Defenders of military action must answer tough questions but defenders of military inaction don’t need to. Doves are right to raise tough questions about any proposed military action in the Libyan crisis. But many similar tough questions need to be asked about the policy of inaction. The Obama administration has already taken sides in the Libyan civil war, is it willing to see “its side” lose? Is there a scale of humanitarian disaster that is intolerable and, if so, what is it and what will the United States do if that point is reached? With Obama’s own top intelligence officer predicting that Qaddafi will prevail absent military efforts to shore up the rebels, what is the plan to deal with post-rebellion Libya? ~Peter Feaver

I’m not sure how it contributes to a more “rigorous” debate when one of the three main objections Feaver raises just isn’t true, and another (the unilateralism question) is beside the point. It isn’t true that opponents of military action aren’t expected to answer tough questions. Half of our arguments involve answering such questions as part of the process of critiquing the many weak arguments for war. On top of that, non-interventionists are expected to account for and have answers to imaginary dangers to American credibility, phantom menaces to Middle Eastern democracy, non-existent American strategic interests in Libya, and made-up moral obligations to rebel forces that no one in the U.S. thought about twice before three weeks ago. We are expected to provide answers to these questions even though we realize ahead of time that the questions are ridiculous and based on faulty assumptions, and we are supposed to have powers of clairvoyance about the unknowable consequences of inaction.

Obviously, opponents of intervention are willing to see the rebels lose, because opponents of intervention don’t believe that it matters to the U.S. who wins this conflict. Every indication is that post-rebellion Libya is going to be isolated as much as possible, and it will once again be treated as a pariah state. If there were a systematic campaign of violence threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, that might merit joint action provided that it had a legal basis, but we are so far removed from such a scenario that this isn’t so much a “tough” question as it is a distraction from what we’re discussing.

I would also like to say something about the unilateralism/multilateralism issue as far as Iraq was concerned. It really doesn’t help advocates for war in Libya if they are still hung up on defending the bogus credibility of the “coalition of the willing.” Seriously, give it up already. This is just one notch removed from arguing “we found the WMDs” in pro-war dead-ender rhetoric. The vast majority of the governments that supported the U.S. invasion militarily and/or politically did so against the wishes of their electorates and the requirements of international law. The technically multilateral nature of the coalition couldn’t hide the fact that a huge number of “the willing” were joining the U.S. in the attack on Iraq to show their value as new NATO allies and their desire to express gratitude for their accession to NATO. Multilateralism by itself does not confer legality. Aside from Britain, Poland, Australia, Italy, and Spain, the actual military contributions to the war from these other governments were negligible, and for all practical purposes the U.S. and U.K. did most of the fighting during the invasion and provided the overwhelming majority of the forces occupying Iraq. So, no, the U.S. didn’t technically “go it alone,” but our government started the war without the support of most regional governments, over the vociferous objections of many major and allied states, and without U.N. authorization. Advocates for war against Libya are calling for more or less exactly the same thing, but with even fewer nominal allies in tow.

Let’s compare support for action in Libya against the “coalition of the willing.” Today, Italy and Poland are opposed, Australia is not going to be involved, Asian, African and Latin American states are going to have nothing to do with this, and militarily speaking there are hardly any Arab governments that would be able to contribute to military action. If there is going to be a coalition of states in support of war with Libya, it will be even narrower and even more reliant on U.S. and British military power than the “coalition of the willing” that was widely and correctly perceived as window-dressing for a U.S.-British expedition. It doesn’t do supporters of war against Libya any favors to dwell on multilateral backing for invading Iraq, since they are proposing to start a war with Libya that with even fewer governments in support.