Victor Davis Hanson: Should We Intervene in Libya?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.]

There are plenty of good arguments for imposing a no-fly zone in Libya. Without Libyan-government air strikes, the rebels might have a better chance of carving out permanent zones of resistance. Qaddafi has a long record of supporting anti-American terrorism, whether in the form of killing Americans in Europe during the Reagan administration or masterminding the Lockerbie bombing that took down a Pan Am 747 jumbo jet, killing 270 in the air and on the ground. In humanitarian terms, Libyans have been living an ungodly nightmare since Qaddafi’s coup in 1969, and it would be a fine and noble thing to lend them a hand to end their four-decade-long misery. The world would be a better and safer place without Qaddafi and his odious clan in power.

Unlike our military action under Ronald Reagan in 1986 (I visited the country on the 20th anniversary of that strike, only to happen upon an unexpected Lionel Richie commemorative concert), intervention now would find the proverbial “people” on our side. Many of our European allies would also favor some sort of military action. So supposedly would the majority of Libya’s neighbors. Even the Arab League is on record as supporting a no-fly zone imposed from the outside. Ostensibly, Arab countries would be supporting our efforts rather than undermining them, as they so often did in Iraq.

Former war critic Barack Obama is now president. He could bomb Qaddafi any time he wished, without incurring the vitriol that once met President Bush — and without having to make the effort Bush did to win congressional approval. Hollywood, the Democrats in Congress, and the mainstream media would all rally behind whatever the president wished. Most conservatives surely would support the president’s decision. The Cindy Sheehan crowd would either be silent or be silenced by the liberal community.

Unlike the 26 million–plus in Afghanistan and a like number in Iraq, there are only 7 million people in Libya, a country that poses none of the physical challenges of Afghanistan or even Iraq. The country is flat, with mostly clear weather, and is far more accessible than Afghanistan or Iraq — with its long Mediterranean coastline and plenty of American and NATO bases of operation in southern Europe. Many supporters apparently believe that we could redeem our messy efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq by a cleaner, short, and more popular intervention in Libya — akin more to a Serbian no-fatality operation than a hard slog in the Hindu Kush.

But all that said, using military force at this moment in Libya is a bad idea, and for a variety of reasons...

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