Monday, March 21st, 2011

Against Our War in Libya

When your country fires 122 of 124 Tomahawk missiles into a country in a single day, and your pilots are doing bombing runs, then your country is leading a war on that other country. That's true even if the French President got his jets there first, and your president only announced it in a radio address from Brazil.

So there are some problems with this.

First: Seriously? A third war in the Muslim world?

Second: Exactly what we're doing isn't clear. Obama has said "Gaddafi must go," while the military says Gaddafi is not on a "targeting list." (Who is?) The U.N. authorized a No-Fly-Zone with the explicit intention of protecting civilians, and achieving a cease-fire. But the rebels in Benghazi are lining up for another attack on Gaddafi's forces. And if this is a No-Fly-Zone why are Americans firing on buildings and Toyotas? Are Libyans… flying those?

Third: How was this decided? It was awfully quick. Michael Cohen, of the American Security Project, points out:

First of all, from everything that is being reported (and Josh Rogin as usual is doing yeoman's work on this front) it appears that the White House only made the decision to go to war in the last several days. Consider that for a second; for weeks the US was resisting the use of force in Libya—and then within what appears to be a 96-hour period we went from opposition to intervention to supportive of intervention to escalation far beyond a no-fly zone to actually going to war. And all of this happened without any national debate, any serious consultation with Congress and any strong statement of objectives and purpose by President Obama.

As [James] Fallows points out [at The Atlantic], the only debate that seemed to happen was the one in the Oval Office… to change the President's mind about the use of force. And it should be noted that the person who seemed to have the most impact on shifting the President's view was the woman he beat in the 2008 Democratic primary, in large measure, because of her misguided support for another military intervention that wasn't properly thought thru.

Obama's decision to commit forces contradicts his statements during the campaign that "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Some liberals are pretty pissed about this.

Fourth: Who are these rebels we are fighting for? Are they what The Washington Times describes as "learned" liberals who say, cutely, "We love America to bits" or are they the type of East Libyans who decided to haul off to Iraq for the chance to kill Americans. Probably both. But who knows? We don't, and that's not something we deliberated about before launching this.

Fifth: Even if Obama wants this to take "days not weeks," we can't be sure that it will go that way. If Gaddafi manages to hold out—not unthinkable when there are Libyans that feel loyal to him and threatened by the rebels—the ineffectiveness of the No-Fly Zone and the "humiliation" it risks for Obama/Sarkozy/Cameron will be used as the argument for getting boots on the ground. Suddenly we will be left rebuilding a divided tribal region that pretends to be a single country. Poor King Idris who once led Cyrenaican nationalists during World War II is said to have cried when the British informed him that he must also become Emire of Tripolitania. If the United States follows the Pottery Barn rule and tries to glue Libya back together, we'll also be crying.

Sixth: There are plenty of other revolts happening in the world. Yemen, Bahrain, maybe Morocco. There are plenty of other terrible leaders who kill people. Now that we've intervened in one civil war, it can become a tactic of rebellions to appeal for multi-national-sponsored air support. Exactly how do we plan on distinguishing the just from the unjust? Obama has announced no strategic principle on which he is basing the decision to commit our troops, money, and honor to other people's struggles.

I wouldn't forbid you from taking the same position as Hillary Clinton, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Samantha Power and Paul Wolfowitz. We have freedom here. And maybe Obama will really wrap this up in a few days, and there will be no truly nasty unintended consequences, and only basically better-than-Gaddafi guys will be in power in Libya ever after. And of course, you can believe that our bombs will only fall on people who deserved to be killed by American bombs. That's your faith-based initiative if you want it.

But, if you maybe think this was a bad idea, or at least it is being carried out badly, you are in good company. The group of people who are pissed about our Libyan adventure runs from Dennis Kucinich through Glenn Greenwald and Josh Marshall to George Will, Timothy P. Carney and Rand Paul.

Michael Brendan Dougherty is a contributing editor to /The American Conservative—he and they were both against Iraq too.

51 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#1,720)

A quibble – attacking buildings is not strictly inappropriate as part of a no fly. We could be attacking anti-air structures to keep the no-fly-enforcing jets from being shot down. But frankly even enforcing a no fly zone like this is crazy. There is literally no guidance on what we're doing in Libya – it's like the lesson taken from Iraq is not "have an exit plan" but "maybe let's try not having an entrance plan, too!"

jfruh (#713)

I think the actual short-term decision-making process as to why this happened is pretty straightforward, if not well-thought-out strategically: when it looked like the rebels were going to manage to overthrow Qaddafi in their initial push, everone got pretty used to the idea — the French it seems even formally recognized them as the government of the country. Then Qaddafi regrouped and the tide turned dramatically; by the time airstrikes started, there were pro-Qaddafi snipers actually inside Benghazi, though they seem to be gone now?

