Adam L. Silverman, PhD*
After following all the recent SST posts and comments pertaining to Libya, as well as some of the reporting and commentary in other places, I think the issues pertaining to American intervention in Libya come down to the broad categories of why and how. While I think that The Twisted Genius and COL Lang certainly have laid out and proposed the best variant of how US intervention should take place, after observing both the politics surrounding the uses of American military force for the past decade, as well as the actual way the US ultimately uses force, I'm not feeling too optimistic that what they are delineating, based on year's of hard learned experience, will actually be done. In fact I'm pretty sure we will see something of the usual suspects version of the use of force: a no fly zone that doesn't do much to remove Qathafi (which is now, if I understood the President's remarks correctly, the overall stated US objective: that he has to go), followed by pressure from both our allies (France, Britain) and from the internal foreign and defense policy mavens that we must do more, America is looking weak, we're not living up to our standards - the usual arguments for boots on the ground intervention, which will result in said intervention. Then we will start hearing the arguments that we have to expand operations so as not to discredit those who have already risked so much and because we can not allow Libya to descend into an ungoverned state of chaos, destabilize the region, and become a haven for al Qaeda, other extremists, and/or international criminals. This will then become the basis for the need for the US to build a modern Libyan nation-state. Since only time will tell how what we do plays out, let me move on to a brief discussion regarding whether we should or should not intervene.
I think there is a good argument for not getting involved. It is focused around the question that we really do not know who we are dealing with in terms of the anti-Qathafi elements. We do not know how unified they are, whether they would be an improvement over the Qathafi as the "Devil we know...", or whether they are even capable (as in thought through, have a plan, have the means to carry out that plan) of governing Libya should Qathafi leave power. I think this is part of the reason that TTG and COL Lang recommended the course of action that they did, because the small SF teams would be able to a better read on just who the opposition is, what they are capable of, and what they want to do. Unfortunately, the currently proposed course of action of a no fly zone isn't going to get us that information.
I also think that two good, though different, arguments can be made for intervention. The first is the moral argument that COL Lang has made here at SST. We bear some responsibility for not dealing with Qathafi when he first came to power and then letting him off the hook and out of isolation during the previous Administration in order to score a quick and cheap IO win in the War on Terror. In this instance, even embroiled in two 3rd Party Counterinsurgencies, we have a chance to align national ideals with national objectives and act. The second argument is less a moral one and much more of an economic one: the oil must flow. While the US purchases virtually no oil from Libya, the global economy, still teetering between fragile recovery and complete mess, does not react well to even the slightest hint of a petroleum disruption anywhere. So while the Egyptian revolution (for lack of a better term) hasn't closed the Suez and the Saudis have made it clear they'll make up any shortfall that might be experienced because of events in Libya, the price of oil, and therefore gas, have made a recent, rapid run up. While the US is constantly being accused of engaging in adventurism in the Middle East because of oil, or taking policy positions at odds with our national values and ideals because of oil, in this case the argument may simply need to be: "Yes, this is because of oil. Neither the US, nor any other nation's economy can right now withstand uncertainty or turmoil in the oil market. So for everyone's economic interests we are going to back intervention and participate in it." While this may sound Machiavellian in the extreme, economic interests and power are, or should be, part of every policy discussion.
As COL Lang has argued the moral thing to do is intervene. As both he and TTG have delineated, there is a smart way to do this (which I would guess not be how it will happen). And there is a compelling economic interest not just for the US, but for everyone else to intervene. The only remaining questions, questions which largely can not be answered right now, are: Do we have anyone reliable to partner with among the Libyan opposition? Will we do this in an intelligent manner or get dragged into something deeper, more costly, and much more dangerous? And can we seriously consider committing military assets to a third 3rd Party intervention (this time on behalf of the insurgents) if we can not even fund our government for more than three weeks at a time because our elected officials can't move beyond their own petty, partisan, ideological politics and actually do something for the public good?
* Adam L. Silverman is the Culture and Foreign Language Advisor at the US Army War College. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Army War College, the US Army, or the US Government