As egregious as the plight of Libyan opposition is becoming, with daily reports of air attacks on fighting and non-fighting civilians, the United States is right to distance itself from the idea of implementing a “no-fly zone” over that nation.
Britain and France have made it clear to Moammar Gadhafi that an international force taking control of the sky to protect civilians and legitimate protest is a real possibility, and insist that the United States is on board with this idea. But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was right to clarify exactly what that means: an invasion of yet one more Muslim nation. “It begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.”
This would be an extremely dangerous and costly operation, and U.S. interests in the region are best served by backing away from it at this point. Britain and France have suggested a truly international air blockade, with buy-in from other Middle Eastern nations. But as of yet there is no widespread support for this plan. The United States, in this case, need not lead the effort toward another potentially unpopular military conflict.
Given the nature of the Libyan uprising, the effect of any direct military aid is difficult to predict. Gadhafi is surely wrong when he claims that rebels are entirely an Islamist movement. But it’s likely there are some Islamist elements within this effort, and it is a real risk that high-tech weaponry provided to rebels for use against Gadhafi could later find its way into Afghanistan to be used against U.S. troops.
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