Invest in Libya? Too risky

BY RICK MARTINEZ – Correspondent
Tags: news | opinion – editorial

The Obama administration should say no to a no-fly zone over Libya. Our military men and women have enough wars to fight at the moment.

Make no mistake, participating in a no-fly zone, either unilaterally or under the auspices of the United Nations, is an act of war. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted earlier this month, step one in establishing a no-fly zone is to destroy Libya’s air defenses, hardly a diplomatic move.

According to news reports, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is drumming up support among G-8 member countries for a no-fly offensive. But instead of trying to legitimize possible military action under the umbrella of internationalism, the Obama administration should be concerned about gaining the support of a much more important constituency – the war-weary American public – and providing clear answers to key questions.

For example, outside of ridding the world of international pariah Moammar Gadhafi, what exactly is the U.S interest in getting involved in a Libyan civil war?

Right, there isn’t any.

Spreading democracy in Africa and the Mideast is a stated American goal – and a move supported by 32 percent of the public, according to Pew Research. But is democracy the aim of Gadhafi’s opposition? More fundamentally, who or what is leading the Libyan resistance, and what are they fighting for?

Short of a no-fly-zone, some in the resistance have requested more sophisticated weaponry from the West to even up the fight against Gadhafi’s much better equipped forces. That’s a bad idea too.

Since we know so little about the Libyan opposition, and since corruption seems to be a mode of survival in Africa and the Mideast, it’s not a stretch to be concerned that weapons destined for the resistance could ultimately land in the hands of terrorists who would rather aim them at Americans or Israelis.

Another unanswered question is whether the Libyan rebels can win. Consider the consequences if we put up an effective no-fly zone only to see the opposition get slaughtered anyway. What do we do? Send advisers? Send troops?

What if the civil war becomes a stalemate? Do we stick around for a decade, as we have in Afghanistan?

And if the opposition wins with our help, would be we obligated to rebuild Libya as we have Iraq and are trying to do in Afghanistan?

It’s unfair to criticize the Obama administration for not having the answers to these questions. After all, we’re on the outside looking in. Criticism directed at U.S. intelligence services for not anticipating the unrest in Libya, or Egypt and Tunisia for that matter, is not only unfair but misses the central point. Ultimately, the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and now Libya belong to their people, not us. The United States should butt out. If Gadhafi is such a threat to the region, the African Union and Arab League should step up and utilize the hardware we’ve sold them and the training we’ve supplied to protect their own backyard.

Should the strongman survive, there’s a strong possibility that he’ll be emboldened and even more dangerous. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein became more belligerent to outsiders and more ruthless to his people after he survived his ill-fated attempt to conquer Kuwait.

But even a stronger, meaner Gadhafi isn’t likely to be a greater threat than the one posed by the militant regimes in Iran and North Korea. We’re better off keeping our remaining military resources at the ready for Iran or North Korea than being bogged down in Libya.

The most clear-thinking opponent of U.S. involvement in Libya I’ve come across is Carnegie Endowment President Jessica Mathews. The core of her argument is a variation of Colin Powell’s “If you break it, you own it” doctrine. According to Mathews, intervention equals ownership.

Right now, the United States owns enough broken countries.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez (rickjmartinez2@frontier.com) is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and StateGovernmentRadio.com.

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