Changing Business as Usual in Libya and at Home

I have to admit that I have been very tempted by the argument -- best expressed, to my mind, by Thomas P.M. Barnett, here and here -- that the U.S. should take some sort of military action to make sure that Moammar Gadhafi does not hold onto power in Libya. The idea that there are no American interests at stake is based on such a narrow definition of American interests that I find it not very compelling at all. And the calls for restraint, while sound as a guide to U.S. policy in general, seem strikingly out of place here.

Gadhafi's actions fly in the face of every principle upon which the global order championed by the U.S. is based. While there are times when we are poorly positioned to do anything about such behavior, this happens to be an occasion where the balance of power and circumstance is decidedly in our favor to back up those principles with action. The fact that it comes at what could be a turning point in a transformation of historical proportions argues even more strongly for determined action, without necessarily dismissing the value of restraint. This is not so much the U.S. as global cop as it is the U.S. as global midwife.

There are substantial tactical challenges, and risks, of either imposing a no-fly zone or degrading Libyan air assets, but they are reason for caution and prudence, not inaction. The strategic limitations of such a move are more concerning, because it's very possible and even likely that targeting Gadhafi's air assets will not suffice, and will in fact lead inexorably toward an escalation of any such intervention.

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