As the head of NATO forces in the Kosovo conflict, Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark says he is someone who's "thought about military interventions for a long time." And as Clark writes in The Washington Post, Libya's civil war is a poor candidate for U.S. action. According to the Vietnam veteran and former presidential candidate, as much as the U.S. would like Moammar Gadhafi to fall, and democracy to flourish, "we don't need Libya to offer us a refresher course in past mistakes." Here are six of his reasons why the U.S. should stay out of Libya:
1. Intervention isn't in our self-interest
Libya doesn't sell us much oil, and it doesn't pose a direct threat to us, so there would be little national interest in our committing to fight to Gadhafi's finish. Sure, "we want to support democratic movements in the region," but America is already fighting that fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. While "it is hard to stand by as innocent people are caught up in violence," that didn't stop us from standing on the sidelines during much worse conflicts in Darfur and Rwanda.
2. We don't have a clear objective
If we want to mount a humanitarian effort, we shouldn't involve the military, and if we want to involve the military, we need to mount a full invasion. The worst idea would be "mission creep," like our intervention in Somalia, which gradually shifted from humanitarian to military without a clear plan. And half-measures, like a no-fly zone, are just "a slick way to slide down the slope to deeper intervention."
3. We don't know who would replace Gadhafi
Even if the West ousts Gadhafi, what's the "political endgame"? The best-case scenario is a constitutional convention and multi-party democracy, but it's just as likely that "the most organized, secretive, and vicious elements [would] take over." We're in no shape to take ownership of that struggle.
4. There's no mandate
Gadhafi's current actions, as reprehensible as they are, "aren't an attack on the United States or any other country," so under what authority would we step in? If we decide to go ahead and act without "substantial international legal and diplomatic support," like a United Nations resolution or the Arab League's blessing, we're just asking for trouble.
5. This conflict would be neither clean nor easy
The most successful U.S. interventions have been quick and as bloodless as possible, allowing us to complete the mission while keeping "our moral authority" intact. A no-fly zone in Libya might start out that way, but eventually we'd have to bomb people and send in ground troops, and as we've learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, "a few unfortunate incidents can quash public support."
6. We don't have the will to shock and awe
"We can't quite bring ourselves to say it," but involving ourselves in Libya's civil war would be yet another example of "committing our military to force regime change in a Muslim land." And our prognosis for extracting ourselves anytime soon is poor. Grenada lasted three days, Panama took three weeks, and we finished the ground fight in the 1991 Gulf War in 100 hours. But nobody is considering using that kind of "decisive force — military, economic, diplomatic and legal" — in Libya. And "the longer an operation takes, the more can go wrong."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
- Israel has only two choices: Eliminate the Palestinians or make peace
- 9 things you probably didn't know about the moon
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why are so many parents being arrested?
- Why I choose not to be rich
- 29 adorable slang terms for sex (from the last 600 years)
- What if The Purge was real?
- Here's the last time Russia shot down a passenger plane
Subscribe to the Week