No fly zone over Libya? Obama must take a stand soon.
The US is weighing a no-fly zone in Libya that might prevent Qaddafi from more attacks on rebel forces. Obama must weigh key lessons from history before acting.
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And what if Qaddafi is able to crush this uprising for democracy, which could then dampen the Arab awakening in other countries? A historic moment might be lost to transform the terror-exporting Middle East.Skip to next paragraph
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Not to save a popular and large democratic movement would send a signal to at least one key American ally. If the US won’t help Libya on its verge of freedom, would it also not defend South Korea against a North Korean invasion?
Still, Obama’s reluctance to act militarily could also be informed by past US failures – in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia. He may be a follower of the so-called Powell doctrine (named after former military chief Colin Powell) that the US military must act with overwhelming force to ensure victory in any intervention, must have the strong backing of American opinion, and must have an exit strategy.
The president must balance intervention for either humanitarian reasons or the strategic interest in a democratic Arab world against America’s domestic weariness and the possibility of failure.
In the meantime, Obama could seek leadership from other countries in deploying force in Libya. European allies, such as Italy, Germany, and Spain, have a more direct interest in North Africa. They want to avoid any turmoil that could launch a flow of refugees across the Mediterranean. The Arab League is studying the option, too, perhaps with the African Union.
And the armies of Egypt and Tunisia might also be enlisted to help Libya. Those countries are already coping with at least 140,000 people fleeing the country.
Congress and Americans are watching Libya closely, perhaps torn, as Obama seems to be, over what to do. Patience and prayer are certainly in order. So, too, is a wider public debate. “The stakes are high,” as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday.