I am not here to discuss costs, nor the legality of the current actions taken by President Obama, however, I will discuss the moral argument towards the end of my post. I myself have not yet decided where I stand on this issue or no, I’m just presenting an argument.
As I see it, the US faces three options with regards to Libya:
1.) Just help to enforce the no-fly zone that is currently in place and quickly hand over command to the Franco-British forces, but remain a part of the Coalition.
2.) Help the rebels to defeat Gaddafi’s forces.
3.) Exit the area and the coalition.
( I have already dismissed the option of siding with Gaddafi as it is incredibly unlikely at best.)
Option one seems reasonable, until you begin to realise the long-term implications. As a no-fly zone has no effect on Gaddfai’s ground forces, he could continue to advance and capture rebel positions, or more likely the two enemies would be locked in a stalemate with each other. The former would make the Coalition forces, and by extension the US, look weak. The latter would tie-up US assets indefinitely and distract from other important issues.
Option two is more direct, by supporting the rebels and engaging Gaddafi’s forces the main conflict would likely be over quickly. However, if this course of action is taken the US forces are almost certainly not going to pack up and leave. They’ll likely remain to support the new government. This would tie-up more US assets for possibly a longer time than option one.
Furthermore, in the aftermath of Gaddafai’s downfall this scenario could take a turn for the worse as old tribal divisions could begin to reassert themselves. The US could have another problem similar to Afghanistan on its hands.
Option three has, in my opinion, the least downsides. Sure, the US could possibly be excoriated in international circles – well, the ones the matter anyway – But, most likely the international public would understand. The US already has four wars on its hands – yes, I’m counting N. Korea and Pakistan – and it doesn’t need another.
Lastly, to address point of those in favour of intervention I shall examine the moral argument:
“The US has to intervene in Libya to prevent civilian deaths.”
A compelling and noble reason. However, I think that the reasoning isn’t as clear cut as it seems. A question must be asked:
“What course of action has the highest probability of producing the least amount of civilian deaths?”
To answer this I shall return to the options laid out above with the addition of one more.
Option one seems like a good bet, but as the conflict could drag on for months or years the number of civilian dead will grow.
Likewise, the same is true for option two.
Taking option three could very well result in a massacre, depending on what other Coalition forces do.
However, I have another idea. What if the playing field between the rebels and state forces could be levelled somewhat? Aside from supplying them with arms what could be the best parting gift that the US could give the rebel forces? What if Gaddafi just died? He is the focal point of the state. The whole regime, the army, would probably split into various factions. Gaddafi is the glue holding the Libyan government together. With the death of Gaddafi rebel forces may have a fighting chance and civilian causalities may be reduced.
I wonder if the US would be willing to supply that opportunity, sordid as it is.
“You’ve got to forget about this civilian. Whenever you drop bombs, you’re going to hit civilians.”