If Gadhafi and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still rule territory in a month’s time, and if Hezbollah and Hamas continue to rely on their armed presence to back up the militant policies they impose, the promises of Middle Eastern democracy will look very hollow. And the incentive structure of the Middle East will acquire a sinister new look.

Gadhafi’s departure from power in other words is not just a requirement of humanity and decency. It’s not only justice to the people of Libya. It is also essential to American credibility and the stability of the Middle East region. ~David Frum

Ross has called Frum’s argument “one of the strongest” cases for military action in Libya, and he may be right, which says a lot about how horribly weak the argument for military action is. Consider that first paragraph in the quote. For the sake of the “promises of Middle Eastern democracy,” the U.S. must ensure that Gaddafi loses power (and within just the next few weeks). Apparently, the “promises of Middle Eastern democracy” also hinge on Ahmadinejad’s being driven from office, Hizbullah’s coalition losing power, and Hamas, well, ceasing to be Hamas. In a month’s time, Ahmadinejad will almost certainly still be in office, Lebanese PM Miqati will still be haggling with the other parties in organizing Lebanon’s government, and Hamas will remain in the same position it has been in for the last four years, which will tell us little or nothing about what we can expect from Tunisia and Egypt. For what it’s worth, Miqati is the duly appointed nominated prime minister of the coalition that represents a majority in the Lebanese parliament, and Hamas gained part of its hold on power through the brilliant democracy-promoting efforts of the Bush administration. If the “promises of Middle Eastern democracy” look hollow to Frum, it is because electorates in many parts of the region support political causes Frum rejects. None of these other countries has anything to do with Libya, and all of this is to make Gaddafi’s hold on power seem more significant for the region than it is.

It is “essential” to American credibility and the stability of the region that Gaddafi be overthrown? The last time that interventionists were warning about the de-stabilizing regional effects of a dictator, we ended up with the Iraq debacle in which millions of people were displaced or driven into exile, and hundreds of thousands were killed. Widening and escalating Libya’s civil war into an international one are more likely to contribute to regional destabilization than anything currently happening in Libya. When did Gaddafi’s downfall become “essential” to American credibility? When Obama said that he “must go”? It wasn’t a good idea to say that publicly if there was no intention of following through on it, but this is a bit like saying George Bush was required to attack Iran because he included them in the “axis of evil” or else undermine American “credibility.” Careless rhetoric is unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean that U.S. policymakers have to treat it as if it were an ultimatum.