Timothy P. Carney has written a powerful column arguing against U.S. military intervention in Libya.

Many commentators, hoping a no-fly zone would end Gadhafi’s air attacks on protesters and rebels, point to the decade-long no-fly rules the United States enforced in Iraq. But Michael Knights, a leading expert on no-fly zones, says that the Iraq model is neither apt nor desirable. Knights, a Lafer fellow in the Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program, wrote his doctoral dissertation on no-fly zones. He says enforcing a no-fly zone “is basically an act of war.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seems to agree. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.” This would include – as Kerry put it on CBS on Sunday – “cratering their runways” to ground their jets. “An attack on Libya,” as Gates puts it, which would mean dropping bombs or shooting rockets, is pretty hard to distinguish from war.

President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron have already stated that Gadhafi must go. And so a No-Fly Zone would instantiate this de facto policy of regime change. As Carney points out, bombing Libya’s airfields and grounding its planes would not necessarily end Gadhafi’s slaughter. Nor do we know it would guarantee the victory of rebel forces. Still less can we even imagine what the future would look like for Cyrenacia, Fezzan and Tripolitania. But the No-Fly-Zone would pledge our nation’s honor to the removal of Gadhafi. Any long delay in that result would be decried as a humiliation and justify a deeper intervention. Libya’s poverty, oil resources, and lack of a modern political identity would also become the reason for staying involved for years to come, while it robs the U.S. of a clean moral and military victory.

Gadhafi’s only future in Libya is to remain dictator or face execution. Demanding him to step down is worse than useless. If the U.S. would like to hasten the exit of Gadhafi, there are unpalatable but less risky options: an arranged exile to South America, for instance. If Italy must have an uninterrupted flow of oil, then a transition should be imposed by Italy and its European allies, risking their blood, honor, and treasure. War is an unmasterable pursuit. Do not believe the assurances that we can do something “limited” from the shores of Tripoli. There is no U.S. interest in Libya, save staying out of a third unpredictable war.