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For Intervention in Libya: Two Views

It's not as fun to poke holes in arguments for military intervention in Libya when they are advanced by people like Anne-Marie Slaughter and Eliot Cohen, who should basically be the role models for any aspiring foreign policy wonk out there. Presidential administrations are mostly staffed by boring people who have never published or said anything remotely controversial. Slaughter and Cohen, by contrast, are bona fide public intellectuals who somehow managed to serve in high-level positions in the Department of State without ever compromising their personalities or intellects.

They are also both far too sanguine about military intervention in Libya. Here's Cohen:

There was momentum a few weeks ago as one town after another fell to enemies of the regime. A stream of defections, betrayals and surrenders seemed to spell Gadhafi's doom. The time to intervene is when a small push can have the greatest psychological effect, even if military planners would prefer to do it only after orchestrating a three-week air-defense suppression campaign.

Eliot Cohen is a smart enough scholar to where he probably has case studies to support his argument, but if we are to trust what Cohen writes here, we have to believe that Eliot Cohen understands, without any prior specialization in the peoples and politics of Libya, the decision-making calculus of the Gadhafi family and their associates. But one of Libya's defining features is how little we know about it. Even the smartest North Africa specialists I know admit to not understanding regime dynamics and the actors in a country that has been largely closed off to the world for the past four decades. Why is Eliot Cohen so confident he is right and that the Obama Administration could have done more?

And here is Slaughter:

Gen. Wesley K. Clark argues that “Libya doesn’t sell much oil to the United States” and that while Americans “want to support democratic movements in the region,” we are already doing that in Iraq and Afghanistan. Framing this issue in terms of oil is exactly what Arab populations and indeed much of the world expect, which is why they are so cynical about our professions of support for democracy and human rights. Now we have a chance to support a real new beginning in the Muslim world — a new beginning of accountable governments that can provide services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease support for terrorist groups and violent extremism. It’s hard to imagine something more in our strategic interest.

Slaughter has an expansive conception of U.S. interests and is seemingly not very descriminate in how or where the U.S. should intervene militarily. Reading her op-ed, I found myself asking, "Well, okay, then why not intervene militarily in Sudan? Or Congo?" If Libya -- which is in the midst of a civil war, mind -- meets the criteria for military intervention, what other countries merit military intervention?

Ross Douthat noted in a column today (which referred back to this blog, actually) how remarkable it is that the same left-right coalition that supported the invasion of Iraq is now beating the president up over not intervening in Libya. I'm not sure why we should be surprised by this. Approximately .5% of U.S. citizens served in Iraq, minus the ~4,500 or so who did not make it home.* So we should not be surprised that Iraq has not had an effect on the willingness of smart policy intellectuals to commit U.S. troops to open-ended military interventions in the Arabic-speaking world.

My sense, though, is that the average American has a much more limited conception of U.S. interests abroad than Slaughter. Whenever I travel to speak about Afghanistan, for example, I hear the frustration from tax-payers. When I go home, only my grandmother -- who, bless her, sent two of her three grandsons to fight in Iraq and served as a WAVE in WWII -- doesn't ask me when the war in Afghanistan will end.

I would also tell Slaughter that if the United States really wanted to support "accountable governments that can provide services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease support for terrorist groups and violent extremism," then we should be helping to reform the security services of Egypt's interior ministry and also working to ensure the referrenda and elections that will take place over the next six months are conducted in a free and fair manner. None of that involves military intervention, but as a country of 82 million people, Egypt's transition to a post-Mubarak order is more important for both democratic values and U.S. interests than what takes place in Libya.

***

In terms of no-fly zones, which would likely not much alter the military balance between Gadhafi and the rebels, I highly recommend this analysis from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (.pdf) on what a no-fly zone might cost.** They present their analysis with both the initial cost listed as well as the weekly cost of maintenance. At the end, though, they ask several key questions policy-makers need to answer before we decide on whether or not to enact a no-fly zone:

  1. What is the end-state of the Libyan conflict?
  2. How would a no-fly zone achieve this end state?
  3. Which nation(s) should take the lead in establishing a no-fly zone and through what international organization, if any, would such an operation be authorized?
  4. Over what timeframe would coalition forces be expected to maintain a no-fly zone?
  5. Would a no-fly zone be accompanied by additional measures to assist Libyan rebels and civilians,
    such as supplying limited military aid, intelligence data, or food and medical supplies?
  6. Under what rules of engagement would US and coalition forces operate?
  7. What legal authorization would such an operation require?
  8. Finally, what are the anticipated costs, in personnel and equipment, of establishing and sustaining a no-fly zone?

