Competing Narratives on Libyan Intervention

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Two competing pieces in Foreign Policy on the question of whether the US (whether via NATO or the UN or an Arab League-backed proposal) should establish a no-fly-zone and/or intervene militarily in Libya.  

First James Traub in favor (though Traub is at least well aware of the danger of such a proposition):

There is no point in establishing a no-fly zone unless both the West and Arab leaders are prepared to take the next step. This would be the kind of airstrikes that finally brought Slobodan Milosevic to heel in 1995: strikes against troop concentrations, bunkers, air-defense systems, and the like. This would be an outright act of war, though one that did not put foreign boots on Libyan soil. The goal, of course, would not be to induce Qaddafi to come to the negotiating table -- a Hitler-like Götterdämmerung is much more likely -- but to damage and demoralize his forces and thus tip the scales between the government and the rebels.

And Dirk Vandewalle against

No matter how long this war of attrition takes, it is almost unavoidable that Qaddafi will lose. Although he has the financial resources and, for now, still loyal military brigades around him, his options will gradually narrow as the actions of the international community and his forces' inability to reconquer the eastern part of Libya gradually take their toll in undermining his credibility to represent himself as the leader of a unified country.

If this assumption is correct, it raises two essential questions for Washington. Despite America's checkered past in Libya, the administration will want to answer these questions early on as it struggles for a coherent policy and the debate among top officials flares up. First, what can the United States do to help ensure that the rebel side prevails? Second, how can it do so without jeopardizing America's standing among the different family, tribal, and provincial factions that will inevitably emerge in a post-Qaddafi Libya where all rivalries and divisions have been violently suppressed for more than four decades?

Vandewalle makes some excellent arguments in regards to thinking about a post-Qaddafi governing process, distribution of oil, and a national reconciliation process.  But his argument assumes Qaddafi is going to lose in the long run and I'm not so sure that's an assumption that can be made.  Vandewalle's points on how to deal with a post-Qaddafi Libya (were one to emerge but whatever means) are spot on, but I'm not as optimistic about the power of international isolation (particularly when oil is involved).  

Traub's piece on the other hand comes down to a "it's the right thing to do" argument--he's at least more conscious of the potential disasters that could follow on an intervention and the intervention would be an act of war. 

I haven't come down one way or the other, but it is worth deeply asking about what it means to watch a government use its own air force to bomb its own people.    

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