Bill Kristol pushes for war with Libya, but there are more sensible alternatives
Bill Kristol -- and this should hardly come as a surprise to anyone -- is pushing for war with Libya, arguing, like a broken record, that a no-fly zone wouldn't be enough and that the U.S. should "take out [Qaddafi's] ships in the Mediterranean" and "take out tanks and artillery," but more sober minds are, understandably, rather more hesitant to intervene so recklessly.
At Slate the other day, for example, Fred Kaplan asked all the right questions:
But let's say Obama was fine with taking the risk, assuring the nation and the world that he wouldn't fall into the escalation trap—that he'd order U.S. fighter planes in the area (an air base in Italy, an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean) to enforce a no-fly zone and go no further. There would still be some things to figure out. For instance: How much of Libya do you want to restrict? (All of it? Just the Mediterranean coastal area? Just the eastern territories?) What are the rules of engagement? (Do we shoot down all aircraft that enter the zone, fixed-wing and helicopters? What if a Libyan pilot fires back? Do we destroy their air defenses ahead of time or just when they turn on their radar? If Qaddafi's planes keep flying, do we bomb his runways? If the planes are down but Qaddafi sends in tanks, do we bomb their tanks?) Will other nations send their planes, too, or just their blessings, if that? How long do you want to keep this up?
These questions, and many more, have to be answered before the military can even begin to plan a campaign.
But even before any of these questions can be asked, there's a more basic question still: What is the desired goal of this action? Is it to pressure Qaddafi to stand down? Is it to provide air cover to the rebels, so they can fight Qaddafi's ground forces on more equal footing? Whatever the goal, if the no-fly zone doesn't get us there, should we try other means? And if not, why not? As Clausewitz wrote, war is politics by other means. War is fought for a political objective. If that objective is important enough to justify one form of military intervention, why not another form? What is the goal? How far are you willing to go to accomplish the goal? How important is the goal?
And at The Washington Note, Steve Clemons expressed concerns over a possible no-fly zone:
In short, a no-fly zone is a high cost, low return strategy that doesn't necessarily create a military tipping point in favor of the Libyan opposition. Gaddafi is at war with his own people, and it's natural and important to try and protect and help unarmed protesters and innocent victims -- but a no-fly zone may harm the situation more than help.
If the US and NATO impose a no-fly zone, it gives Gaddafi a frame he thrives in: Libya against what he calls the imperialistic and neo-colonial interventions of evil America and the West. Last week at the TED 2011 meeting in Long Beach, Al Jazeera Director General Wadah Khanfar underscored the significance that the protests shaking the entire Middle East were occurring without the clutter and distraction and potential delegitimization of foreign intervention.
This is important. A no-fly zone changes what appears on TV and changes the entire frame. What is happening in the Middle East will instantly become about what the West will do and won't do -- rather than on what the citizens who have had enough are doing for themselves.
I still believe we should help and there are ways to do so without a large military footprint.
Among these and perhaps most importantly is sharing real time intelligence with the Opposition, from targeting to what Gaddafi's movements are. Stop the flow of mercenary goons into the country. Consider a blockade. Perhaps look at facilitating third countries helping to re-arm and supply the military stocks of the Opposition with no US weapons visibility -- which will only stoke the conspiracy theories that run rampant that the US has become Messianically obsessed with regime change and will tilt outcomes in directions it wants rather than what the public is calling for.
Send food, water, shelter and medical supplies to support those in need -- on the borders with Egypt & Tunisia -- as well as inside Libya.
Knee jerking wildly as usual, Kristol doesn't seem to be considering the situation with that sort of considered perspective. Ultimately, yes, the goal may very well be regime change -- i.e., something other than Qaddafi, though Kristol obviously want that "something" to have his stamp of neocon approval -- but the question is how to get there without making the situation worse and without the U.S. sinking into yet another quagmire. Kaplan's questions need to be answered satisfactorily before any military intervention should be started, but, before that even, other alternatives, such as the ones Clemons mentions, should be pursued.