Friday, April 8, 2011

More on Libya

The Atlantic may or may not know this, but they have a pretty useful series of articles up right now which, taken together, I think put together a pretty coherent tour of the situation in Libya.

What's been going on so far seems to be in keeping with an extremely limited, low risk intervention to reduce the amount of damage Qaddafi can do to his own people while trying to maintain power. Of course, low risk is never no risk. There are no troops on the ground, but a plane did crash already...luckily the pilots are safe, but it could have very easily turned out differently with hostages and higher risk rescue missions and who knows what else. Plus, bombing means killing civilians, or anti-Qaddafi rebels on accident, or even just guys who work for Qaddafi who after all are human beings too...and we may be confident that we're saving more lives than we're taking, but there's no guarantee that the public opinion in the Middle East will see it that way, and on some level public opinion in the Middle East translates into how many young men are traveling to Iraq & Afghanistan to fight as insurgents.  I think the less-than-rock-solid support coming from the Arab League is at least one sign of how tenuous this is.

And then, there's the what happens next problem. We know that Qaddafi is bad, but we don't really know what the viable alternatives are...and seeing as how we're now apparently negotiating with the Taliban as a part of getting out of Afghanistan it's something you have to consider. There's a temptation to start thinking of the rebels as "our guys," and of helping them win the conflict as our goal. I see that temptation in this article, where it seems pretty clear that these guys could benefit from our help and that it would be very easy for us to give it to them. This article though is a valuable counterpoint.

Apparently as of right now, our involvement is preventing Qaddafi from using his planes and his tanks against civilians, but we haven't done anything yet to try to change the weaponry imbalance on the other side by arming the rebels.* I think Obama just may be cold blooded enough to keep it that way, even if it means watching "our guys" fight battles under-armed when he could easily tip the balance. And honestly, I'm pretty sure that's the kind of leader we need to be able to avoid all of the worst case scenarios that I would give as reasons we should have never intervened in the first place. So, I am at least somewhat reassured for now. If next week there's an announcement that we're shipping weapons to the rebels though, I'll be back to being very very concerned. (Because you know, that does a whole lot of good).

*There's some talk that we may in the future, but this article makes a pretty good argument that the administration may mostly just be using that as a threat.

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