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The Murky Path Forward in Libya

And I should add that just because I think the intervention is ill-considered doesn’t mean I think it’s going to end in a calamity (although it clearly could). There’s no reason to believe the U.S. can’t deliver a beating to Gaddafi’s thugs and force them away from the rebel strongholds without having to intervene on the ground. But unless the Obama administration articulates some clear red-lines about the scope of American involvement, we’re on a clear path toward regime change in Libya. For better or worse. ~Greg Scoblete

It depends on what we mean by calamity. As I see it, waging war against a government that has done nothing to the U.S. in decades is a calamity in itself. If we mean “the campaign turns into a bloody debacle for American forces,” maybe not, but why take the chance? As for the “clear path toward regime change,” it’s important that we all stop for a moment and look at what the resolution actually authorizes. Yes, it is a significant escalation of outside involvement in what had been a purely internal Libyan conflict, but the resolution’s language limits the authorization to a no-fly zone and basically defensive operations for securing the civilian population of eastern Libya and other centers still controlled by anti-Gaddafi forces. The relevant section reads as follows:

4. Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council;

Greg is right that enforcing the resolution is going to put the U.S. on the path to regime change in Libya, but one problem is that the path is still anything but clear. As of right now, the Security Council hasn’t authorized anything like a campaign to destroy Gaddafi’s forces in the rest of Libya, except insofar as it involves enforcing a no-fly zone. This won’t involve a concerted attack on the centers of his power in Tripoli and elsewhere. The war that many Libya hawks want is apparently not the one they’re going to get, at least not yet, but it raises the question of why the U.S. and our allies are going to start a war with Libya for the sake of essentially freezing the conflict more or less as it is and turning rebel-held zones into our protectorates. It’s as if the entire thing were designed to play into Gaddafi’s propaganda that outside governments want to divide Libya.

The cease-fire and political settlement language incorporated into the resolution was the result of Russian amendments to the original draft, which may help explain why Russia and China were content to abstain on this resolution. They haven’t signed off on foreign military action to topple Gaddafi or anything close to it, and it’s still likely that they won’t in the future. Having gone this far down the road with U.N. authorization, it is doubtful that the Obama administration would press ahead with more aggressive measures without similar consensus. The administration appears to have committed the U.S. to a mission that requires our military to maintain a stalemate in a civil war that is none of our business and whose outcome is irrelevant to our interests by entering into a war against Gaddafi’s government with no obvious conclusion.

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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