I think both Jon Chait and Matt Yglesias make characteristically strong arguments in debating the wisdom of getting involved in Libya. I’m glad I’m not a policymaker right now because I have very mixed emotions about this. On one hand, I share the worries, well expressed by Jeffrey Goldberg, about what happens after we become committed.
And another question: Is the goal to remove Qaddafi from power? To limit his running room? What if Libyan rebels don’t succeed in removing him from power? How long will the West be engaged militarily in Libya? What is the strategy here? Is there a strategy? What’s the plan if this settles into a standoff?
Despite almost always being against wars, however, I do feel that some of the anti-interventionists are making a few mistakes. It is true that America is now at war with a third Muslim nation, but I’m not sure what people mean when they say this. The Muslim World, to the extent that it actually exists, isn’t monolithic. Why should we assume that all majority Muslim nations are alike? Could anybody really argue that Afghanistan has anything in common with Libya? Likewise, comparing this to intervention in Iraq is completely wrong. We invaded Iraq out of the blue, while Saddam’s regime was sitting around doing nothing. We are attacking Libya during the middle of a civil war where one side is about to be massacred. A better comparison would be if we invaded Iraq right before Saddam unleashed his chemical attack against the Kurds. A lot of people wished we had done such a thing, and I think this brings me to my point. The town of Benghazi is/was about to be massacred. It probably would not meet any legal definition of genocide, but there was a high probability that the death toll could reach levels that we saw in Srebencia. In that incident, as in many others, people asked afterwards why the world didn’t do anything to prevent a genocide they knew was about to happen. Here is a situation where we can do something. Does that mean we have to? No, but the next time I hear somebody complain about how we let Darfur happen, we should examine the Libya case and realize why we don’t typically get involved. (Sudan by the way, would also have been a “Third Muslim War”).
The fact that we are being hypocrites with regards to Bahrain or Yemen is not a strong argument for not intervening in Libya. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t strong arguments, but this is not one). Likewise, the fact that the Arab League is now backtracking is not so disconcerting; I sort of have a feeling the regimes that represent that body don’t exactly speak for their people.
Still, I realize this may be completely an emotional reaction. I’ve been watching with such enthusiasm the “Arab Spring” and hoping that one by one, each country would rid itself of their entrenched despots. Seeing the rebels in Libya get so close, only to watch the horrific turnaround has left me feeling helpless and terrified. These feelings, by themselves, don’t make it right to intervene, which is why I’m glad I’m just watching. I don’t care who gets proven right or wrong, or if this will somehow benefit the world-view of realists or neo-conservativeness. I can just read the news and hope for the best.