Questioning America’s Intervention in Libya Is a Bipartisan Effort

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Photo: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

A new poll shows that Americans are fairly divided over military intervention in Libya. While 70 percent support a no-fly zone, only 54 percent back "air strikes not directly related to the no-fly zone that instead target the troops fighting the rebels," which is what U.S., French, and British forces are doing. Still, that slim majority is a lot more support than what President Obama is getting from the political punditry. Liberals, conservatives, and moderates alike seem to overwhelmingly oppose the decision to intervene in Libya, and even supporters express grave doubts over some aspect of the operation.

Nothing Special About Libya:

Charles Krauthammer, Hugh Hewitt Show:

I would simply say the United States is not omnipotent. If we were, we would be everywhere, and we would be consistent, and we would stop every slaughter on the planet, and we would be in the Congo right now. And why aren’t we in the Ivory Coast? Ivory Coast had an election, the dictator lost the election, he refused to accept the other side, he’s been shooting people in the streets. I mean, where are we going to go with this?

Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations:

At the end of the day, though, the Libyan intervention is more than anything about the role of the United States in the world. The United States cannot and should not intervene in every internal dispute where bad or even evil is on display. It is not simply that we lack the resources, which we do. It is that we lack the ability to right every wrong, and that not every situation has within it a solution.

Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic:

Like most Americans, I would dearly love to see Muammar Qaddafi removed from power, though I have no idea what would replace him (I fear, of course, that what would replace him would be a hostile, al Qaeda-leaning regime, unlike Qaddafi's in recent years). But Libya poses no threat to the national security of the United States. There are good reasons for the U.S. to join the fight against Qaddafi (and not just the humanitarian reason, but because removing him would give hope to citizens of other despotic countries, including Syria), but not at the expense of the six problems outlined above.

No Clear Objectives or Exit Strategy:

Ezra Klein, Washington Post:

This post shouldn’t be read as a statement of opposition to military intervention in Libya. I don’t know enough to confidently make that call. But that’s precisely the problem: There’s very little information about what we are expecting to do or how much it will cost, but I suspect our commitment, once made, will actually be quite difficult to reverse. Presidents don’t like to lose wars. Americans don’t like to lose wars. Once Libya is our problem, it will stay that way. But if Libya becomes our problem — and it arguably already has — it will be before we have fully reckoned with the consequences of shouldering it, not after.

George Will, Washington Post:

America’s war aim is inseparable from — indeed, obviously is — destruction of that regime. So our purpose is to create a political vacuum, into which we hope — this is the “audacity of hope” as foreign policy — good things will spontaneously flow. But if Gaddafi cannot be beaten by the rebels, are we prepared to supply their military deficiencies? And if the decapitation of his regime produces what the removal of Saddam Hussein did — bloody chaos — what then are our responsibilities regarding the tribal vendettas we may have unleashed? How long are we prepared to police the partitioning of Libya?

Chris Matthews, MSNBC:

War is politics by other means; what are the politics of this war? Certainly in the short run it's to protect lives of people who would be killed in a slaughter of civilians in Benghazi and other places held by the rebels. What is the end game with our military involvement here? I hope the American people keep asking that. What are we trying to accomplish here? The news reporting has been unsatisfactory in that regard

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

In terms of “what happens next?” type issues, this means that there’s probably more to worry about if the rebels succeed in driving Gaddafi from power. That could lead to a very happy outcome, but it could also lead to the total disintegration of the Libyan state, new rounds of civil war, basically anything. According to a strict reading of the UNSC resolution, I think what’s supposed to happen is that if the momentum shifts and Gaddafi’s forces desert him, NATO congratulates itself on a job well done and washes its hands of the situation. Will that really happen?

James Fallows, Atlantic:

[A]fter this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Qaddafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don't? What happens when a bomb lands in the "wrong" place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging "flaws" and "abuses" in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be "days, not weeks" cannot "decently" be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources -- or their domestic support -- and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined?

Too Costly:

Joe Klein, Swampland/Time:

Finally, I'd love to know how much this latest adventure is going to cost us...and how those costs compare to the pittance we spend on economic development in places like Pakistan and Egypt--countries whose stability is absolutely necessary to American national security.

Jim Manzi, National Review:

I am against it. I assume the military phase will be devastating for the regime, and hope that the overall effort goes as well as is possible, but I think it’s a mistake for the U.S. to expend significant economic, human, or moral resources in a military attempt to control the evolution of the conflict in Libya. I understand the humanitarian impulse to help the underdog, but we have finite resources, and cannot hold ourselves responsible for the political freedom of every human being on Earth

Too Late to Be Effective:

Niall Ferguson, Newsweek:

This was the right thing to do. Was. But it should have been done weeks ago, when it first became clear that Gaddafi, unlike Mubarak, was able and willing to unleash military force against his opponents. Now, with loyalist forces approaching the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, it may well be too late. It certainly seems unlikely that an exclusively aerial intervention in Libya’s civil war can topple the mad dog of Tripoli.

Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo:

A week ago a relatively limited intervention probably could have sealed the rebels' victory, preventing a reeling Qaddafi from fully mobilizing his heavy armaments. But where do we expect to get from this now? It's not clear to me how the best case scenario can be anything more than our maintaining a safe haven in Benghazi for the people who were about to be crushed because they'd participated in a failed rebellion. So Qaddafi reclaims his rule over all of Libya except this one city which has no government or apparent hope of anything better than permanent limbo. Where do we go with that?

Could Incite Terrorism:

Glenn Greenwald, Salon:

If we really want to transform how we're perceived in that part of the world, and if we really want to reduce the Terrorist threat, isn't the obvious solution to stop sending our fighter jets and bombs and armies to that part of the world rather than finding a new Muslim country to target for war on a seemingly annual basis? I have no doubt that some citizens who support the intervention in Libya are doing so for purely humanitarian and noble reasons, just as was true for some supporters of the effort to remove the truly despicable Saddam Hussein.

Andrew Sullivan, Atlantic:

There's a danger of this intervention, with its inevitable civilian casualties and unknowable future acts by the rebels we barely know, will revive the entire paradigm of the West vs Arabs. Maybe Qaddafi is pariah enough that we will avoid this. But the dangers remain.