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The conversation: The case for and against U.S. intervention in Libya

March 10, 2011 | 11:27 am

LibyaPresident Obama has declared: "It's time for Kadafi to go." But should the U.S. help achieve that goal, and, if so, what approach should Washington take? For many, this is a moral issue -- and even on that point, the sides disagree.

What's at stake

Humanitarian concerns are not the only ones in Libya. Every day the war there continues drains many millions of dollars from the U.S. economy in the form of high oil prices, slowing the recovery. There is no guarantee oil prices won't rise significantly higher, especially if demonstrations continue on the Arabian peninsula and possibly break out in Saudi Arabia. Time is not on our side.-- Daniel Serwer, the Atlantic

The source of Obama’s hesitation

That's been a continuing feature of Obama's approach to democracy in the Middle East. He's been enthusiastic in principle but stingy in practice. When democratic movements arose in Iran, Tunisia and Egypt, his first reaction was not intervention or even cheerleading; it was caution. Obama favors democracy, but he knows he won his job partly by being skeptical about military intervention in Iraq. […]Libya appears headed for a protracted civil war, and we've already chosen sides. Like it or not, we're already involved. The only question is: What will we have to do to make good on our commitment? -- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

 Skipping meetings about Libya won’t make the problem go away

Mr. Obama, who skipped a meeting of his top aides on Libya Wednesday, may hope that the Libyan rebels will defeat the Gaddafi forces without outside help -- or that other Western governments will provide the leadership that he is shunning. Meetings of NATO, the European Union and the Arab League in the next several days may produce decisions that loosen the straitjacket the administration has applied to itself. If not, the world will watch as Mr. Gaddafi continues to massacre his people, while an American president who said that he must go fails to implement any strategy for making that happen. -- Editorial, the Washington Post

The case against intervention in Libya: It would be illegal, immoral and hypocritical

Such interventionary experience in the Islamic world during the last fifty years makes it impossible to sustain the burden of persuasion that would be needed to justify an anti-regime intervention in Libya in some ethically and legally persuasive way. -- Richard Falk, Al Jazeera

Here are many more reasons not to intervene, including…

We don't know what we're doing. Most of the people endorsing an attack know less about Libya than they do about playing the oboe. Yet this group is willing to shoot first and ask questions later, forgetting that ignorance usually trumps good intentions. -- Steve Chapman, Reason Magazine

 The case for intervention in Libya: Arguing for a no-fly zone

"I can't imagine an easier military problem," he said. "If we can't impose a no-fly zone over a not even third-rate military power like Libya, then we ought to take a hell of a lot of our military budget and spend it on something usable."

He continued: "Just flying a few jets across the top of the friendlies would probably be enough to ground the Libyan Air Force, which is the objective."

General McPeak added that there would be no need to maintain 24/7 coverage over Libya. As long as the Libyan Air Force knew that there was some risk of interception, its pilots would be much less motivated to drop bombs and more inclined to defect.

"If we can't do this, what can we do?" he asked, adding: "I think it would have a real impact. It might change their calculation of who might come out on top. Just the mere announcement of this might have an impact."

Along with a no-fly zone, another important step would be to use American military aircraft to jam Libyan state television and radio propaganda and Libyan military communications. General McPeak said such jamming would be "dead easy."  -- Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times

Jet fighters are not the only way to bring Kadafi to his knees

There is an array of additional sanctions that the United States and its allies can impose. Kadafi must be removed, but without U.S. military intervention. Except for some unforeseen situation, the use of force should be off the table. -- Editorial, Los Angeles Times

We have a moral obligation to help Libyan rebels

I have been talking to doctors, fighters, men and women all over the country: in Zawiya, Zintan and Misrata in the west, and Benghazi, Bayda and Ajdabiya in the east. They have all told me of severe shortages of medical supplies and essential foods like flour and baby formula. We must get these materials to rebel-held territories.

The rebels also hope that the international community will soon set up a no-flight zone to prevent Colonel Qaddafi from bombing his own people and importing mercenaries from abroad.

Nonetheless, fighters are adamant they can win this themselves. They don’t need or want foreign troops on the ground. They do, however, need better weapons. And Philippe Sands, a law professor at University College London, told me that the recently adopted United Nations Security Council resolution that imposes an arms embargo on Libya needs to be amended so that the rebels can get the equipment they need to "level the playing field" and "properly protect themselves." -- Hisham Matar, the New York Times

RELATED:

Libyan American on Libya: 'Now I Understand'

Rising to shake off the fear in Libya

Libya: To oust a tyrant

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Illustration: Obama's tentative position in the Mideast. Credit: Hajo de Reijger/Cagle Cartoons Inc.

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