Shadi Hamid writes:
Finally, after much “dithering” – which seems to be the consensus word choice for Obama’s sputtering Mideast policy – the US has finally suggested that it can, sometimes, do the right thing, even if it does it three weeks later (I looked back to see when I had written my Slate article calling for international intervention – February 23).
The arguments against military intervention struck me as surprisingly weak and almost entirely dependent on raising the spectre of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was somewhat unclear how and why Iraq 2003 should be compared to Libya 2011. Michael Cohen, whose preference for foreign policy restraint is admirable, worried recently that John McCain and Joe Lieberman’s support for a no-fly zone portended bad things to come. Just because McCain and Lieberman support something doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad.
Cohen writes that Iraq and Afghanistan “are daily reminders that the use of U.S. military force can have unforeseen and often unpredictable consequences.” Yes, but that’s sort of the point with bold action. It’s supposed to be risky (in fact, if it’s not, you may not be going far enough). Success isn’t guaranteed. And no one is pretending that a positive outcome in Libya is a foregone conclusion now that the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution authorizing military force. But it does make a successful outcome more likely. Leon Wieseltier, in a moving must-read, writes:
It may be, as Clinton said, that the consequences of a no-fly zone would be unforeseeable, but the consequences of the absence of a no-fly zone are entirely foreseeable. They are even seeable.
For realists, I would love to hear how doing nothing in Libya was going to help U.S. security interests. Having an oil-rich pariah state that could very well return to supporting terrorism and wreaking havoc in the region would be disastrous, creating Iraq part 3 and making it more likely we’d have to intervene sometime further into the future, at much greater cost and consequence. Did we not learn from the quelched Shia uprisings of 1991? Or from standing by idly (or supporting) the military coup that ended Algerian democracy in 1991? The Arab world suffered for the international community’s failure to do the right thing. Literally, hundreds of thousands died as a result. Having Libyans and Arabs feel that we betrayed them yet again would do wonders for our already plummeting credibility, particularly after the Obama administration has moved to back autocratic regimes in Bahrain and Yemen, rather than the peaceful protesters struggling for their freedom and getting shot in the process.