The UN Security Council just passed a resolution authorizing international military intervention in Libya, including a no-fly zone, and also “all necessary measures…to protect civilians and civilian populated areas, including Benghazi, while excluding an occupation force.” (This would presumably involve a “no-drive zone,” which is a polite way of saying bombing tanks.) Russia and China abstained rather than excercising veto power. It looks like the US, among others, will soon be at war in Libya, albeit in a limited war.
There’s no doubt that, as I argued yesterday, the cost/benefit analysis of this course of action has gotten significantly less favorable as the Obama administration has dithered for weeks. But maybe Bill Kristol has a point:
The fact is, we don’t know that it’s too late to affect the outcome in Libya. A combination of no-fly and no-drive zones, and a willingness to use force at least to prevent Qaddafi from conquering the Bengazi enclave, could well still make a difference. And as Max Boot explains, getting to a standoff might still lay the groundwork for the defeat of Qaddafi. So we shouldn’t excuse the Obama administration from acting today or tomorrow because they should have acted two weeks ago.
I find the linked Max Boot blog post somewhat more persuasive than the op-ed of Boot’s that I responded to yesterday as I was going wobbly. And while I feel like I’m supposed to have a firm opinion on matters of war and peace, I can’t help but hedge. Letting Gaddafi take Benghazi would be a human and strategic tragedy, and toppling Gaddafi would be an important victory. But I can’t shake the feeling that this isn’t so much laying the groundwork for Gaddafi’s end as it is committing US forces to a longterm mission to enforce a de facto partition. Protecting Eastern Libya may be laudable in and of itself, but it’s quite an effort to make if it doesn’t topple Gaddafi any time soon.
“Believing the Obama administration might still do the right thing, and do it moderately effectively,” writes Kristol, “may involve the audacity of hope — but better that than the resignation of despair.” So here’s to hope.
(lightly edited early 3/18)
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