These are the questions I would also like to hear smart security studies scholars like Cohen and Slaughter start answering if they really want us to intervene in Libya. I am not categorically against military intervention in Libya, but I am deeply, deeply wary of rushing into it. I am not at all sure that "doing nothing" is not the wisest course here in part because I'm quite conservative about what we can expect military force to achieve and because -- in an era when we can't even agree to scrap together $46.5 million to keep USIP in business -- I am not sure the benefits of a military intervention make sense in terms of the costs, both human and financial.

*Really and truly, I'm really not trying to crassly wave the bloody flag here, but in addition to the $1 trillion we spent in Iraq, I think it is necessary to mention the human cost as well. (Click through to that link to see the numbers of civilian casualties and other coalition casualties. I don't mean to suggest they are not important as well.)

**Good for Todd Harrison and Zack Cooper. This is a good example of what happens when a think tank does its job to inform the debate over policy.

Libya

24 comments

holy shit, you've succesfuly

holy shit, you've succesfuly hedged every possible bet that one could make on this issue.

exum writes 1200 words on libya policy without allowing himself to be pinned down remotely on any particulur approach. why am i not surprised?

I am relatively sympathetic

I am relatively sympathetic to R2P intervention in Libya but am concerned about the depth of the debate so far on both sides. In addition to the questions you outlined above, here are four sets of questions I'd love adovcates on either side of the debate to answer (2 each).

For the interventionists
1. What wil Qaddafi do in response? Strategy is a dynamic process and as the cliche says, the enemy has a vote. He is not without options. For one thing, there are hundreds of westerners in Libya, including Americans who have not left (because they hold dual nationality, etc). Why wouldn't Qaddafi just round them up and hold them hostage at anti aircraft sites. Or place these air defenses in schools, hospitals, etc? What would we do then? We underestimated Milosevic in 1999; let's not do the same thing now.

2. If the US imposes a no fly zone, is the objective to stop Qaddafi from winning or to be seen to be doing something. If it's the first, then Qaddafi cannot be allowed to win (just as there was belated recognition in 1999 that Milosevic could not be allowed to win). This would select for a gradual escalation if events on the ground either remained stalemated or went in Qaddafi's favor. If it's the second, are we prepared for the humillation that will follow if Qaddafi wins anyway.

On the other hand, skeptics of the intervention need to answer questions of their own. So far they've been content just to knock down the interventionists. Specifically:

A. If Qaddafi wins, what sort of threat will he pose to the United States. Previously, he sponsored terrorism and sought WMD. What's to say he won't do so again. What is the skeptic's strategy for containing Libya after he wins? Can the skeptic's show that the costs of a new containment strategy will be less than the costs of intervening now?

B. The reputational costs are at least as real as they were in abandoning the Shia in 1991. Probably more so if Qaddafi's win paves the wage for an authoritarian counter-revolution. It would be nice to see the skeptics seriously engage this and argue honestly that these costs are less than the costs of intervention. Just wishing or dismissing them away is not serious.

I share skepticism about the

I share skepticism about the no fly zone. Among its many downsides is that it sucks all the oxygen out of the debate and prevents many other options (http://www.peacefare.net/?p=2088) from being considered, some of which might be more effective.

That said, it is looking as if the president has decided to sit on his hands. If so, that is unwise.

We should be doing what we can to block arms shipments to Gaddafi (one is rumored to have arrived in Tripoli today), interfere with his communications (vital to coordinating his long supply lines as his troops move east), cut-off his money supplies, provide useful intelligence to the rebels, give his lieutenants incentives to betray him and open a back door for the Colonel to abscond. With the Arab League and the Europeans asking for military action, it should not be difficult to get some of these other things done. Are we doing them?

Thanks, Daniel, as always,

Thanks, Daniel, as always, for your comments. I think we need to have a more deliberate decision-making process about U.S. interests before we do what you are suggesting -- I don't want to start with the ways and means and then determine the ends. And TomW, what worries me about R2P is that the opposite of what worries me about Daniel's comment: R2P is supposed to be UNIVERSAL. So where is the regional/ethnic conflict in which the United States does NOT intervene? R2P, as a concept, really bothers me because I think it put this big "end" out there for the international community without ever having a serious discussion about the ways and means available. Finally, Visitor5:28, debates about policy are hard. If you want to read a blog where people talk about these issues as if everything is black and white, look elsewhere. In my policy papers, I do advance policy recommendations, but I try to do so with appropriate humility.

