Some Questions For Advocates Of Intervention In Libya

George Will is out this morning with a few questions for those who want the United States to intervene in the Libyan Civil War:

  • The world would be better without Gaddafi. But is that a vital U.S. national interest? If it is, when did it become so? A month ago, no one thought it was.
  • How much of Gaddafi’s violence is coming from the air? Even if his aircraft are swept from his skies, would that be decisive?
  • What lesson should be learned from the fact that Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War – the massacre by Serbs of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica – occurred beneath a no-fly zone
  • Sen. John Kerry says: “The last thing we want to think about is any kind of military intervention. And I don’t consider the fly zone stepping over that line.” But how is imposing a no-fly zone – the use of military force to further military and political objectives – not military intervention?
  • U.S. forces might ground Gaddafi’s fixed-wing aircraft by destroying runways at his 13 air bases, but to keep helicopter gunships grounded would require continuing air patrols, which would require the destruction of Libya’s radar and anti-aircraft installations. If collateral damage from such destruction included civilian deaths – remember those nine Afghan boys recently killed by mistake when they were gathering firewood – are we prepared for the televised pictures?
  • The Economist reports Gaddafi has “a huge arsenal of Russian surface-to-air missiles” and that some experts think Libya has SAMs that could threaten U.S. or allies’ aircraft. If a pilot is downed and captured, are we ready for the hostage drama?
  • If we decide to give war supplies to the anti-Gaddafi fighters, how do we get them there?
  • Presumably we would coordinate aid with the leaders of the anti-Gaddafi forces. Who are they?
  • Libya is a tribal society. What concerning our Iraq and Afghanistan experiences justifies confidence that we understand Libyan dynamics?
  • Because of what seems to have been the controlling goal of avoiding U.S. and NATO casualties, the humanitarian intervention – 79 days of bombing – against Serbia in Kosovo was conducted from 15,000 feet. This marked the intervention as a project worth killing for but not worth dying for. Would intervention in Libya be similar? Are such interventions morally dubious?
  • Could intervention avoid “mission creep”? If grounding Gaddafi’s aircraft is a humanitarian imperative, why isn’t protecting his enemies from ground attacks?
  • In Tunisia and then in Egypt, regimes were toppled by protests. Libya is convulsed not by protests but by war. Not a war of aggression, not a war with armies violating national borders and thereby implicating the basic tenets of agreed-upon elements of international law, but a civil war. How often has intervention by nation A in nation B’s civil war enlarged the welfare of nation A?
  • Before we intervene in Libya, do we ask the United Nations for permission? If it is refused, do we proceed anyway? If so, why ask? If we are refused permission and recede from intervention, have we not made U.S. foreign policy hostage to a hostile institution?
  • Secretary of State Hilary Clinton fears Libya becoming a failed state – “a giant Somalia.” Speaking of which, have we not seen a cautionary movie – “Black Hawk Down” – about how humanitarian military interventions can take nasty turns?
  • The Egyptian crowds watched and learned from the Tunisian crowds. But the Libyan government watched and learned from the fate of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments. It has decided to fight. Would not U.S. intervention in Libya encourage other restive peoples to expect U.S. military assistance?
  • Would it be wise for U.S. military force to be engaged simultaneously in three Muslim nations?

I would submit that, before we accept the arguments of those calling for yet another war in an Arab nation, we require them to answer these questions.

 

FILED UNDER: Africa, Quick Takes, World Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. bill berto says:

    bottom line is muslim countrys thru out the world are asking for a no fly zone the rebels are asking as well. I think we need to promote freedom and even the playing field slightly or any other country will say hmmmmmm use force and crack down on are people it’s ok.
    I for one say destroy the runways drop supplys and arms to the rebels.The lybian leader is playing tough and doing this because he knows he can put pressure on him and watch him squirm and run

  2. legion says:

    OK, I’ll take him at face value…
    * The world would be better without Gaddafi. But is that a vital U.S. national interest? If it is, when did it become so? A month ago, no one thought it was.
    – When he started turning his military weapons on his civilian population.

    * How much of Gaddafi’s violence is coming from the air? Even if his aircraft are swept from his skies, would that be decisive?
    – A modest & increasing amount. More importantly, it is bolstering the nerve & loyalty of his remaining ground troops (as airpower in general tends to do). Would stopping it be decisive? No. But it would be a significant help, both to the rebels and the civilians being attacked right now.

    * What lesson should be learned from the fact that Europe’s worst atrocity since the Second World War – the massacre by Serbs of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica – occurred beneath a no-fly zone
    – None. The Serb-Croat ethnic cleansing was just that – a despicable piece of racially-driven genocide. The situation in Libya is entirely different, and bears no relation at all.

    * Sen. John Kerry says: “The last thing we want to think about is any kind of military intervention. And I don’t consider the fly zone stepping over that line.” But how is imposing a no-fly zone – the use of military force to further military and political objectives – not military intervention?
    – Kerry is wrong. A no-fly zone _is_ a military intervention. That doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do, however.

