The scenes of rebels bravely taking on Colonel Qaddafi's Army in the struggle for who will rule Libya pull at ones's heart strings. How can it be so that we are not actively supporting people dedicated to overthrowing a man who murdered our sons and daughters in discos and on airliners? How can it be so that the world's largest military is not providing a "no fly zone" over Libyan skies and actively supplying the rebels with guns and butter? Have we walked away from our responsibility as the world's standard bearer for democracy?
These are hard questions, and they deserve serious consideration. That said, the United States should not become actively involved militarily in Libya for a very simple reason--there is no compelling national interest to do so.
Americans are stuck in a 20th Century mindset, when there were only two competing governance visions--communism and democracy (oh, and a handful of dictators beholden to the superpowers). When we look at independence movements around the world and see the bright faces of people streaming into public squares in protest of dictators with decades of tenure, we assume that they want what we want, that when they've unhorsed their dictator, they will ride into the loving arms of freedom loving capitalist world. This is simply not the case anymore in a wide swath of the Arab-Islamic world. There, unhorsing the dictator is just as likely to bring about theocratic fascism as it is anything resembling market oriented democracy.
We have no ties to Libya, save for ties of mistrust and vengeance. We have little in the way of economic exchange. American personal and corporate interests are few and far between there, though they have been on the increase since relations with Qaddafi warmed late in the Bush Administration. Those seeking Qaddafi's overthrow must remember that late last decade, things between our nations moved in a different direction when Qaddafi renounced his WMD program. Those who cite Qaddafi's past terrorist actions as rationale for intervention, they conveniently forget that as far as the US government is concerned, all is forgotten vis-a-vis Lockerbie, et al.
Those who would have us intervene in Libya by imposing a no-fly zone must answer to the question of escalation. What happens when they shoot back? Once we've bombed their surface to air missile sites and destroyed their air force, will we then destroy their mechanized units on the ground? How big a step is it to providing the rebels with air protection to then providing them with ground protection?
Those who would have us intervene (yet again) in the Islamic world must account for the return on investment we receive from our two ONGOING interventions there--Iraq and Afghanistan. We are a trillion dollars into those two wars and 4000 lives--and while I do believe we are marginally safer at home as a result, to say those margins could only have been gained in costly ground wars there strains credulity. All the while, our economy has tanked and China has ascended. We are intelligently backing our way out of these two costly land engagements as we try to mend our economy--taking on a third is simply reckless.
If one looks at Qaddafi's sins against us and the world, and then compares them to Saddam's sins, there is no comparison. Saddam was a world menace on a scale that Qaddafi can't even approach--yet many of the same people kvetching for intervention in Libya scorned such intervention in Iraq. Why? Because George Bush was at the helm, and because there is an insidious strain of thinking on the left (especially) that certifies the holiness of military interventions based on the LACK of national interest--that the only military interventions are ones we undertake in a spirit of selflessness and at the service of mankind. Bunk. We go to war (and make no mistake--a no fly zone over Libya is an act of war) in support of enduring national interests, or we sit on our hands and wish that there were more that we can do. We don't and shouldn't go to war because it makes us feel good about ourselves.
Are there things we can do in Libya IF we feel it is in our interest to do so that are short of war? Surely. We can funnel arms through intermediaries. We can train others to do our bidding. But first, we must figure out what our bidding is. In the old days, the overthrow of a dictator more often than not meant the rise of a government more in keeping with our interests and values. This is no longer the case. We must know more about the nature of the uprising; that it opposes the present government is insufficient. We should not act without insight into the direction it wishes to take the country. That's right--"freedom" is insufficient, if that freedom means only the freedom to overthrow a dictator in favor of an Islamic Theocracy. We are far too overstretched to assuage our national conscience in order to fertilize yet another Islamo-fascist field.