I'm an armchair corporal with

I'm an armchair corporal with no military experience.

That said, as I understand it, fighter planes need very frequent maintenance, and, obviously, need to be re-stocked with ordinance. Since that all can't be/isn't done just anywhere, they are coming out of certain specified fixed bases. And those bases could, from very high up, be rendered functionally unusable. That would effectively create a no-fly zone, right, without the 24/7/? overflights, need to destroy all radars and air defenses first and so on?

The case for doing it is that, without taking at least total air supremacy out of the picture for Gaddafi, he will win for sure and then launch a near genocidal suppression of those who had the bravery to oppose him. (It is, concededly, likely that that will be the outcome anyway: we are, once again, observing what a trained, better equipped military can do to an even numerically superior, but untrained, under-equipped ragtag militia.)

The Benghazi-based opposition has made clear, from their first request, that they wanted "yes to a no fly zone..yes to strategic air strikes..NO to ground troops...NO to arming the people with weapons." And no, we don't know all about them--but do we know quite enough about Gaddafi.

(Legal authorization should come from UN, which is probably another show-stopper.)

What's striking to me in the

What's striking to me in the discussion is that we've moved from the pre-Iraq formulation that ran something like, "In the new age of Terror, there is no policy of 'containment' possible, desirable, or practical at any cost" to considering policies of containment for known supporters of terror, like Gaddafi, who have access to (self-financing, self-perpetuating) oil production.

CIA involvement with a rebel movement that struggles against a rotten regime, under the cover of a no-fly zone, is somehow preferable to a swift, full bore effort to just 'get the job done', how?

Regarding your statement "In

Regarding your statement "In terms of no-fly zones, which would likely not much alter the military balance between Gadhafi and the rebels". I have always read that effect of air strikes on inexperienced troops is very very great, with a morale effect far beyond whatever the airplanes actually break. The Libyan rebels are nothing but inexperienced, untrained troops so removing the air threat can be especially beneficial to them and their ability to carry on the fight. It is also remarkable that a veteran of an army that hasn't faced effective air strikes since 1943 can so blithely dismiss their effect. It would be a much more persuasive statement if it came from say an NVA veteran.

Two more people, mind you,

Two more people, mind you, who supported the invasion of Iraq.

Why don't you call them out on it as well? Too impolitic? But 'Neo-Cons' are fair game, I suppose...

Having recently returned from

Having recently returned from Cairo, I say thank you, thank you, for pointing out that what is going on in Egypt is the key to what happens in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa.
The results of this week's referendum in Egypt on constitutional amendments, the timing of elections, whether new political forces are permitted the time to form parties before parliamentary elections - all these are crucial to determining whether a more representative Egypt emerges that can have a positive effect on its North African and other Mideast neighbors.
Yet only the US military, not our diplomats, has links to the Egyptian generals who will determine the country's future. Those links should be used now to:
1) encourage the generals to give new Egyptian political forces a chance to develop (lest the country wind up with a parliament controlled by former regime elites and the Muslim Brotherhood - a sure prescription for more unrest);
2) encourage the generals to immediately act on the Arab League's vote for a no-fly zone vs Libya. Egypt should be taking the lead in protecting Benghazi. That would give the US cover to help with supplies, perhaps training, etc. until the rebels were organized enough to move forward again.

xxx

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It looks as if Cohen was

It looks as if Cohen was saying that the time to have intervened in Libya was several weeks ago, when it appeared that Qaddafi was on the run. This is arguable.

Trudy Rubin, upthread, is correct of course. What we've been seeing now is not a wave of political change throughout the Arab world, but some significant changes in Egypt plus some other stuff. Tunisia obviously matters to Tunisians, Lebanon to Lebanese, but the oil issue apart Egypt is the one Arab country that matters at all to us.

Let me swerve here to talk a little about the fighting in Libya. Can we learn anything about its likely course from the last time a major war was fought there? Granted, this was some seventy years ago, so it may not tell us anything. During the 1940-42 period, smashing battlefield victories followed by rapid advances and then undermined by logistics happened frequently. The distances were vast, the area suitable for sustained combat operations constricted, the difficulty in keeping heavy weapons in fighting trim and moving them over long distances considerable. All those things are still true. The rebel forces plunged toward Tripoli early in the fighting, when it seemed that Qadhafi's support might collapse underneath him. Now they appear to be retreating toward Benghazi; maybe that means that Qadhafi's forces will be right behind them within days, but I wonder.