One can see the appeal: if Qaddafi's regime now collapses relatively swiftly, then there already exists a ready-made and genuinely indiginous replacement that seems to have good democratic credentials and would have any number of reasons to be greatful to the West. The model is no doubt the intervention in Bosnia in 1994-5, which, for its many faults, did bring a gruesome war to a swift conclusion and established a lasting peace.

I don't know enough about war to know how likely a positive result is to happen, though I can recognize wishful thinking when I see it. Another potential (less hopeful) model would be NATO's intervention in the Kosovo war of '99, which was supposed to last days but actually took three months, and the fallout from that still hasn't been fully resolved.

One could also point out quite readily that if we were really being evenhanded, we'd be bombing the Saudis for intervening in Bahrain. The least cynical interpretation of the difference would be that governments are best at helping out things that look like governments, and the Libyan rebels managed to make themselves look enough like a government (they have a flag and everything!) to win allies. A somewhat more cynical interpretation is that nobody wants to intervene unless they can produce a desired outcome with a minimum of fuss, and surely there isn't going to be a bombing-from-the-air solution to the Bahraini revolt, so let's just let the King retake control and hope we can lean on him, for freedom. The most cynical/actual interpretation is, ha ha bomb the Saudis? Of course we're not going to bomb the Saudis. Sorry we let you think we were friends with you when you stopped with the terrorism, Qaddafi!

cherrispryte (#444)

I am so badly informed on Libya that I probably should not even be commenting until I educate myself some more on that particular situation (I WAS REALLY SICK FOR AWHILE), but while I do that, can someone please tell me why (if the answer is anything other than "Oil") the US/world has gotten involved in Libya and not the dozens of other armed conflicts worldwide where governments are killing civilians?

Yeah, I feel like I'm out of my depth here. Perhaps we decided "Hey, FINALLY, now's our chance to get Qaddafi!"?

Hirham (#1,709)

I honestly feel that at least part of the answer to this is that the current situation has appeared in the last weeks. We suddenly have a situation on the news/diplomatic channels etc.- tied to the protests in Egypt etc which we know that we like- that we can deal with, as opposed to festering conflicts that don't command the attention they might have when new.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

Because Libya is in the news. Democratic presidents are like movie stars. They just have to be tall, have good hair, attractive wives, and do whatever the TV producers expect them to.

Because of the number of his own people that Qaddafi has killed. The fear is that if Qaddafi is successful then other leaders will see Egypt and Tunisia not as the way of the future but as what happens if you don't ruthlessly put down a rebellion.

DMcK (#5,027)

There is a deeply cynical voice inside my head, which I sincerely hope is dead wrong, calling this a dress rehearsal for Iran.

Bittersweet (#765)

Oh jeez…I sincerely hope you're dead wrong too, DMcK…

riggssm (#760)

Thank you for this.

wb (#2,214)

Ten more years! Ten more years!

sf_sorrow (#7,177)

Bush's Iraq 2003 Iraq: Coalition of 49 countries, full support of Congress, US troops commanded by American leaders. Outrage!

Obama's Libya, 2011: Coalition of 5 countries, no congressional approval (unconstitutional), US troops under command of foreign entity (UN, also unconstitutional): "I don't really know enough about Libya to pass judgment…"/"What oil?"/Code Pink gets lost on way to White House protest.


jfruh (#713)

I'm not disagreeing with you on the substance, but, you know, other countries have their troops under the command of foreign entities all the time. Often that foreign entity is the US! What makes us special? (Other than "American exceptionalism," which is just a way of saying "we're special.")

riggssm (#760)

You had me till foreign entity/unconstitutional. The Politico forums are that-a-way? >>>

Sjt (#6,917)

Bush's Iraq 2003 (and 2004,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12…): A stupid fucking idea for a war with zero legitimate justification which was horribly mismanaged in the worst way and has (so far) cost thousands of American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, trillions in direct and indirect costs, squandered our reputation in the world, stretched our military and economy to the breaking point, multiplied our enemies and distracted from any legitimate anti-terrorism or national security efforts.

Obama's Libya 2011: A few days of firing missiles and a some sorties flown as part of a limited and UN approved mission to help stop the immediate slaughter of innocent people by an unhinged maniac.

