Why a no-fly zone for Libya is a bad idea

There are many reasons. Chief among them: Anti-Gaddafi forces don't need help from the West

Daniel Larison

After massive popular opposition forced the departure of two long-serving authoritarian presidents in Arab countries, the governments of Bahrain and Libya responded immediately and brutally to protests challenging their control. Now, unlike Bahrain, Libya has fallen into open civil war. The excessive violence against protesters by Muammar Gaddafi's forces, including the use of air power against civilians, has triggered the rebellion of much of the country and the defection of many military officers to the side of the rebels. Libyan rebels now control the majority of the country, Gaddafi has limited control outside of the capital and his tribal stronghold of Sirt, and most of the military has not committed itself to Gaddafi's defense. Given time, the rebels seem poised to overthrow Gaddafi without outside help. Unfortunately for them and for the United States, American interventionists on the left and right have found in Libya's crisis an opportunity to revive their discredited policy doctrines of the past decade.

As the fighting in Libya has continued, editorial boards, pundits, and quite a few politicians from both parties have been virtually unanimous in calling for direct U.S. and European action against Gaddafi. Some of the demands have been unremarkable, such as freezing the Gaddafi family’s assets, providing humanitarian aid, re-imposing sanctions, and expelling Libya from the U.N. Human Rights Council it should never have been on in the first place. All of those things can and should be done, and some have already happened. But they change nothing in Libya, and there's no reason to expect that the United States or the European Union will entangle themselves in an internal Libyan conflict. One demand has become as common as it is unwise: the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, which would almost certainly have to be imposed and enforced by U.S. and NATO forces.

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Daniel Larison has a Ph.D. in history and is a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He also writes on the blog Eunomia.