Back to Egypt. What about it? If the rebel forces really were on the brink of defeat, one force in the region strong enough to protect them would obviously be the Egyptian army. Egypt has little oil to speak of; the eastern part of Libya has quite a lot. Libyans rebelling against Qadhafi aren't doing so to dismember their own country, but if they lose this war they know Qadhafi will have them all killed with their families. I don't know that anyone in Egypt is thinking in terms of adding another province to the country, but the thing might be possible. Not that I'm advocating it or anything -- but the worst case of American non-intervention is that Qadhafi wins, the rebels are slaughtered, we look impotent and Qadhafi and his odious children start making trouble again in Africa. That's not as bad an outcome for us as getting our own people stuck in another Arab quagmire, but it's not great.

Again with the moronic

Again with the moronic contention that only "U.S. citizens who served in Iraq" have a valid opinion on military intervention. Enough with the chickenhawk crap, already.

I believe Eliot Cohen's son is in the military. Does that mean his opinions pass the Exum chickenhawk test, or not?

"That said, it is looking as

"That said, it is looking as if the president has decided to sit on his hands. If so, that is unwise."

At last, an Obama policy I actually agree with!

Dr X, The criteria didn't

Dr X,

The criteria didn't mention the TRIBES. Or am I projecting? Do the Tribes not matter?

Or is it that it's Algebraic, and they don't know the equation?

That enough is a NO.

And Thank You for standing up for Reality.

@Visitor ChickenHawk mention: I don't think most Vets, and certainly not AM are saying no service disqualifies your opinion.
However for goodness sake you won't listen to us at all when we warn you of bitter experiences- it's almost as if our opinions which we have had not only time but experience to form are not to be listened to?

But alright, answer the questions then. And mine: the TRIBES. Sorry maybe I have Jungle Fever.

"They are also both far too

"They are also both far too sanguine about military intervention in Libya"

The problem with being sanguine about war is it tends to get rather sanguinary. And then the Intellectuals blame the Military. You may recall the Jurgathine War. You can bet the Libyans and other North Africans do..below is probably how they recall it.

"The freedom of rule eventually gave rise to an illegitimate Numidian prince, Jugurtha, and the onset of the Jugurthine War. In 118 BCE, Jugurtha attempted the reunification of the smaller kingdoms under his rule. Having served in the Legions and with many allies in the senate, Rome was indifferent to the politics of Numidia, until Jugurtha sacked the city of Cirta in 112 BCE. The sacking included the death of many Roman settlers and Rome had no choice but to go to war. The war lasted 6 years and ended in the capture and death of Jugurtha in 106 BCE, by Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

Upon his death, much of Jugurtha's territory was placed in the control of the Mauretanian client King Bocchus, and the veterans of Marius' Legions were given land and settled all along the Numidian territory. The Romanization of Africa was now firmly rooted."

I call bull hockey on the

I call bull hockey on the platitudes for Slaughter. Her self-serving statements on Iraq mark her as just one of many people in DC who remain part of the problem. How are these people still gainfully employed? There are thousands who should be out in public, chanting "mea culpa"

added, she might be in

added, she might be in Princeton, but she is still part of the "serious" club, so she might as well have a DC address.

"I don't think most Vets, and

"I don't think most Vets, and certainly not AM are saying no service disqualifies your opinion."

AM has repeatedly asserted and implied that those who have not served have less legitimate opinions on military intervention than those who have.

AM, Have you seen the Johns

AM,
Have you seen the Johns Hopkins studies regarding the mortality estimates in Iraq since the invasion? What do you think of the methodology, and results of these studies?

http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/2006/burnham_iraq_2...

Why aren't you called the

Why aren't you called the Father of Proselytizers instead of the Father of Resistance?
We will be fine unless we start that retarded missionaries with guns COIN bullshytt like in A-stan and Iraq.
But like Egypt, the democracy will be islamic.
;)

we should solve this issue in

we should solve this issue in a way or another. I am sure that a military intervention will make many victims. bigpokerstar.com

It's a civil war. Why are we

It's a civil war. Why are we getting involved in another countries problems when we have enough of our own to deal with. I am totally against our involvment in this conflict. We are already involved in two countries where we should not be. Work to correct the problems in the United States before creating more problems overseas. Stop the feeling that we are the keepers of the world and our way of life is best for everyone on the planet.

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