poking fun at both Kerry and Clark for reasons entirely unrelated to each other, or to their political party.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Boyd, they simply aren’t good messengers on this topic. Clark cannot talk realistically about the Balkans any more than Rumsfeld can do so about Iraq.

    And Kerry, I was for it then against it on some many things, does not inspire confidence that his positions don’t have the subtlety and delicacy of a feather, wafting in the wind.

  4. anjin-san says:


    What’s your beef with Clark? I have seen him speak a few times and spent some time talking to him. Found him to be a very bright, engaging and impressive guy.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    anjin-san, I like Clark as well; I just don’t think he can talk objectively about the Balkans.

  6. Boyd says:

    Anjin-san, my military background and experiences inform my distaste for ol’ Wes, which is not to say that I think anyone else should feel the way I do.

    I’ll give you a taste, though: Wesley Clark is as impressive to no one as much as to himself.

    But please, don’t try to convince me of the error of my ways. I’m not trying to persuade you to change your mind, I’m merely stating my opinion, and I’d prefer the same treatment in return.

  7. steve says:

    I would prefer we stay out. If we do get involved, go all in. If we decide to send humanitarian supplies, send it through an intermediary. I nominate Turkey.


  8. jwest says:

    I don’t remember Jimmy Carter ever losing the New Republic…..