Abe Sauer (#148)

"Fourth: Who are these rebels we are fighting for?" I don't disagree with this overall piece. But this is bait. Part of the outrage from the international community for intervention (or "war" if you'd like) was Gaddafi's indiscriminate targeting of unarmed civilians (and yes, rebel/civilian hard-to-tell but still).

Actually, that whole paragraph with its "kill Americans" in Iraq extrapolation is wildly dishonest in this argument.

Finally, parallels between this and Iraq are wrong. Sure, it's the same part of the world but the situations are wholly different in so, so many ways. Framing it as being "against Iraq too" is like being against watching movies and driving cars because they both involve sitting down.

MichaelBD (#3,115)

The parallel is this: Iraq and Libya are unnecessary wars of choice against nations that did not attack us. Also, yes, they are Muslim nations that have no history of liberal democratic government and many societal handicaps in developing one quickly.

For most people the important part in thinking about this is "Is the president a member of the party to whom I'm more culturally sympathetic?" Unfortunately bombs explode the same way no matter what the commander thinks about school prayer – or whatever.

MichaelBD (#3,115)

Sorry, that was a bit bitchy.

Abe Sauer (#148)

"If it were just indiscriminate killing – they would be calling for regime change in the Ivory Coast." There are a lot of people who call for this. And i agree that this is the strongest argument for not getting involved. but, let's just be clear that that this argument about selectively protecting civilians is different than what is stated here about "rebels we are fighting for." Language is important! (as this piece rightly notes in places)

"but yes- people from Libya did volunteer to fight Americans in Iraq." So did people from places we already call our ALLIES. This is by far the weakest argument for not getting involved, a speculative sort of ideological revenge (not entirely different from the people who were saying the tsunami was karma for pearl harbor). It's gross.

"wars of choice against nations that did not attack us." That's damn near ever war we've ever been involved in.

"societal handicaps in developing one quickly." Say whaaaaa?

MichaelBD (#3,115)

Yeah. Societies that are tribal in character do not easily become rights-respectin' democracies. That is not to say that people in tribes have less dignity than non-tribal peoples, it is not a slur – just an assertion.

And yeah- my line of thinking condemns "damn near every war we've ever been involved in"

And I'm not sure I buy that we aren't 'fighting for them' – Cameron and Obama have both indicated that Qaddafi must go – ergo we our intervening to help the rebels accomplish their political ends, even if the U.N. resolution narrowly words this as if it were about protecting civilians only.

And I'm not indicating that just because some Libyans volunteered to fight our soldiers in Iraq that we should exact some kind of revenge on them. I'm trying to say that we do not know the people we are (implicitly) fighting for in this civil war, that they may not be naturally or uniformly sympathetic to the rule of law and democracy, or all that better than Qaddafi.

Abe Sauer (#148)

"Societies that are tribal in character do not easily become rights-respectin' democracies." I'm not sure from where proof of this "assertion" comes. It sounds a lot like something proved by a negative (i.e., how the absence of it proves the assertion true.) And "easily?" What does that even mean? You mean how the US "easily" became a "rights respecting democracy?"

"we do not know the people we are (implicitly) fighting for in this civil war," But you seem to imply this should matter.

MichaelBD (#3,115)

Yes, it should matter because we are being sold on the idea that this civil war can be easily divided into good and bad guys. Most wars don't align so neatly.

And yes- the assertion about tribal societies is based on the evidence that advanced liberal democracies require wider social trust than is unavailable in tribal societies.

And the "easily" part is aimed at the idea that we can involve ourselves in a civil war and be out "in a matter of days" – again, the world doesn't work this way. I seem to remember predictions about Iraq like '5 weeks, 5 days, 5 months, but not longer than that."

Abe Sauer (#148)

Again with Iraq. I'm not saying we SHOULD have intervened in Libya. But the mere reason we fucked up in Iraq (or Afghanistan for that matter) should not be reason to not intervene in Libya.

bobert (#10,044)

@ SF_Sorrow

Iraq: Full support of Congress
Libya: No Congressional approval (unconstitutional)
Uh, that's not how it works. The United States hasn't asked Congress for a declaration of war since World War II in any of the military actions we've taken. The "Full Support of Congress" for military action against Iraq was just as unconstitutional as what you're calling Libya.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

That does not make it right though. This seems like a war to me (who knows where it will lead to), and it should be voted on by Congress. Approval by the Arab League just doesn't cut it with me.

