Libya Intervention Highlights Global Security Gaps

Last week it seemed like even the intervention of U.S., British and French airpower might not be enough to enable the Libyan rebellion to regain the momentum against Libyan government forces. Now it looks like the balance has shifted in the rebels' favor, if not yet decisively so. For me, as a supporter of the intervention, that makes this week an even better moment than last to emphasize that we should not be judging the wisdom of our involvement based on the latest isolated news accounts from the front, and that it is wildly premature to assess any ultimate outcomes. This could still turn out to be a very bad idea that has been very well-realized.

Now also seems like a good moment to articulate my conviction that, in the context of any broader strategic approach to the use of American military force, the opponents of this intervention were arguing the much stronger position. Not only were the risks they identified real, those risks might still materialize. I'm thinking particularly about the danger of a long-term post-conflict stabilization period, whether in a regime-change or a partition scenario. The question of whether whoever follows Gadhafi will be a net improvement also remains relevant. I'm still convinced, however, that those risks were and remain limited ones, that they were significantly outweighed by the many potential upsides of intervention, and that inaction carried risks as well.

Nevertheless, vigilance and not triumphalism is in order on the part of those who advocated for this intervention, and a broad dialogue should now be engaged across the policy spectrum to begin applying the many lessons we have learned about post-conflict stabilization over the past 10 years, in order to reach a politically stable endgame as quickly as possible, while also minimizing costs by diffusing them as broadly as possible.

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