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March 18, 2011

Should Western Powers Intervene in Libya? Part II

Almost a month ago, we had a poll here asking whether western powers should intervene in Libya. At that time, Gadhaffi had just begun fighting back against the rebels and there was particular concern that his air force gave him an insurmountable advantage. Hence, the no-fly proposal. You guys overwhelmingly said "no intervention."

Since then, there has been a great deal more information to answer the questions I raised in that post -- is intervention practical, legal, ethical?

The military has the means to contribute to an intervention force, particularly with the other NATO powers involved, but the testimony of Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen to Congress is that another war would stretch the military a little thin.

On the legal front, the UN has blessed intervention, so international law is no obstacle. But as I wrote last month, domestic law is the real legal issue. Andrew McCarthy seems to think that intervention will require a congressional declaration of war (which typically takes the form of an Authorization for the Use of Military Force these days). On the other hand, James Joyner notes "that ship sailed" with the War Powers Act, which authorized certain military operations without further congressional action.

On the ethics front, the State Department has been emphasizing that the purpose of intervention would be to protect civilians, not to regime build. But Andrew Exum identified some other ethical issues:

What happens if Gadhafi pulls back? Do we continue to try and press the advantage of the rebels until his government falls? Do we have the authorization to do that? Do we expect a civil war in Libya to drag out, and if so, how will we take sides? If Gadhafi falls, what comes next? What will the new Libyan government look like? Will they be friendly to U.S. interests? Someone please tell me how this ends.

A lot of the things I have been reading have been along the lines of, "After the dictator falls, everything will be alright," which sounds awfully familiar to Iraq '03 veterans. I would hope that this time around, we are planning Phase IV and have a clear vision for how stabilization and reconstruction should go.

Though I believe that the U.S. military has the ability to contribute to intervention and that it would be legal to do so (including under domestic law), I do not support intervention because I believe the questions Exum asks have not been answered. What is being proposed is another war without an exit strategy, or at least one in which the exit is so contingent on a series of events that there is basically no end date. Gadhaffi is bad, literally a raging lunatic, but we don't know who will replace him. And I question the morality of sending U.S. service members to fight -- and die -- in a place where no one has identified any U.S. interests.

That does not mean that the President has done the right thing with respect to Libya. Like Ace wrote yesterday, Obama's waffling is likely costing Libyan lives. It would be better if he had committed U.S. support and then followed through than his present policy of committing U.S. support and then waiting to see all the Libyans who took him at his word get shot in the head.

The President needed to keep his trap shut while he decided what to do. This is one of those occasions when his endless speechifying actually has a demonstrable result. And that result is to get a whole bunch of people killed when his actions inevitably fall short of his words. That's Obama's MO: first, give a nice speech; second, golf.

I have no doubt that with NATO gearing up for intervention and Secretary Clinton making the President look like an idiot child, the U.S. will soon be joining the effort. A belated bold move will be how the President tries to save face. And I also don't doubt that the sycophants in the Make Believe Media will hail this as "leadership."


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 07:33 AM

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