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Is It Time to Intervene in Libya?

At Foreign Policy, Hussein Ibish lays out an argument for U.S. military intervention in Libya and makes several good points. The humanitarian crisis is reaching a point where the U.S. and other world leaders may no longer be able to stand idly by. Thousands have already been slaughtered, and the death toll is rising by the hour. While military intervention poses risks, Ibish writes that U.S. inaction could be even more of a strategic blunder:

But U.S. policymakers must not only consider the risks of intervention — they, and the rest of the international community, also need to contemplate the grave risks of doing nothing. The United States and its allies are now forced to deal with an emerging new order in the Middle East; it is squarely in their interest to place themselves on the side of popular demands for reform, democratization, and the removal of unaccountable leaders who have held power for decades. It’s not too late for the United States to be perceived as a positive force for change rather than a guardian of the old regional order, but standing idle while Libya burns would send the wrong message to the people of the region. Forging a broad international consensus for strong actions on Libya would be the wisest political and strategic course for the United States.

Ibish writes that symbolic actions — sanctions and so forth — are “long overdue.” He advises that a no-fly zone be put in place immediately to prevent the use of warplanes, while noting the shortfalls of this policy as well. But if a no-fly zone fails to stymie the massacre of the Libyan people (as is likely at this point), then the next logical step may be NATO intervention on the ground.

So while it is undeniable that there are risks in such actions – and it’s still arguable whether that’s the best move for the U.S. to take – it also appears that giving military assistance to the Libyan people could also be in the best strategic and humanitarian interests of the U.S. Of course, Obama’s careful attempts to distance himself from what he sees as the imperialist foreign policy of the previous administration also makes it less likely that he will give military action its due consideration.

And, as Leon Wieseltier points out at the New Republic, we are already seeing an intervention by foreign forces in Libya, now that Muammar Qaddafi has called in outside militias to help him fight the battle against his own people. Wieseltier asks, “Is Qaddafi to be allowed outside help and the people of Libya denied it?” A good question — and one that we will probably be answered in the coming days.


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