Marc Lynch makes a tentative case for the U.S. to take action — but not too much action — against Gaddafi. The measures he has in mind include, “the declaration and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya, presumably by NATO, to prevent the use of military aircraft against the protestors [sic]. It could also mean a clear declaration that members of the regime and military will be held individually responsible for any future deaths. The U.S. should call for an urgent, immediate Security Council meeting and push for a strong resolution condeming [sic] Libya’s use of violence and authorizing targeted sanctions against the regime.” Various neoconservatives and Republican hawks have been calling for similar measures. Lynch, at least, says he is “keenly, painfully aware of all that could go wrong with even the kinds of responses I am recommending.”

Never mind what can go wrong, though — what could possibly go right? Sanctions won’t even give pause to the killing, much less end it, and Gaddafi has much more to worry about than “a strong resolution condemning” him or a “clear resolution” that he’ll be held accountable at the Hague. He’s going to be hanging from a lamp post once he loses power. His henchmen face an even starker calculation: join the resistance and risk being shot by Gaddafi himself or stick with him and enjoy the same fate if he’s vanquished. Either way, the terrors of international tribunals pale by comparison.

Aside from making Western interventionists feel better about themselves, the only use the symbolic measures proposed by Lynch have is to set a pretext for large-scale military invention, which Lynch insists he does not want. (“I don’t call for a direct military intervention.”) Imposing no-fly zone is not symbolic, of course: it’s “direct military intervention” pure and simple, an act of war. If a single NATO jet goes down, pressure to invade North Africa will be nigh irresistible. Interventionists of all stripes are fully aware of this.

Maybe naive good intentions outstrip common sense where some interventionists are concerned, but watch out: the Libyan slaughter is creating an opening for those who would have liked to stage-manage the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions to impose some “control” on unrest in the region. A Libyan intervention will be the first step toward putting an end to all this messy indigenous rebellion, so the task of proper, American-led “democratization” can resume. Considering the interests at stake, I expect the cries for intervention to grow very loud very quickly.