Should the U.S. Use Force in Libya?

In a piece in today’s Slate, Christopher Hitchens makes the case that America is cowardly and unprincipled to avoid military intervention in the Libyan insurrection.   He points to Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kurdistan as examples of how non-intervention in an ongoing mass-murder is tantamount to siding with those who choose to commit these crimes, and that the ongoing lesson of the twentieth century is that evil triumphs when the good stand idly by.  While I normally agree with nearly everything that comes out of this man’s mouth, I have to question his assumption that U.S. power would save Libyan lives, or that such an action would be in the long-term interests of the U.S. and the region as a whole.

There are several options at the President’s disposal when it comes to intervening in Libya, and many have already been put into action.  And while it seems like a forgone conclusion that Kadafi will fall, and that it is only a matter of time before he is either deposed or offs himself and leaves others to pick up the pieces, there remains the lingering doubt in many Americans’ mind (including this one) that we should act on these assumptions and seek to speed up the process of civil unrest.  As Robert Gates has pointed out, the use of U.S. air power to enforce a No-Fly zone like the one we had in Iraq for ten years would require an extensive bombing campaign that would cripple Kadafi’s air defenses before we shot down a single plane.  To start bombing raids in an Arab country, at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer and against the wishes of our rivals in the U.N. security council would be a huge gamble, one that could undermine the unrest we seek to bolster and protect.

Once again, we’d be asking Americans to risk their lives to depose a tyrant who, despite his antagonism over the last four decades and his exporting of terror all over the world, has been singularly empowered by the flow of capital to his country in exchange for natural resources: oil.  The industrialized world is indeed partly (or mostly) responsible for monsters like Kadafi, if only because despite his lack of scruples and his obvious disregard for human life and dignity, we have been all too happy to be his patron in commerce.  Does this patronage mean that we now have a responsibility to inflict the critical damage that could end his regime?  Does our intervention deny the Libyans the self-determination that a stable and lasting democratic revolution requires?

Or is it our duty to use our vast military power to protect not only the innocent people of Libya, but the rebel military forces that seek to replace him?  Hitchens is right that by not choosing sides we choose a side – the one with the most powerful military.  But once the bomb is dropped, it cannot be undropped, and I am loathe to see my country in yet another Arab war where we do not belong.

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