Shadow Government

The time for a no-fly zone is now

The calls by liberals like John Kerry, and some not-so-liberal types like John McCain, have prompted a reaction from both the administration, which prefers meaningless pronouncements over concrete action to influence events on the ground, as well as from solid conservatives like my colleague and friend Kori Schake, who worry about the true nature and intentions of the Libyan opposition. In the meantime, however, Muammar al-Qaddafi continues both to profit from oil revenues -- Libya is still exporting oil -- and to kill his own people. His aircraft continue flying with impunity, and bombing targets on the ground. Just as the Obama administration's bluster has had no effect whatsoever on the course of the civil war, so too have the much vaunted sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council done little to unseat the Libyan madman.

Some of Libya's rebels are saying they do not want U.S. intervention; others are pleading for it. And it is true that no one knows who these rebels really are. So there is much to the argument that arming these people -- who in any event have managed to obtain arms on their own -- may not be a terribly good idea. In addition, since at least some of the rebels themselves have stated that they oppose American air strikes, much less any sort of intervention on the ground, there is no reason for the United States, or any of its reluctant allies, to contemplate such actions.

At the same time, however, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Pentagon have gone much further: they insist that any kind of military action -- even a no-fly zone -- simply places excessive demands on U.S. resources. Libya's air defenses would first have to be demolished, they posit, and even then, the country is just too big. And, they argue, any action by the United States must be taken in conjunction with its allies -- meaning NATO. Since several NATO states, notably Turkey, are averse to interfering with Mr. Qaddafi's bloodletting, nothing will happen. How convenient.

The Obama administration appears unclear about why a no-fly zone is called for. It is not just a matter of the rebels' interests; it is, first and foremost, in U.S. interests. After all, what if Qaddafi were to defeat the rebels because there was no interference with his air strikes against them, which are increasing with every passing day. Would his victory serve U.S. interests?

The administration seems to prefer to gloss over the fact that Libya's air defenses hardly should be a threat to a major carrier-based "alpha strike," or an attack by land based aviation -- or both. The United States has some 200 aircraft within striking distance of Libya, a much easier target to deal with than, say, Afghanistan or Iraq. And U.S. aircraft could deploy from, and be supported by, a host of bases strung among its Mediterranean NATO partners. If these forces nevertheless are deterred by Libya's third-rate air defenses, one might rightly wonder how the United States Navy and Air Force might be expected to face a truly formidable foe.

Similarly, the administration's argument about Libya's size is rather specious. A no-fly zone would not have to extend very far inland at all; Libya's key cities are in or near its Mediterranean coastline and a no-fly zone need not last for years, as it did until Iraq was invaded in 2003.

As for NATO approvals, it is one thing to mount a major ground attack, for which allied support, and a U.N. resolution, may well be appropriate. But a no-fly zone is something else. How heavily did the Clinton administration rely upon other forces to maintain the no-fly zone over Iraq?

Ultimately, if Libya's bloodbath continues, as no doubt it will, pressure will mount for military action that goes well beyond a no-fly zone. And if Qaddafi then falls, no matter who succeeds him. The United States will once again be blamed for bring about "regime change." The Arabs will resent U.S. intervention and they will find a way to blame Israel for it all. In due course, American flags will once again be burned on the Arab "street" throughout the region.

It would be so much more advantageous to long-term U.S. interests if Washington were to mount a no-fly zone operation now -- including knocking out Libya's air defenses -- so that more members of Libya's armed forces will be encouraged to defect from Qaddafi, without the United States having to intervene on the ground. The alternative, which the administration continues to prefer, is to sit back and let events dictate what the United States should do. This is not policy; it is hand-wringing of the worst sort.

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Shadow Government

How to get rid of Qaddafi

The race is on to see which American politicians can argue most forcefully for the use of our military power to assist rebels fighting deranged Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. Conservatives were early to the argument, eager to help people brave enough to fight for their freedom and understandably frustrated by President Obama's broad encomia lacking any practical assistance to emergent democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Senator John Kerry joined the fray over the weekend, showing the liberals' colors and trying to look worthy of being Secretary of Defense.

The Obama administration conveys its usual contradictory messages, most discouragingly explaining that the threat of force should deter Qaddafi as they backpedal from suggesting any actual use of that force. It is a mystery why the administration would believe an experienced manipulator like Qaddafi wouldn't make us prove it.

The administration compounded their errors by publicly tying any U.S. action to multilateral support they cannot realistically attain, and showing we could be blackmailed into inaction if U.S. diplomats were in country.

But I share Secretary Gates's hesitance to use military means to affect the battles in Libya, principally because I see no sign the president has anywhere near the commitment to solve this problem that would merit getting Libyan hopes up or putting American service members at risk.

As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell judiciously pointed out, we know little about the anti-Qaddafi rebels. We're still combating weapons we gave the mujaheddin to fight Soviets in Afghanistan, and dealing with the radicalization of that society from civil war. Libyan rebels do not appear lacking in weaponry, as military units have defected bringing their equipment, and Libyans are creatively using the means available to them (like bulldozers). Libyan military forces remaining in the Qaddafi camp don't look particularly proficient, missing munitions dumps and being fought to a standstill by untrained irregulars. And Qaddafi has not yet crossed the threshold of using to maximum effect the destructive means in his control.

This suggests Qaddafi's abdication is a problem better managed by soft power than the use of military force. Our goal should be to get Qaddafi to leave and persuade the people keeping him in power not to do so. The administration seems stuck in a punitive mindset, freezing assets and condemning, but has done little that would convince Qaddafi there is a way other than fighting to the finish. Where is the "smart power" this administration argued would put the State Department back in the lead of American national security policy? Former National Security Advisor Steve Hadley (full disclosure: my former boss) suggested offering the $30 billion in frozen Libyan assets as a rebuilding fund, releasable to Libyans who oppose Qaddafi; the administration has proposed nothing so creative or likely to induce the ebbing of support from Qaddafi's ranks.

Perhaps behind the scenes, our diplomats are negotiating with Qaddafi to flee the country, paralleling the good that President Reagan did in convincing President Ferdinand Marcos to accept asylum and leave the Philippines to a hopeful democratic future. That would involve morally unsatisfying compromises, but it would be good for the people of Libya. It would also be less costly and less destructive to relationships, especially in the Middle East, that the United States needs to manage other problems, like combating terrorism.

The Obama administration is going to miss the tide yet again unless it begins floating more creative ideas than just economic sanctions and international investigation. They ought to be focusing effort on peeling supporters away from Qaddafi and helping him develop an exit strategy.

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