It was only a matter of time before political upheaval and violent repression in Arab countries led to calls for some form of U.S. military intervention. We can all agree that Gaddafi’s attacks on protesters are atrocious, but it is quite a leap from recognizing this and supporting possible military action against the armed forces of a government that has not actually done anything to the United States or our citizens in recent years. Lacking U.N. authorization, such a mission would be another U.S. intervention that it launched on its own authority.

It is doubtful that the U.N. Security Council would authorize a no-fly zone policy. The no-fly zones in Iraq were mainly ad hoc creations by the U.S. and Britain, which claimed authorization that the U.N. had never specifically given. Why are Russia and China going to approve of a policy designed to penalize a government for brutality toward civilians? That isn’t an argument for going around the U.N. It’s a real question for those advocating intervention: is the U.S. prepared to engage in yet another legally dubious, possibly open-ended commitment in policing the internal affairs of an Arab country with relatively few allies supporting our actions?

Not only would the U.S. very directly be taking sides in an internal Libyan conflict to which we are not party, but enforcing such a no-fly zone could turn into a prolonged commitment that will be one more mission added to the burden of an already overstretched military. No-fly zones are the sort of easy-sounding response to an immediate problem that can turn into an endless policy. If the reason for the no-fly zone is to halt Gaddafi’s assault on civilians, it probably won’t be long before the no-fly zone evolves into an air war against Gaddafi’s ground forces to achieve the same end, and that might escalate into a new war for regime change. Libya’s internal conflict is just the sort of situation that Americans should have learned to avoid by now.