Tag: Libya

No-Fly Zones as Security Theater

I wrote a long post for the National Interest yesterday arguing against US participation in a no-fly zone over Libya. Here are highlights:

Given the spectrum of ways that the United States can help Libya’s rebels, it’s odd that debate here centers on a no-fly zone, a form of military intervention that shows support for rebels without much helping them. No-fly zones commit us to winning wars but demonstrate our limited will to win them. That is why they are bad public policy.

No-fly zones are best suited to helping ground forces that can defend themselves against an opponent once we suppress its airpower. Northern Iraq in the 1990s is arguably a successful example. But they do little to overthrow entrenched leaders or help lightly-armed rebels defeat heavier forces. They do even less to protect civilians against armies or militias.

If we care enough for the fate of the Libyan revolution to kill for it, we should take decisive action in its favor, such as using airpower to attack pro-Qaddafi forces. If we are rooting for the rebels to win but do not care enough to kill Libyans directly or risk our pilots’ lives, we should limit ourselves to providing them with intelligence (intercepts and surveillance primarily), advice, and maybe arms while sanctioning the regime and jamming its communications. If other nations want to intervene, we should offer them like support, including transport to the fight. If we limit ourselves to those actions, we should do so in recognition of two risks. First, we may simply prolong a war and increase civilian suffering (the same goes for no-fly zones, as Doug Bandow wrote yesterday). Second, our efforts are likely to fail. We may soon be dealing with a regime we tried to overthrow, one that may return to its outlaw habits. If we are unwilling chance that, we should sit on our hands and admit that politics requires tough choices. I lean toward the second course.

What we should most avoid is confusing security and philanthropy. When leaders talk as if our intervention is protecting Americans but execute it as if they are doing charity work that merits little risk, they sow harmful confusion. Our potential allies may expect more than we are willing to give and take chances that they otherwise would not. The American public may come to support another dubious war based on threat exaggeration.

Thursday Links

  • “If financial institutions are indeed better than consumers at managing interest risk, then those companies should be able to offer consumers attractive terms for doing so — without the moral hazard of an enormous taxpayer backstop.”
  • We should be thankful that the president is spending time on his golf game.
  • After all, he recently reinstated military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay and has continued the use of extra-constitutional prisons in the U.S. after the Bush era.
  • It’s odd that debate here centers on a no-fly zone, a form of military intervention that shows support for rebels without much helping them.”
  • Does Haley Barbour really want to cut defense spending? Or is he just really politically astute? 

Tuesday Links

  • Still think the War on Drugs is a good idea, or that it’s working? Decreases in cocaine production in Colombia have been almost fully offset by increases in Peru and Bolivia.
  • Why is nobody talking about the right of Wisconsin taxpayers to not deal with unions?
  • “If you’re the rare bird who favors limited government at home and abroad, you can hardly expect good news from a poll of this generation’s Tracy Flicks.” (Maybe not.)
  • NPR and PBS are using taxpayer dollars to lobby for… more taxpayer dollars. But that’s hardly a new game in Washington.
  • Afghanistan: nation-building on crack.
  • Saying no to a no-fly zone over Libya should be a no-brainer:


Lugar on Libya

Daniel Larison points to this statement by Sen. Richard Lugar which is really a breath of fresh air:

Sen. Richard Lugar

…Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame, the strains on our military, and other factors, it is doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya.   If the Obama Administration is contemplating this step, however, it should begin by seeking a declaration of war against Libya that would allow for a full Congressional debate on the issue. In addition, it should ask Arab League governments and other governments advocating for a no-fly zone to pledge resources necessary to pay for such an operation.

[…]

Finally, given continuing upheaval in the Middle East, we should understand that the situation in Libya may not be the last to generate calls for American military operations.   We need a broader public discussion about the goals and limits of the U.S. role in the Middle East, especially as it pertains to potential military intervention.

Emphasis mine. To hear a member of Congress reassert its Constitutional prerogative over the war power is really refreshing. The late Robert C. Byrd would be pleased.

The Dean of Liberal Interventionism on Libya

Prof. Anne-Marie Slaughter

Anne-Marie Slaughter, recently head of the State Department’s policy planning staff and now having retreated to her post as the dean of the liberal interventionists at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, laments that her former boss’s boss is “fiddling while Libya burns.” Slaughter thinks the United States should implement a no-fly zone over Libya, with the UN’s blessing if we can, or with a coalition of the willing if we must. She takes up five arguments made by skeptics and claims they are all wanting. I want to take up a few of them below.

First, in making the case that intervention is in America’s interest, she writes that “we have a chance to support a real new beginning in the Muslim world—a new beginning of accountable governments that can provide services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease support for terrorist groups and violent extremism.”

What does Slaughter know about the Libyan opposition that the rest of us don’t? On what basis is she judging that were they to prevail, they would necessarily institute accountable government that provides services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease their support for terrorist groups and violent extremism?

Second, she says that a no-fly zone will accomplish America’s objectives in Libya, despite the critics’ skepticism. Interestingly, Slaughter’s former boss Hillary Clinton said the following in testimony to Congress last week:

I want to remind people that, you know, we had a no-fly zone over Iraq.  It did not prevent Saddam Hussein from slaughtering people on the ground, and it did not get him out of office.  We had a no-fly zone, and then we had 78 days of bombing in Serbia.  It did not get Milosevic out of office.  It did not get him out of Kosovo until we put troops on the ground with our allies.

Finally, Slaughter admits that we have no idea what would follow Qaddafi, insisting that this misconstrues the problem: “the choice is between uncertainty and the certainty that if Colonel Qaddafi wins, regimes across the region will conclude that force is the way to answer protests,” which doesn’t really deal with concerns about what may follow Qaddafi.

