With Moammar Gaddafi using his air force to pound rebel positions and arms depots — as well as lots of civilians — the demand to impose a no-fly zone over Libya is rising. The Obama administration pushed back against that idea yesterday, even as some members of Congress began raising their voices for more American and Western action to stop what may become a massacre in North Africa:
Supplying covert arms as an alternate solution to more direct military action sounds … awfully familiar, doesn’t it? After several years of working with Gaddafi, would we even know the nature of the groups to whom we would hand these weapons? A no-fly zone at least has the virtue of taking direct action against Gaddafi without having to make decisions on the ground best left to the Libyans themselves.
William Daley’s point about the logistics of a no-fly zone are true enough, but also mainly obvious and pointless. The US has the resources in the Mediterranean to support enough of a threat to the Libyan air force to get its pilots to think twice about going up in the air. If NATO joined the effort, air superiority or even supremacy would be all but a given, and just that fact would likely prompt more of Gaddafi’s Mirages to land in Malta and surrender. It might not take more than a day or two for Libyan pilots to abandon their missions against their own people.
The question isn’t whether we can do it, it’s whether we should do it, and whether we can find enough support to make it work. Russia opposes the idea, and China will almost certainly balk at it as well. That will put us back in the same boat as we were in the Balkans conflicts in the 1990s, or Iraq in 1991 for that matter. Also, the Libyans will almost certainly shoot back. Will Europeans continue to support a no-fly zone if Western pilots end up getting killed enforcing it? Will Americans support it under those circumstances? I’d call that doubtful, although Europeans may like that option better than the refugee crisis that’s coming their way if Gaddafi manages to hang on in this civil war.
Obama, though, is at least keeping his options open, reversing course from Daley’s reaction yesterday:
President Barack Obama says the U.S. and its NATO allies are still considering a military response to violence in Libya.
Speaking at the White House, Obama says the U.S. will stand with the Libyan people as they face “unacceptable” violence. He says has authorized millions of dollars in humanitarian aid.
Once again, it seems that the White House can’t make up its mind how to react to the situation in Libya.
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Addendum: Are those chess-animation clips the best that ABC News can generate to make its point? Seriously?