Tag: gaddafi

WSJ Calls for No-Fly Zone in Syria, Acknowledges No-Fly Zone Isn’t Enough

It seems the Wall Street Journal editorial board has yet to identify a conflict in which the United States should not intervene. Today, they again call for U.S. military intervention in Syria and criticize President Obama for his inaction. Their main recommendation? Easy: set up a no-fly zone: 

The U.S. could boost its diplomatic leverage with the rebels and their regional allies by enforcing no-fly zones over portions of Syria. That would help prevent the regime from using its attack jets and helicopter gunships against civilian targets while allowing insurgents to consolidate and extend their territorial gains. It also means we could use limited force in a way that strengthens the hand of rebels we support at the expense of those we don’t. 

The key point here is that the Journal leaves open the possibility of using “limited force” to help the rebels. Indeed, this is what no-fly zones often become: precursors to additional involvement at a later date (think Iraq and Libya). I argued as much last week: 

If the no-fly zone fails to swiftly halt the violence, some will claim that preserving U.S. credibility requires an even deeper commitment. Or [no-fly zones] can just become a slippery slope in their own right. The ink was barely dry on the UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya before the mission morphed into a no-drive zone on the ground, and then a major military operation to overthrow Qaddafi’s government. 

As a general rule, we shouldn’t send our military on feel-good missions that have little chance of success. And that is what no-fly zones are. They also have a clear political purpose, in this case to ensure that the opposition prevails over the Assad regime and its supporters. There is no such thing as an impartial intervention. 

In Libya, there wasn’t such an explicit call for a no-fly zone as a means to toppling Muammar Gaddafi. The UN resolution authorizing the no-fly zone did not include “regime change” as a goal, but that’s what it became. In Syria, a no-fly zone would be used explicitly for the purpose of toppling Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But if regime change is the goal, a no-fly zone will not do much to lead us there. They are security-theater, as Ben Friedman has pointed out: “No-fly zones commit us to winning wars but demonstrate our limited will to win them. That is why they are bad public policy.” 

Offensive Goals, Defensive Tactics

Early Sunday, allied warplanes, including U.S. air force fighters, destroyed a column of Libyan tanks and other vehicles set to attack the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Monday the rebels drove forty miles down the coast to Ajdabiya, where they were pushed back by government forces employing rocket and tank fire. According to the New York Times, allied warplanes flew overhead but didn’t attack.

Why provide air support in one situation and not the other?

It appears that the coalition’s rules of engagement allow the former because it is seen as consistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973’s authorization of force to protect civilians. The latter counts as close air support, which is not authorized.

In essence, we are helping the rebels when they defend towns but not when they try to take them. It now seems unlikely that either side can win under those circumstances. So, rhetoric about ousting Gaddafi notwithstanding, our policy serves to stalemate the civil war, effectively severing Libya. That seems a recipe for a long stay.

This mismatch of means and ends results from the pretense that we are intervening to stop violence rather than taking a side in a civil war. The fact that coalition-building encouraged the pretense does not make it smart. The Secretary of State argues that our actions will pressure Qaddafi’s supporters in Tripoli to oust him. But it’s not clear why our rigorously defensive stance would embolden them. Having stayed loyal weeks ago, when the regime was shakier, they are unlikely to quit now.

I would have preferred for the United States to stay out of this civil war but for intelligence support and advice to the rebels. If we can disengage and leave the bombing to the Europeans, I hope we do so. But whoever is taking the lead should acknowledge that they are sponsoring rebels aiming to overthrow Qadaffi and adopt a policy that does more than defend them. The allies should give the rebels close air support and maybe strategic bombing. If that means abusing the words of the U.N. resolution, so be it. If it costs the support of the Arab League and whoever else supports air strikes based on the pretense that they are purely humanitarian, it’s probably a trade worth making.

I still naively hope for a Congress that at least would force public consideration of these issues through exercise of its constitutional powers.