Yesterday the United Nations Security Council voted 10–0, with five abstentions, to authorize military action in Libya. Specifically, the resolution "authorizes member states ... to take all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack." Celebrations erupted across Benghazi after news of the vote reached rebels. A 17-year-old rebel told The Wall Street Journal: "I give Qadhafi a maximum of two days." If only.
In reality the U.N. resolution is nothing more than a "feel-good" palliative measure that is not likely to decisively affect the fighting on the ground in Libya. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified last week: "Let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that's the way it starts." But is that what the Obama Administration is planning? Even if the Administration has a plan on Libya, it certainly has not communicated it to the American people. Here are just some of the fundamental questions the Administration has failed to answer as our military stands on the brink of a new and costly commitment:
So far, the only firm commitments are a naval blockade, AWACS for air traffic control, and signal-jamming aircraft. U.S. officials said that it would probably take several days for a full operation to be undertaken and that President Obama had not yet approved the use of U.S. military assets. Will he? Will the U.S. be using military force against Libya?
If establishing a no-fly zone in Libya is so vital to U.S. national security, why did the Administration waste a week getting approval from the U.N.?
Imposing a no-fly zone entails substantial costs for U.S. armed forces and risks diverting scarce U.S. military and intelligence assets. Will the vital missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa suffer?
Are the rebels free of terrorist elements, and what precautions will we require them to take to ensure that weapons we supply are not sold or diverted to other groups?
Will we rule out supplying arms ("Stinger" anti-aircraft missiles, for example) that could pose a potent threat to U.S. forces if they end up in the hands of terrorists?
Until these questions are answered, it is impossible to endorse proposals for the use of force based solely on a U.N. resolution. Circumstances could change. The use of military force in Libya could be justified. But what is of great concern here is the fog of confusion the Obama Administration is emitting on Libya. After the U.N. resolution passed, France said that military strikes could come "within hours." They haven't. What did come was the heavy bombardment of the rebel held town of Mistrata by loyalist forces. President Obama should be working hard to identify a legitimate opposition to Qaddafi that is not Islamist and can be given U.S. and European support with conditions that protect against the transfer of weapons to terrorists.
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