As sad as it is, Bush did have more Congressional approval for his shit shows (maybe not technical declarations of War), than Obama has in Libya.

Hirham (#1,709)

Second- it isn't a no-fly-zone. That's what the UK and France were initially pushing for. What we have ended up with is much broader, and allows for any measures short of occupying troops 'to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas'. That's why we're blowing up Toyotas.
As for Ghaddafi Must Go, his removal isn't an objective of the resolution, but it's one possible and perhaps desired outcome of the action, so it's possible that Obama wants him gone without his name being on a 'targeting list' (which should be listing only threats to the above mentioned civilians).

Mr. B (#10,093)

Oh, honestly. The Lybian situation had reached a point at which we had no choice but to act. If we had stood by and watched as that nutty demagogue massacred thousands of his own people just for standing up to him, while we were in a position to help, the Arab world would never forgive us. It's a shitty situation all around, but so far I believe the Obama administration has done the right thing — first by holding back, then by letting the French and British take the lead, and now by calculated action.

Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria are oranges to Lybia's apple. Security forces brutally crushing protests is horrible, of course, and invites international contempt, but there is nothing to be gained, for us or for the protesters, by sending in squadrons of B-2s.

One hopes, of course, that Qaddafi's position will become untenable as his African mercenaries start deserting and more loyalists defect. He can only last as long as his money does. We will run out of major air-defense targets to bomb within days. And the Europeans are clearly more eager for this fight than we are; someone said on NPR this afternoon that non-American forces flew more sorties today than we did. They're welcome to it.

President Obama must know that he has little to gain politically, and the country nothing to gain economically, by getting into this fight. He's a pragmatist, and he would not have committed to this if he didn't believe it was the right thing to do. And if 2011 does indeed turn out to be the biggest people-power year since 1989, at least we will have been on the right side of history.

* N.B.: Admitting that you read The Washington Times does not aid your argument.

Louis Fyne (#2,066)

Agree with everything in this. Faced with a variety of not terribly attractive options he appears to me to be walking the line that appears to most pragmatic and logical. Sending the crystal clear message to any further leader in MENA that the only response to an uprising is to slaughter your citizens with wildly unmatched force is diplomatically intenable and morally reprehensible.

The "Bad things are happening everywhere" is tangential and not relavant in my mind to this very bad thing happening right here.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Nice. Now take down our invasion of Grenada.

edgeworth (#8,867)

The reason NATO is intervening in Libya and not Yemen/Bahrain/Oman etc. is because Libya is the only country that has actually graduated to full-on civil war rather than just violent protests (apart from Tunisia and Egypt, who deposed of their dictators without outside help).

I am honestly amazed at the widespread disapproval to this, and the comparisons to Iraq. Iraq was a country that we invaded ourselves, for our own reasons, under the guise of regime change. Libya is a country whose people have taken steps to change their regime themselves and are now asking for our help while they get shot to pieces. They are ASKING for our help! Are we so terrified of the results of Iraq that we now refuse to get our hands dirty ever again?

And, yeah, what was up with your "kill Americans" paragraph? You can't criticise the Iraq War and then criticise the people who fought against it.

MichaelBD (#3,115)

Not all the rebels wanted foreign help.

And yes you can criticize the Iraq War and deplore people who fought on the opposite side. I'm against the idea that we always and everywhere must take a side in foreign conflicts. And I am also against euphemisms for bombing people like "get our hands dirty."

edgeworth (#8,867)

And plenty of the rebels did want foreign help.

You say "bombing people" as though we're deliberately targeting civilians, rather than bombing people who are trying to bomb civilians. You have gone straight to semantics, skipping over the point I was making: we shouldn't let the catastrophic fuck-up that was Iraq prevent us from using more legitimate military interventions.

Criticise the lack of Congressional declaration of war, criticise the haste, criticise the lack of foresight. But I honestly don't see how you can believe that this intervention is not the morally right thing to do, when most of the rebels are requesting military support that the West can easily provide.

zidaane (#373)

If I hear the word "dither" one more time…

edgeworth (#8,867)

Oh, and this would actually be your fifth war in a Muslim country, after Pakistan and Yemen. Sixth if you include Somalian pirates.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Depending on how you classify the southern Philippines, where in a little know extension of Operation Enduring Freedom hundreds of US troops and special forces have been participating in military operations.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)


And that is a critical reason why we don't have funds for the pensions of your beloved Wisconsin public unions. You cannot pursue an Empire abroad and think you will have funds for your own people at home. Think of those Tomahawks that Obama is launching as Teacher's pensions being flushed down the toilet.

