Interventionists routinely assume that the U.S. should insert itself into other nations’ internal conflicts, but something that has an even more distorting effect on the debate is the assumption shared by almost all Americans that the U.S. can effectively insert itself in a foreign conflict very quickly. Stephen Hayes spoke with Secretary Gates about the U.S. ability to establish a no-fly zone in Libya. This is what Gates said:

Although the United States has limited capabilities in the region which would make it difficult to set up a no-fly zone quickly, others might be in a better position to help. “The French – I don’t know what the British have in the area – but the French and the Italians potentially, I suppose, could have some assets they could put in there quicker.”

The debate over what the U.S. should be doing in Libya hasn’t really taken into account that the U.S. may not be in a position to do that much in the near term. French military intervention is common enough in former French colonies, but despite some of Sarkozy’s harsh public statements it isn’t clear that France would or could take a leading role in enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya. For several obvious reasons, Italy is not going to take the lead in acting against Libya, and Italy’s close ties with Libya make it hard to believe that there could be an effective NATO response. In addition to being a bad idea, imposing a no-fly zone in Libya may not even be possible given the current political and military realities.

Update: Ted Galen Carpenter and Dan McCarthy have more.