Obama Should Reject Use of Force in Libya

March 15, 2011 Topic: DefenseFailed StatesHumanitarian InterventionSecurity Region: Libya Blog Brand: The Skeptics

Obama Should Reject Use of Force in Libya


Moammar Gadhafi’s forces appear to have gained the upper hand in the ongoing conflict in Libya. The Associated Press and New York Times report today that having consolidated control of the West, Gadhafi’s forces are turning east and concentrating heavy fire power on the town of Ajdabiya. Their push east is gaining steam after the fall of Ras Lanuf and the rebel’s apparent retreat from Brega.

The apparent ascent of the pro-government forces has coincided with an increase in calls for Western—specifically U.S.—intervention. While the Arab League has endorsed a no-fly zone, France and Britain can’t seem to gather enough support for a broad “coalition of the willing,” let alone bring a resolution on military action before the UN Security Council. A compromise appears to be in the works in the form of a UN resolution offering “support for the rebels.”


It appears the situation is still very fluid and changing constantly. Yes, the Arab League has called for a no-fly zone, but key powers—Russia, China, and Turkey—still remain skeptical. But this did not stop former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter from asserting in yesterday’s New York Times that the debate over the use of force in Libya is over; it is time to act. She claims that the main issues regarding the use of force have been answered. But as Justin Logan points out, the Dean of Liberal Interventionism did not answer these questions. In my latest Forbes.com column, I address these concerns in depth; chief among them, the claim that the conflict in Libya is somehow a threat to U.S. national security:

The Libyan crisis is a tragedy, but is important to America only in the usual Washington game of threat inflation. President Barack Obama claimed the Libyan imbroglio posed "an unusual threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." The former is errant nonsense.

Libya always has been peripheral to American security, especially after the Gadhafi regime dropped its terrorist attacks and nuclear program. The latter is irrelevant-much of which goes on around the world conflicts with the "foreign policy of the United States." Neither is cause for war.

Tepid intervention like a no-fly zone might offer just enough aid to prolong a civil war, causing even more casualties and destruction. Then the U.S. would have to decide whether to double down, creating a "no-drive" zone for Gadhafi's tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery, arming the rebels, training insurgent forces, attacking Libyan airfields and air units, inserting Special Forces and/or sending in ground troops. In both the Balkans and Iraq, no-fly zones acted as steps to much more extensive military involvement.

How the Libyan people would respond to U.S. or Western intervention is not clear. Some want a no fly zone or even air strikes, though many insist on UN approval. Others reject any outside intervention, even suggesting that they would oppose foreign troops as well as Gadhafi's minions. American intervention would risk discrediting friendly forces in any succeeding power struggle.

We should wish the Libyan people well. But their war is not our war. And military intervention risks their future.

Click here to read the full column.