The U.S. Position on Libya: No-Fly Zones Versus Asking the Saudis to Supply Weapons (Again)

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As Libya nears the brink of civil war (if it isn't there already), it looks like the White House is opting to issue military support through back channels rather than direct military intervention. Senator John McCain is leading the hawkish chorus of Republican congressmen who want to implement a no-fly zone over Libya. But while a no-fly zone would help the rebels by halting Qaddafi's ability to launch air attacks, it would also necessitate bombing Libya's still-functioning but depleted air-defense systems — a move that would bring the U.S. directly into the war against Qaddafi. Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Obama's chief of staff, Bill Daley, have pushed back against the idea. "Lots of people throw around phrases of 'no-fly zone,' and they talk about it as though it's just a game on a video game or something," Daley said on Meet the Press.

The other downsides to a no-fly zone? It could be a potential coup for Qaddafi if he manages to shoot down a U.S. jet. Not to mention the fact that no one has addressed the price tag involved with a costly, complicated campaign to bomb Qaddafi's surface-to-air missiles.

What President Obama would prefer, according to the Independent, is to have Saudi Arabia funnel weapons to rebel forces in Benghazi. Yes, the same Saudis who just banned any kind of demonstrations for their own people and the very same royal family who helped the U.S. arm guerrillas to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan — before turning around and funding and arming the Taliban. The White House sees this as a way to offer support, just with less liability with its name removed from the weapons supply chain. But that might be harder to claim when the arms say "Made in the USA."

Eliot Spitzer's answer to the problem: institute a no-fly zone and arm the rebels. In an op-ed at Slate, he wrote:

Not only would our actual assistance be of great actual help, but the emotional impact of our intervention could sway many who remain with Qaddafi and bring them over to the side of the resistance.

Military might wins hearts and minds — now where have we heard that before?

America's secret plan to arm Libya's rebels [Independent UK]
Should the United States Enforce Libyan No-Fly Zone?[ABC News]
Libyan Rebels Try To Regroup After Setback [AP via NPR]
Do Something in Libya, and Do It Now [Slate]