Sunday, March 13, 2011

Time for a no-fly zone?

I think it is safe to say that the Libyan rebels want a no-fly zone at this point and also safe to say that Obama clearly doesn't want the U.S. to assume a leadership role in the fight against Gadhafi. The question is, if the U.S. needs unanimous support from all of our allies, will any serious actions ever be taken or will the U.N. continue to have "serious conversations" about "options" and "contigencies" while thousands are killed ? 


Patrick_Landers said...

I personally think we should institute a no-fly zone. But I also think we're seeing a lot of political opportunism on this debate (from Congressional Democrats as well as Republicans). It's a lot harder to make these decisions than it is to talk about what you'd do...if you were in that situation. However, I also do think that Obama's professorial mentality-analyzing a situation from all angles, is an imperfect approach to foreign policy matters. It's better than Bush's bear stumbling around in the china cabinet, but Obama's approach is, in my opinion, inadequate for the flexibility and decisiveness needed for foreign policy decision making.

But back to the issue- it’s important to remember that a no-fly zone is easier said than done. It does require a significant investment in resources- but that is manageable, although it's made more difficult by our other military commitments (Iraq, Afghanistan, the possibility of North Korea, etc.). It also requires the U.S. being willing to send in U.S military forces (mostly air, some naval), that are then going to have to kill Libyan military personnel. That's not a tiny step- it's not a bloodless thing, necessarily, to institute a no-fly zone. We'll have to kill lots of people, some who may or may not be enthusiastic on what they’re doing on behalf of Qaddafi.

It’s also important to keep in mind that a no-fly zone doesn't ensure military success for the rebels (as the DNI director was basically saying when referenced in this article). To actually give a good chance of success for the rebels, the West would almost certainly need to send in ground troops (if Qaddafi decides to push the issue- which seems likely. He is after all crazy, in the words of Mubarak. We’d dealing with a whole different degree of stubborn and intractable here.) So people who are pushing for a no-fly zone should also need to be willing to send in ground-troops. At least that’s what I think. Just doing a no-fly zone is likely to just stretch out the war but not make the rebels have a great chance of succeeding. Just doing a no-fly zone is really a halfhearted gesture- it makes it look like you care, but actually doesn't ensure the outcome we want. So people should decide how much military intervention they are willing to accept by the end, and if it's a lot- than the no-fly zone is perfectly reasonable. If you wouldn't go beyond a no-fly zone, than you shouldn't necessarily push for a no-fly zone because there's a good chance it won't get us a great outcome. Pushing only a no-fly zone option doesn’t really prove your commitment to the Libyan rebels.

I support a robust intervention including ground troops- though that is complicated by our already extensive military obligations (see list previously mentioned). Also, once again we run the risk of intervening in a government overthrow only to find out that our allies there aren't up to the task of running the country. Then Libya falls into chaos and becomes a failed state- which is a worse outcome for our security interests (arguably) than having an oppressive dictator (Qaddafi) who doesn't try to do major things (anymore) to strike at the U.S.

Patrick_Landers said...

Also, the WSJ editorial is partly inaccurate. The U.S. government has been in contact with the rebels, so the phrase " U.S. is only now sending envoys" is misleading- the U.S. is only now holding personal, cabinet-level meetings with representatives from the rebels to gauge the makeup and strength of the opposition. But, assuming press reports are accurate- which would be the same quality of sources the WSJ is essentially relying upon, the U.S. government has been extensively working on this issue for days, including communicating with the rebels. We’re only now, several days behind the French in holding such high-level talks. But that shouldn’t be suprising or reflect poorly on the U.S. necessarily, since France has a far greater historical connection, interest, and economic relationship to Libya than the U.S. does.

In conclusion, I'm all for keeping the political heat on Obama. I really do think we need to send in troops, just like I think we should have sent in troops to Rwanda and Darfur (and not Iraq- we have to prioritize, and the lives of millions is worth more than the lives of thousands Hussein targeted and the relatively minor net security risk he posed). I just think people need to confront the real issue and say now how far they are willing to go- that way they can't back out as the process goes further down the line and we possibly send in ground troops. If the WSJ editorial team is fine with American soldiers dying because they think this is important- that's great. I agree. But they should be up-front, and not just talk about the abstract concept of a "no-fly" zone. I don’t want to see any back-stabbing several months down the line when Americans soldiers start dying if we truly take the appropriate steps necessary to support the rebels.

Also, what happens if this unrest continues to spread. Supporting Libya sets up precedent. What happens if one of our allied governments, important to the War on terrorism, starts aggressively suppressing pro-democratic rebels. Once again, I say we have to support the pro-democratic rebels, regardless of the impact on the war of terror (partly because in the end I think these democracy revolutions are good for our security interests and creating the kind of Middle-East society that will be opposed to extremism).

(And by the way- I include lots of people in this critique, not just Republicans, but also Congressional Democrats and humanitarian groups who are criticizing Obama- rightfully so, but no being open about how far they are willing to go, what the acceptable end stages should look like, etc.)