We do not have infinite wealth. We need to live within our means, end the foreign occupations that are bleeding our Treasury dry and care for our own people at home first.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Hmm, "beloved?" How about "necessary?"

"Think of those Tomahawks that Obama is launching as Teacher's pensions being flushed down the toilet." I get where you're going and the resources thing is right, but, no, that's is a wild simplification of how things works to the point of stupidity. We've fought wars before without having to cut middle class wages.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

Call it stupidity if it makes you feel better, but America spends an exorbitant amount of its resources on foreign imperial adventures.

The numbers are on my side. Check the Pentagon/"Security"/"anti-terrorism" budget sometime. Most of it is unnecessary for a Republic, but required by an Empire. The Empire does not benefit me, nor, I will assume, does it benefit you. It is going to collapse sooner or later, I just pray we can end it and still preserve some semblance of our nation.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh I agree. But that is not why teachers are taking pay cuts, not in anything anywhere near directly anyway.

iplaudius (#1,066)

I am creating an army of angel robots who will go around the world disarming dictators and protecting people. The angel robots will kill no one. They will be bullet proof, fire proof, and able to withstand explosives and all kinds of other attacks. My angel robots will take all the guns and bombs away. They will take the knives away. If you pick up a stone to throw at another person, before you can let it go, an angel robot will come and stay your hand. The angel robots will find the mines, the bombs, the nukes, and the bullets, and they will recycle them and make more angel robots. Then the people in charge, and the people who would be in charge, they will have no choice but to get along.

alorsenfants (#139)

Somebody before me, up above, had a similar thought, but I see that no one reacted, so I will step in and repeat (with an embellishment):

"Do You Like Pina Coladas?"

Do You Like Grenada?

This Is Grenada.

You want to worry about the future today — I have been saying this for years — then you need to worry: not about Iran, not about North Korea… it's Pakistan, and, more importantly, Saudi Arabia.

Those are the two most dangerous places in the world, so I said –

alorsenfants (#139)

ESPECIALLY Saudi Arabia — what — bass-ackwards primevil medieval place…. sea of righteousness and (for most) frustration). Other counties all over the damn place are just as cruel, but They have the petro — we suck it up — and they only keep churning out trouble.
Alright — it's a rant — won't continue… nothing makes me more furious, not even John Boehner –
Oh and as to that (sorry): Among my friends, we think it's going to all be about Jeb Bush, sooner or later. Maybe the Mayan stuff will be accurate, and we won't have to think about any of it.

KarenUhOh (#19)

This is the same Gaddafi who years ago we tried to kill, but didn't, and then time passed and he was sorta our friend again? "Oh, he's not all that bad and crazy, after all? He sells us stuff"?

But then, he got bad and crazy again, so we're trying to get rid of him, again, except he's not a target? Not in a "formal target sense," actually?

So if we kinda sorta miss him again this time? How many years pass before we bleach out his black hat again? Except it'll probably be one of his kids, so we can just rejigger the whole construct?

And we wonder why people on that side of world can't stand us?

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

This is why we need to export democracy to the Middle East. Don't you see what great cover a peaceful transition of power every four or eight years provides for policy inertia/schizophrenia!?

On a serious note, this thread is great. Thanks for all the serious thoughts. I find myself feeling a little bit more smug and supportive about the U.S. course of action, after all the waffling by the Arab League over the last 36 or so hours. It really seems like the President didn't cave under pressure and let things happen on the time-scale he believed appropriate.

Still harboring the most minor of fears, for no real reason I can articulate, that this may nudge us toward WWIII….

tdp (#5,491)

"For most people the important part in thinking about this is "Is the president a member of the party to whom I'm more culturally sympathetic?"

Nail on head.

Flaneur (#998)

I'm sure there's some of that afoot–maybe a lot of it–but I hope that most reasonable people are assessing these situations on their merits. I am a Democrat and have never voted for a Republican for president (or almost anything). That said, I firmly supported the first Gulf War, which seemed one of obvious necessity. It was old-fashioned geopolitics of a sort that had seemed well out of style: One sovereign nation invading another on a specious claim of hegemony. Throw the aggressors out. On to Baghdad, then? No, for the reasons that have borne themselves out since 2003. I opposed the Iraq invasion because the casus belli seemed ridiculously trumped up. Even if there were WMDs, there was an effective plan in place for finding and containing them. I was part of the "give sanctions a chance" crowd, but I was under no illusions: Effective sanctions, tightly applied and enforced, are a vicious form of warfare in themselves, just cheaper in Western blood and treasure. The invasion was folly and its aftermath sadly foreseeable.

