Let's stay out of Libya

To begin with, there is no reason to believe a no-fly zone would be decisive. In fact, we have every reason to believe it would not be, given that aircraft and helicopters are not central to the regime’s military advantages. The regime could defeat the opposition without resorting to attack planes and helicopter gunships simply by exploiting its advantages in terms of foot soldiers and light arms.

What about other military steps outsiders could take? To impose a no-drive zone—which would aim to limit the government’s ability to use tanks and armored personnel carriers—would require far more extensive military force than a no-fly zone. And even if it were implemented, no number of Western aircraft on patrol could stop the movement of every military vehicle. The only way to level the battlefield would be to put trainers, advisers and special forces on the ground…

There are many reasons to avoid making Libya the center of U.S. concerns in the region. Libya is far from the most important country in the Middle East—both in terms of political influence and its impact on the oil market. American policy makers would be wiser to focus on what they can do to see that Egypt’s transition proceeds smoothly, that Saudi Arabia remains stable, and that Iran does not.