Just my two cents- not picking a fight with you Megan :-P

Megan said...

I agree with a lot of what you said. I would support a no-fly zone AND ground troops. I think the longer we wait the less effective a no-fly zone will actually be and the more ground action we will need.

I agree that acting in Libya sets a precedent, but I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. It will make dictators fear Western action and probably make them less likely to try to violently squash democratic revolts for this reason.

Patrick_Landers said...

I agree- I'm all for setting precedents and sticking to them if they're good ones. I (hope) the precedent would be understood by everyone as the U.S. taking action for humanitarian reasons, right? This isn't really about democracy prevention- it's about preventing the slaughter of innocent people. Which is something I think the U.S. should do a lot more.

Ryan Karerat said...

I'm skeptical about the effectiveness of a no-fly-zone at this point. It might stem the tide a little bit, but Libya's Air Force is crap to begin with and a no fly zone won't do much to counter-act the arms and ground troops advantages that Ghaddafi's forces have. Short of a ground invasion (which I am unequivocally against as long for as long as this is a civil war and not a genocide/humanitarian crisis of a Rwanda type scale), I think we might be most useful in helping arm the rebels and providing some form of tactical support. I don't know too much about the capabilities of our Special Ops forces, but this might be a situation where they might be useful as well. Commit some help, but do not make this all of a sudden a U.S. led counter-Libya movement, which is what it becomes if we send troops there.

Where I'm most disappointed with the administration's response is this knee-jerk reaction to think that there shouldn't be any form of American involvement in these movements because they were organic and self-made and they don't want anyone to think it's the result of American meddling. I just don't think that the sort of support that say... the French have provided in the case of Libya (diplomatic recognition of the independence movement as a start, more aggressive calls for military assistance) is going to be enough for people to look at this as a US-led revolt.

Now, there may be those who might try to propagandize it as such, but thinking that would be effective basically ignores what we've seen in the Middle East the past 2 or so months, which is that the Arab people are in fact capable, in part because of our 'flatter' world, of seeing events more for what they are and are less susceptible to propaganda from their autocrats or religious leaders (the people who would fall for that probably weren't going to support the U.S. one way or another). But the equally big risk we run if a pattern of disengagement emerges is that if too many of the Ghaddafi's manage to maintain power despite the populist unrest, many young Arabs are going to blame the United States for failing to do more to ensure their freedom. All you need is a couple of those guys to become radicalized violent Islamists for this to become a much bigger problem.

Now, I don't think the U.S. should be sending ground troops into Libya, because ultimately that is incredibly reckless. It might be the feel-good story of the week to depose Qaddafi, but what happens when the Syrians, Saudi Arabians, Omanis, and Iranians are all calling for the same? Do we all of a sudden become some sort of global freedom force, knocking down doors all over the world to depose autocrats? That is asking far too much of our military, particularly when we've already got so much committed in other parts of the region.

"Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,'" as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put it a couple of weeks ago.

It's not our responsibility to depose Qaddafi. Supporting freedom across the globe doesn't mean running in guns blazing every time a populist revolt comes to being. These are still their movements and their revolts, not ours.

But we shouldn't ignore the fact that we may have the resources to help those who deserve the help without jeopardizing their sovereignty or responsibility to fight their own wars.

The Obama Administration claims they are playing the 'long game,' which is certainly a respectable path to move forward with, but there is a potential in taking that approach to fail to act on pivotal short-term issues. We need to aid these pro-democratic movements as much as we can, but I don't think the solution is sending ground troops in.

Patrick_Landers said...

Hmm… I was actually just considering posting about how getting to involved in Libya might set a precedent for getting involved in other nations, where there might be pro-democracy efforts but the government is a strong ally. However, my point is that I could care less about democracy. Ryan, you said “Supporting freedom across the globe doesn't mean running in guns blazing every time a populist revolt comes to being.” I agree- but that’s not what I think is going on in Libya or why we should get involved. My concern is about how many people Qadaffi will kill if he wins, which I think can only be averted if the U.S. intervenes strongly, including the use of ground troops (not in an Iraq-style intervention, that I think overestimates how much would be needed). The reason I am concerned about the situation is not going to averted by anything less. If thousands or more people are killed, does it matter if you came out forcefully with your rhetoric against it? No- so why bother? Words, economic pressure, and other limited tools are fine with democracy movements that don’t stand a chance- we just shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that’s enough in Libya’s case.

I am opposed to intervening militarily for pro-democracy purposes. I am much more supportive of intervention to prevent humanitarian crises, which I’m worried Libya in the end will descend into if Qaddafi wins and beings purging those who opposed him. However, I would take into account security interests when making a decision on intervention. For instance, if China started pulling a Qaddafi on Tibet or worse, I’d almost certainly say we should do nothing because, unfortunately, China is a much different opponent than Libya. I just think in Libya’s case the decision-making function of necessary involvement (Libya is not THAT problematic of an opponent compared to some), moral need (civil wars don’t end well for the losers, and Qaddafi is almost certainly the type of winner who is going to be very FORCEFUL in his victory dance if you catch my drift), security interests (Libya is not an ally, and is not a major security interest for us), and possible outcomes (this is the trickiest point- how much of a chance is there that the rebels could institute a strong enough government to at least avoid Libya becoming a failed state) shows us that we should intervene in Libya.

