As forces loyal to Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi continue to rain violence on protesters in Tripoli, international leaders are scrambling to respond. On Saturday, the United Nations Security Council sanctioned Gadhafi and his family, and voted to refer him to a war-crimes tribunal. But some want to go a step further by imposing a no-fly zone — a complete ban on aircraft over the capital, or the entire country. Is this a good idea?
It's a good first step: Gadhfai would "slaughter hundreds or even thousands of his own people in his desperation to hang on to power," says The New York Times in an editorial. He and his henchmen must be told "in credible and very specific terms the price they will pay for any more killing," and that starts with sanctions, an arms embargo, and "imposing the kind of no-fly zone that the United States, Britain and France used to protect Kurds in Iraq from the savagery of Saddam Hussein."
A no-fly zone probably wouldn't work: There's a reason no-fly zones are an "infrequently used tool," says Edward Rees at The Atlantic. Most intra-state conflicts are "ultimately conducted on the ground," and unless the situation is stable there, restricting air power is meaningless. A no-fly zone meant to stem bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia "did little to stop the worst abuses of that conflict." It's important to "consider the complicated history" of this method before endorsing it.
"The case against a no-fly zone in Libya"
And it might mean a full-fledged war: "This is a really, really bad idea," says Robert Dreyfuss at The Nation. A no-fly zone is useless in the first place, since "it isn’t clear that Libyan pilots are willing to bomb their own citizens." It's also a dangerous policy, because such a line-in-the-sand restriction is "worthless unless the United States is prepared to back it up with overwhelming military force." And unless Obama wants a third military conflict on his hands, "the United States needs to avoid anything that has warlike implications."
"Against a 'no fly zone' in Libya"
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