    * U.S. forces might ground Gaddafi’s fixed-wing aircraft by destroying runways at his 13 air bases, but to keep helicopter gunships grounded would require continuing air patrols, which would require the destruction of Libya’s radar and anti-aircraft installations. If collateral damage from such destruction included civilian deaths – remember those nine Afghan boys recently killed by mistake when they were gathering firewood – are we prepared for the televised pictures?
    – We had exactly the same problem enforcing the no-fly zones over Iraq after Desert Storm. Is Will’s main argument that because we can’t guarantee 100% effectiveness before we even begin, we shouldn’t do anything at all? Seriously? I’m sure Saddam Hussein and Bin Ladin feel sympathy.

    * The Economist reports Gaddafi has “a huge arsenal of Russian surface-to-air missiles” and that some experts think Libya has SAMs that could threaten U.S. or allies’ aircraft. If a pilot is downed and captured, are we ready for the hostage drama?
    – Yes, you arrogant ass. That’s what the military does. We will, however, have a legitimate excuse to roll in like gangbusters to get them out. I’m sure lots of empire-building neocons just got wood.

    * If we decide to give war supplies to the anti-Gaddafi fighters, how do we get them there?
    – There are large parts of the country safely in rebel hands. We can airdrop with reasonable safety (via fighter escort), even without implementing a full no-fly zone. I don’t know if the rebels have any coastal territory we could put ships to, but that would be even safer for us.

    * Presumably we would coordinate aid with the leaders of the anti-Gaddafi forces. Who are they?
    – That you’d have to ask the CIA about. That’s what they’re paid for.

    * Libya is a tribal society. What concerning our Iraq and Afghanistan experiences justifies confidence that we understand Libyan dynamics?
    – Seriously? After supporting an invasion of Iraq by people who didn’t even know the difference between Shia and Sunni? Shut up, George.

    * Because of what seems to have been the controlling goal of avoiding U.S. and NATO casualties, the humanitarian intervention – 79 days of bombing – against Serbia in Kosovo was conducted from 15,000 feet. This marked the intervention as a project worth killing for but not worth dying for. Would intervention in Libya be similar? Are such interventions morally dubious?
    – Similar? Not really. We would be choosing a no-fly zone over ground invasion because a ground invasion is both unwarranted and practically impossible. The Serbian air campaign was a conscious choice to test the idea that airpower alone could win – or at least control – a war. I was on active duty in the Air Force at the time; I remember the discussions. The idea is wrong, BTW, but we’re not trying to fight a war here, just keep a lunatic from slaughtering his own people.

    * Could intervention avoid “mission creep”? If grounding Gaddafi’s aircraft is a humanitarian imperative, why isn’t protecting his enemies from ground attacks?
    – Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps if pundits like you kept your mouths shut for ten minutes, or even thought about your ideas before printing them, we could find out.

    * In Tunisia and then in Egypt, regimes were toppled by protests. Libya is convulsed not by protests but by war. Not a war of aggression, not a war with armies violating national borders and thereby implicating the basic tenets of agreed-upon elements of international law, but a civil war. How often has intervention by nation A in nation B’s civil war enlarged the welfare of nation A?
    – Ask a historian. The statistics of past wars are less important than what we have (or have not) learned from those wars.

    * Before we intervene in Libya, do we ask the United Nations for permission? If it is refused, do we proceed anyway? If so, why ask? If we are refused permission and recede from intervention, have we not made U.S. foreign policy hostage to a hostile institution?
    – Yes. It’s all but already been given. And for someone who heartily supported the invasion of Iraq to even ask this question is stunning. You, sir, are appalling.

    * Secretary of State Hilary Clinton fears Libya becoming a failed state – “a giant Somalia.” Speaking of which, have we not seen a cautionary movie – “Black Hawk Down” – about how humanitarian military interventions can take nasty turns?
    – Yes, let’s run our foreign policy based on how the eventual movie might look. You’re really just filling out word-count now, aren’t you?

    * The Egyptian crowds watched and learned from the Tunisian crowds. But the Libyan government watched and learned from the fate of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments. It has decided to fight. Would not U.S. intervention in Libya encourage other restive peoples to expect U.S. military assistance?
    – Maybe, maybe not. That shouldn’t govern what is essentially a moral decision to help (or not help) in one particular case. What you’re talking about is a policy. For the sort of situation in the Middle East we’ve never seen before. It’s being built now, but it doesn’t yet exist – we can’t remain paralyzed until the entire policy is carved in stone, however.

    * Would it be wise for U.S. military force to be engaged simultaneously in three Muslim nations?
    – No. We should leave Iraq and Afghanistan post-haste.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    For each question there are answers. The scales measuring the pros and cons can be balanced differently by different people. This is a tough call but a call must be made. Leadership is sorely lacking.

  4. matt says:

    The call has been made and that call is we cannot afford to lose good American’s for a potential lost cause..Keep in mind serbs shot down one of our fancy new f117s with an SA-3 battery which was made in like 1964, Libya has much better equipment and we WILL lose planes an people trying to establish a no fly zone. This aint Iraq we’re dealing with and Gaddafi doesn’t have the motivation to not shoot down our planes like Saddam had..

  5. JFM says:


    * The world would be better without Gaddafi. But is that a vital U.S. national interest? If it is, when did it become so? A month ago, no one thought it was.
    – When he started turning his military weapons on his civilian population.

    That doesn’t make it a vital US national interest, otherwise US would have been bombing Sudan for what it did and still does to its Black population who was far worse.