I would not encourage a direct, U.S.-only confrontation with Libya. It would have to be international, and it should be European-led (because Libya is much more connected to them historically, culturally, economically, and geopolitically- as I’ve said before, Libya is not a major security concern for us. It’s only important in what it’s signaling about the Middle East, or as a potential worst-case scenario of Libya turning into Somalia or Yemen 2.0.).

Patrick_Landers said...

Also, I agree that most of our activity should be based on providing material-support to the Libyan rebels. Also, (and this is a question that only the experts can answer), we should probably only intervene if we think there’s a good chance the Libyan army or Libyan elites surrounding Qaddafi would back off if the U.S. and Europe provided such strong support to the Libyan rebels. Basically, I think I agree with you that we shouldn’t intervene if it would actually take such a strong U.S. commitment to literally fight through the Libyan army- that’s just not a worthwhile investment of U.S. resources, even if there is such a moral claim from Qaddafi’s proclivity towards slaughtering civilians. Also, we need to know the answers to the questions Secretary Clinton is attempting to discover- how capable are the rebels at instituting control and governing (potentially in cooperation with elements of the current power structure) if they were to overthrow Qaddafi?

However, if these rebels could likely create a strong enough government (doesn’t need to be much, and it can be seriously flawed- just enough to avoid Somalia 2.0), if the U.S. stood a good chance in making Qaddafi and the Libyan Army back down with a short-term but still strong military showing in cooperation with Europe that involved using the rebels as the primary fighting force, then I think the U.S. needs to step forward and push heavily for this.

Now you might think this is different than my initial framing of my beliefs on the matter, but mostly it isn’t since I assumed and believed in my head that most of these questions were answerable in a positive way (i.e. rebels could govern, Europe would take a strong role as long as they knew the U.S. was providing strong support, we’d primarily be working through the rebels). The only question that needs to be analyzed more is whether the Libyan Army is inclined to back-down quickly if the U.S./Europe make a strong enough showing (and I know the situation is different than Egypt). This is important, because I do think a long-term commitment is probably an excessive reaction due to our limited national security resources at this time.

I agree that the Middle East populace is too sophisticated to be deceived by claims than any U.S. involvement is a sure sign we are manipulating events and orchestrating everything. I also agree that the U.S. needs to be more forceful in its public support of these movements, otherwise we risk alienating many in the Middle East who would rightfully view us as being hypocrites.

Patrick_Landers said...

As for your specific examples, my basis for believing in action is based off of concerns about how many innocent people are likely to die in a conflict (which is a big difference between civil unrest and a civil war- Libya’s situation is really serious and demands more of a really serious response). I think it’s highly unlikely for Saudi Arabia’s unrest to develop very far, so U.S. incentive to intervene is a mute point (since it wouldn’t go anywhere anyway)- and so this, combined with our very strong security interests with the Saudi government is why we should be muted on those problems- besides of course the usual platitudes about encouraging a transition to a free and open government. Oman’s situation looks like the Sultan has a good chance of staying in front of the protests if he’s nimble enough- so there’s a case where the U.S. should be vocal about reforms, pressure the Sultan, but do nothing to activity support the protestors. Once again, you look at the risk/outcome decisions heuristic- Oman isn’t that bad, is a good U.S. partner, and the government isn’t cracking down extremely violently by killing thousands of people- so I think there’s no need for U.S. response.

Now Syria and Iran are much bigger propositions. Iran is similar to China in that it’s just too big for us to get involved unless we don’t have any other reasonable options (aka nuclear might prompt intervention, but slaughtering hundreds of thousands isn’t enough- the security concerns are just too strong no matter the moral claim.) Now Syria is different than Libya in that it’s a tougher military nut to crack itself, but also its geographic location makes it much more likely that the violence could spill over and impact major security interests. Libya is isolated- the war is not going to spill over in any substantial way that would so impede our interests. So I don’t think Syria and Iran would warrant an intervention, even if they had domestic squabbles similar in scale to Libya’s right now- or even worse.
I just don’t think Libya represents a huge or unmanageable intervention case. It’s absolutely big, tough, and serious so it should not be entered into lightly- but I think it can be done, and that combined with the humanitarian concerns I have explains why I think intervention is necessary and justifiable- and does not necessarily apply to other situations. Just as the Middle East is sophisticated enough to understand that the U.S. isn’t manipulating events, they should be able to understand there’s only so much we can do. Words are the appropriate response for most of the situations currently developing in the Middle East, though another new thing might pop up. However, words aren’t enough in Libya’s case, and neither is a no-fly zone.

Megan said...