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A Chance To Get Out of the Libyan War

Judah Grunstein has responded to my earlier post and one of Greg Scoblete’s arguments, and he clarifies that he was analyzing and not defending the respective prospects of success for military interventions in Libya and Ivory Coast:

I’m not an interventionist, and I was specifically addressing the issue of why a military intervention in Libya and not in Côte d’Ivoire. In previous posts, I have argued for political and non-military humanitarian approaches in Libya as well.

I take the point, and I regret misinterpreting and misrepresenting his earlier argument. Over the last few weeks, I have become accustomed to seeing advocates of intervention define “doing something” as taking military action and the exercise of restraint as “sitting idly by,” and I was reacting to Grunstein’s comparison with that in mind.

Grunstein is right that there are relatively low barriers to exiting Libya right now, but pressure continues to build for a more ambitious mission that involves toppling Gaddafi. British and French political leaders seem to take it for granted that this is the objective. If Obama does not publicly commit the U.S. to achieve this, there is still a way out, and Obama should take it. The U.S. may be able to hand off running the no-fly zone to another government or to NATO. This is uncertain at the moment, but it may happen. The U.S. could then fairly quickly end its participation in the war before it escalates.

It is possible that there could be some effort to broker a political settlement, but I am skeptical that the rebels, the administration or most of the American political class would be satisfied now with a negotiated deal that leaves Gaddafi in place. A negotiated exile might have been possible once, but now that Gaddafi knows he will be pursued by the ICC he has every reason to stay. If it were possible to change that and create an incentive for Gaddafi to agree to exile, that might be the best alternative. For his part, Gaddafi has no reason to settle as long as he believes he has a chance of winning outright, and no reason to give up power if he believes he will be put on trial, and so escalation still seems difficult to avoid now that the intervention has begun. I would very much like to believe that the intervention will remain limited and can be ended quickly, but now that Obama has yielded to the demands to take military action it is hard to see how or why he is going to resist the incessant push for escalation.

P.S. Greg has another response to Grunstein:

It’s true that removing Gaddafi from power is a more limited goal than transforming Libya into a model democracy in North Africa, but I don’t see how the president has given himself much room to maneuver toward a political settlement. Obama’s opening position is that Gaddafi loses power. Gaddafi’s opening position is that Gaddafi stays in power. Unless one side backs down, it’s a zero-sum standoff.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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