Curiously, in the very next paragraph, she warns against arming the rebels, calling them “ragged groups of brave volunteers who barely know how to use the weapons they have.” If these are the people who we’re supposed to help overthrow Qaddafi, who is going to run the Libyan state once he goes? Slaughter’s Gang that Can’t Shoot Straight?

I haven’t written much about Libya because there’s so much that I don’t know about the country and I certainly don’t know what is likely to follow Qaddafi. In particular, though, the focus on a no-fly zone is bizarre. If people think that it is in the national interest to be rid of Muammar Qaddafi, then get rid of him, already. Why start with half-measures? Or is it that openly making the case for forcible regime change in Tripoli would weaken public support for the policy? Or would weaken international support? If either of those is true, what does that tell us about the policy?

Given Washington’s track record with this sort of thing, I think we should terribly skeptical about intervening in the Libyan conflict. If the arguments above are the best the interventionists can do, our policy should remain one of no new wars.

NB: People whose judgment I trust far more than Slaughter, like Bob Pape and Mike Desch, are making separate cases for various types of intervention. I am left with lots of unanswered questions after reading their pieces, but it bears noting that it is not just the normal gaggle of neoconservatives and liberal imperialists agitating for American involvement. Still, “it won’t be as bad as Iraq” is a rather soft case for a new policy.

No to No-Fly Zones

My Washington Examiner column this week is on the growing drumbeat for military action in Libya.  That allegedly serious people are proposing, as Defense Secretary Gates puts it, “the use of the US military in another country in the Middle East,” ought to be appalling.  If the last ten years haven’t convinced you that a little prudence and caution might serve us well in foreign policy, what would?

Recently Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the Bobbsey Twins of knee-jerk interventionism, chastised Obama for dragging his feet on the path toward war.  They called for arming the rebels and implementing a no-fly zone, for starters.

“I love the military,” Sen. McCain complained “but they always seem to find reasons why you can’t do something rather than why you can.”  Alas, “can’t is the cancer of happen,” as Charlie Sheen reminded us recently.

Even so, I argue in the column, there are good reasons to resist the call for this supposedly “limited” measure.

Excerpt:

But let’s stipulate that NATO warplanes (mainly U.S. fighters, of course) could deny pro-Gadhafi forces the ability to deploy air power. That would not impede their ability to murder on the ground. What then?

NATO flew more than 100,000 sorties in Operation Deny Flight, the no-fly zone imposed over Bosnia from 1993 to 1995, yet that wasn’t enough to prevent ethnic cleansing or the killing of thousands of Bosnians in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

It did, however, help pave the way for a wider war and a 12-year nation-building mission. In for a penny, in for a pound – intervention tends to have a logic of its own.

This is a good occasion, then, to reflect on a fundamental question: What is the U.S. military for? Humanitarian interventionists on the Left and the Right seem to view it as an all-purpose tool for spreading good throughout the world – something like the “Super Friends” who, in the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth, scanned the monitors at the Hall of Justice for “Trouble Alerts,” swooping off regularly to do battle with evil.

Our Constitution takes a narrower view. It empowers Congress to set up a military establishment for “the common defence … of the United States,” the better to achieve the Preamble’s goal of “secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Armed liberation of oppressed peoples the world over wasn’t part of the original mission.

Funny enough, when he first got to Washington, John McCain occasionally appreciated the virtues of foreign policy restraint.  As Matt Welch recounts in his book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick: “In September 1983, as a freshman congressman and loyal foot soldier of the Reagan revolution, John McCain voted against a successful measure to extend the deployment of US Marines in war-torn Lebanon.”  In a speech on the House floor, McCain argued that “The fundamental question is, what is the United States’ interest in Lebanon?…. The longer we stay in Lebanon, the harder it will be for us to leave.”

Later, Welch writes that, in 1987, when President Reagan reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, offering them “US Navy protection against a threatening Iran, McCain was livid.”  He took to the pages of the Arizona Republic to complain that the move was “a dangerous overreaction in perhaps the most violent and unpredictable region in the world…. American citizens are again be asked to place themselves between warring Middle East factions, with…. no real plan on how to respond if the situation escalates.”

It’s been a long time since Senator McCain made such good sense on foreign policy.

President Obama’s Rhetoric on Libya

The prospect of the United States intervening in Libya is uncertain.  Yesterday, Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen appeared to downplay the possibility of military action, while not clearly taking a position.  But lost in much of the reporting is President Obama’s Executive Order declaring a national emergency, and the accompanying letter to congress, issued last Friday.

Obama claimed that the overall situation constituted “…an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”  Over at The Skeptics, I examine why it is a mistake for the president to lump together national security and humanitarian considerations:

Obama should be ashamed of this language. Muammar Qadhafi is a despicable man without basic decency, but this fuzzy rhetoric is wrong and possibly harmful. Not just a “threat” to U.S. national security, but an “extraordinary” threat? What would constitute a trivial threat or a non-threat, then? And what is the rhetorical purpose of adding the clause “and foreign policy” to the sentence? To fuse the argument about national security threat to one claiming that Muammar Qadhafi’s slaughter of his own citizens might influence our foreign-policy decisions, it seems. But writing in that way leads a casual observer to believe that the president is emphasizing what he believes to be a threat to U.S. national security posed by Libya, which does the English language a disservice. For some reason the phrase “giving the appearance of solidity to pure wind” is coming to mind.

I understand that the same clique of neoconservatives and New Republic people and other liberal imperialists who got us into the Iraq war are urging Obama to act and salivating at the prospect of accusing him of being “weak,” but even they did not use the sort of hyperbolic rhetoric that Obama did in his Executive Order and letter to congress.

 Whole thing here.