There is just one question to answer: Does the United States desire the rebels or Qaddafi to win in Libya?
If we want Qaddafi to win or are ambivalent, then the correct policy is to do nothing. In a few days or weeks, Qaddafi’s armored formations will overrun the rebel strongholds and annihilate the defenders. If we want Qaddafi gone, which remains President Obama’s stated goal, then we have to support the rebels with military force. Just keep in mind that whenever military force is used, the course of events will almost always take trajectories never anticipated. In this regard, Victor Davis Hanson last week laid out a number of cogent reasons for thinking twice before using military force. But after weighing his arguments, I still believe intervention is worth the risks.
Qaddafi has proven over 40 years that he is a foe of the United States and a continuing danger to us and much of the rest of the world. He is a brutal tyrant who has ordered terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of Americans. It is past time for him to depart the stage, preferably in a box. Some say that he is the devil we know, and we cannot be sure what kind of government the rebels will establish. It is hard to imagine they could set up one as inimical to our interests as Libya has been these past decades. If they do, one might assume it will be thrown down also, as we are only on the cusp of the changes sweeping the region.
The chief arguments favoring delay are that our military is already overstretched; that the United States does not want to be seen as acting unilaterally; that creating a no-fly zone is harder and more costly than most people think; and that if we act and Qaddafi hangs on, we will be forced to undertake another multi-year commitment.
First off, it is the Army and Marine Corps that are feeling the most ruinous effects of a decade at war. The Navy and the Air Force are under strain, but they can relatively easily meet the requirements involved in establishing a no-fly zone (plus).
As for going it alone, we already have the Arab League calling for Qaddafi’s overthrow, and a host of other nations ready to support action. Most, though, are waiting for the U.S. to take the lead, and not just in rhetoric. Waiting for approval from the Security Council or the unanimous consent of NATO before taking action is irresponsible. It gives nations with no concern for our future wellbeing a veto over actions we deem in our interest. For instance, unless paid off in other ways, Russia will never support our quest for a stable democratic peace in the Middle East. Why should she? Continued turmoil brings them an economic bonanza, as they rake in the profits of $100 oil.
That leaves only the cost and difficulty still of concern. The Qaddafi regime was on the verge of collapse at the risings’ onset. It would be foolish to believe it could survive long if its military machine were halted. Unable to pump oil or access overseas bank accounts, Qaddafi will soon find it impossible to pay his mercenaries or buy the army’s loyalty. With a viable rebel force in the field, Qaddafi’s doom is all but assured, as long as U.S. resolve remains strong.
Any military operation is going to cost a lot of money. However, it is the incremental cost that concerns us. Under any circumstances, the U.S. was going to keep a number of aircraft-carrier battle groups at sea, and the Air Force was still going to do a lot of flying. The true cost of our involvement then is how much additional cost is involved in the conduct of operations against Libya. I do not have an exact number, but it will certainly be a fraction of the costs of the no-fly zones we maintained in Iraq for over a dozen years.
So, how hard will it be to accomplish? In relative terms, probably not very. The first thing to note is that every day brings evidence that the Libyan Air Force is not very good, and from the number of attacks it makes, it does not appear capable of sustaining much more than a few sorties a day. One must also wonder how many Libyan pilots are brave enough to take off knowing there are American F-15s lying in wait for them.