Here there's no invasion, and there's already a rebel force opposing the regime, which didn't exist in Iraq. The Libyan situation is not without complications, but it's far better.

As for Afghanistan? Ugh. What a mess. Graveyard of empires indeed. The Taliban had to be deposed, but we needed an Iraq-size occupation and rebuilding effort if we were to have had any chance of long-term success. Alas, we had an Iraq-size occupation going on in Iraq, which was astonishingly stupid and regrettable.

Flaneur (#998)

I'm with Abe Sauer on this. I don't love that this went down without at least a prime-time presidential speech laying out the reasons and parameters, but beware of false equivalencies. This is not Iraq. The mission is limited. It would be ideal to see Gadhafi go right away, but the point here is to disable his ability to inflict disproportionate harm on civilians. If he remains in place and moves to bomb the rebels again, he'll get slapped down again. I see this as an operation designed to give the rebels enough time and space to eventually take Tripoli and depose the regime, after which we can negotiate with and assist a new provisional government. There are no angels there, but I prefer the rebels to Gadhafi as a medium- to long-term bet.

Saudi Arabia? You seriously don't understand why we're not being more "active" towards Saudi Arabia? When we're talking about the Muslim world?

Why do you assume it is limited?

foxbat91 (#9,832)

first: yeah, that sucks

second: the UN authorized "all necessary force" to protect Libyan civilians, not just a no fly zone. The Arab league threw its support just behind a no-fly zone, but the UN authorization didn't limit actions to air defense.

Third: it was decided because Benghazi was about to fall to Qaddafi's tanks. That's really all. If the rebels had reached a stalemate themselves, we probably wouldn't be involved. As it is we decided to take sides in this civil war before there was no other side to take. We may incidentally have saved some lives in Benghazi (remember Qaddafi last week:"we will find you in your homes and in your closets. there will be no mercy." yeah.) As to the legality of the action… it's definitely established practice for presidents to undertake "limited" military actions without direct congressional approval, especially when they are time-sensitive as in this case and when a firm backing under international law has already been established. See also Iraq, Somalia, early Vietnam, Bosnia, Greece in the 50's, Lebanon, Libya in the 80's, the Phillipines in the early 00's, etc. Not saying these went well, but there's the precedent.

Fourth: Might be a problem! We have an unfortunate habit of arming our idealogical enemies, but it is batshit crazy and downright cruel to condemn the people of an entire country because of the actions of a small subset of their religious fringe. The Libyan war/revolution (we'll see who wins) started out as legitimately peaceful pro-democracy protests and turned violent after the Libyan government sent mercenaries with live ammunition into the streets to shoot the protesters. This is not in the same league as arming mujahadeen in Afghanistan, and your attempt to lump together the conflicts is simplistic and oddly right-wing for someone arguing from what appears to be the left.

Fifth: Ok, agreed here. We don't know where this is going and there is a solid chance that we will be there longer than we want. Worst case scenario: we end up supporting the rebels just enough to prolong the civil war and ultimately cause more civilian casualties than an abrupt Qaddafi victory would have caused anyways. I do have to call bullshit on your slippery-slope "this will lead to boots on the ground" argument, just out of rhetorical strategy, as slippery-slope arguments are inherently weak. We'll see, though.

Sixth: we did this because we could. We had resources in the area, support from neighboring countries (the arab league), a UN authorization, and militarily competent allies willing to take primary diplomatic responsibility. We don't have any of these anywhere else. The choice is not between intervening in Libya and intervening in Yemen. It's between intervening in Libya and not intervening in Libya. If we wanted to make the most of our money we'd spend the $50 million we just blew up with those Tomahawks and buy a bunch of mosquito netting for sub-saharan Africa. Unfortunately that's not how things work. Money does not flow from defense to foreign aid because we decline to blow things up.

I think we did what we really thought would save the most civilian lives in Libya. Maybe we were wrong! But I do think that after decades of rhetorical support for democracy around the world we have some obligation to stand up for pro-democracy movements in autocratic countries. We certainly don't do it everywhere (see Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it when the opportunity presents itself. Some of the arguments in this post, especially the "who are these shifty rebels anyways, because they look like terrorists. just sayin'" line of reasoning, seem unfair to me. I see where you're coming from (frankly, we've been burned before), but I think the reasoning there is basically callous. All right. this is the longest comment in the world. peace (ha!).

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