Regime Change & Moral Obligation

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The debate over Libya.

For realists, I would love to hear how doing nothing in Libya was going to help U.S. security interests. Having an oil-rich pariah state that could very well return to supporting terrorism and wreaking havoc in the region would be disastrous, creating Iraq part 3 and making it more likely we'd have to intervene sometime further into the future, at much greater cost and consequence. Did we not learn from the quelched Shia uprisings of 1991? Or from standing by idly (or supporting) the military coup that ended Algerian democracy in 1991? - Shadi Hamid

From where I sit, it looks like we're moving precisely in the direction Hamid says he wants to avoid. Gaddafi is already an international pariah. If the U.S. simply adheres to the letter of the UN Resolution, which limits international action to protecting Libyan civilians but does not commit to regime change, Gaddafi may hang on, effectively partitioning Libya much as Iraq was split following the first Gulf War. In such an environment, it's quite likely that Gaddafi will turn to terrorism to seek revenge against his rivals.

In other words, unless we are willing to see that Gaddafi is overthrown or removed in short order, we are replicating the dangerous stalemate that prevailed in the 1990s with Iraq. It's quite possible that Gaddafi sees the forces arrayed against him and folds like a cheap suit (here's hoping). In that case, the no-fly zone and other Western and Arab League military operations could proceed quite smoothly, and the rebels could take the country and sort out a new political order with minimal bloodshed going forward. But it would be irresponsible to simply assume that Gaddafi will knuckle under - which means that either the "coalition" forces his removal or embarks on an open-ended mission to "contain" Gaddafi to Tripoli and whatever other territory his forces now control.

And as for America's security interests, it seems to me the over-riding security interest of the United States is to safeguard the lives and resources of its citizens and to put both on the line only when either are gravely threatened. Libya hardly meets such a standard, and if we insist that it does, then there are numerous countries that would demand American military intervention; starting with Yemen, Bahrain and Sudan.

What's more, it would be nice if those making moral demands of the White House recognize that the administration has far more powerful and fundamental moral obligations to the resources and security of the citizens in the country it was elected to serve than it does to citizens in other countries.

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