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March 24, 2011

Libya Mission Creep Watch
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today's article in the New York Times about the make-up of the rebel forces in Libya is not a pleasant read:

After the uprising, the rebels stumbled as they tried to organize. They did a poor job of defining themselves when Libyans and the outside world tried to figure out what they stood for. And now, as they try to defeat Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s armed forces and militias, they will have to rely on allied airstrikes and young men with guns because the army that rebel military leaders bragged about consists of only about 1,000 trained men.

What this suggests to me is that unlike the situation in Afghanistan in which the US was able to work hand-in-hand with a proxy army to dislodge the Taliban from power, there simply isn't a rebel force on the ground in Libya that has the military chops to unseat Gaddafi. (And according to the LA Times, the rebel forces are engaging in the sort of extrajudicial behavior that led us to come to their defense in the first place). None of this is to say that eventually that rebel force may not develop . . . but what happens until then?

Are we prepared to patrol a no-fly zone over Libya, occasionally take potshots at pro-government elements on the ground and build up a rebel force to knock off Gaddafi for 6 months, a year, two years? You get the idea here. But since we've taken ground forces off the table (indeed the UNSCR forbids it) we are not ready to step into the fight in a decisive manner, which means this is far more likely to drag on for a while then it is to end soon.

But hold on, says the White House, 'we're just in this fight for a few days, not weeks. This is a French, British, Arab League, coalition of the willing fight.' Meh. First of all, as Spencer is reporting US military involvement has increased since the war began, with American pilots shooting pro-government armor and artillery units.

Secondly, we've started down a road in Libya that could lead down many different directions - but because we have basically put our credibility (and military power) on the line in stopping civilian massacres in Libya we simply can't walk away. Indeed, if part of the rationale for getting involved in this civil war was to stick up for the forces of reform and democracy in the Arab world then we are basically on the hook until this situation is resolved. Indeed I have to agree with my old professor Adam Garfinkle when he writes:

We have a great deal riding on the success of the Franco-British operation, assuming one actually takes shape in a hurry. If it doesn’t work, the U.S. government is very likely going to be dragged, even with the President privately kicking and screaming all the way, to a mission definition (again, the only logical one available) that will presage an open-ended commitment. 

Obviously things could turn out well in Libya, but the more likely scenario is that we have a de facto partition of the country and UN/US/Coalition of the Willing forces on the hook for the foreseeable future in degrading Gaddafi's forces. I suppose one could argue that's better than the alternative; namely civilian massacres in Benghazi, but the very notion of this conflict being short-lived and relatively painless seems like a figment of the White House's imagination.

And not just the White House, but also war supporters. Here is Bill Galston in the New Republic addressing some of the concerns I've raised above:

Let me grant, as well, that the endgame is murky at best. There’s a non-trivial possibility that Qaddafi will be able to hang on to power in a substantial part of Libya. If so, we and our allies may have committed ourselves to protecting “Benghazistan” against retribution for the indefinite future. We’ve seen that movie before. Let’s hope this one ends better.

Huh? I suppose hope is a policy . . . but it's not a very good one. Once again, cheered on by the "do something" crowd we've found ourselves in a fight that we don't seem to know how to get out of.

March 22, 2011

Using Talks with the Taliban to Fix the Afghan Political System
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Karzai Earlier today I attended an enlightening event at the Center for American Progress on transition goals for Afghanistan. Among the many insightful points that were brought up by panelists David Kilcullen, Caroline Wadhams and Anand Gopal was the urgent need for work on political reform in the country.

There is widespread consensus on the need for political reform. The basic problem is that the government is too concentrated at the center – far more so than it should be for a society as diverse as Afghanistan. Right now, Hamid Karzai is unlikely to accept reforms because Afghanistan’s overly centralized structure, enshrined in the country’s constitution, enables Karzai to place cronies in power all over the country, creating a vast patronage network for himself. As has been widely documented, this often results in “predatory” governance.

Even if Karzai governed effectively, political reform is necessary because his second term ends, depending on how you count it, in either April or November of 2014. (The Afghan constitution imposes a two-term limit on the president.) Either date falls just before the time America and NATO have said that they will transition the security lead in Afghanistan to Afghans. Relying on the system in place now, overly centralized and embodied by Karzai, is simply not a long-term solution.

So what to do? America and NATO should continue to push for negotiations with the Taliban and towards a broader political settlement (which must also include current and former members of the Northern Alliance). And we should use those negotiations as an opportunity to catalyze constitutional reform. At today’s panel, both Wadhams and Kilcullen agreed that talks represent an opening for revising the formal governance structure to be more representative and less centralized.

America and NATO need to start thinking about what’s left behind in Afghanistan post-2014. Using limited U.S. leverage to push for a political settlement -- and with it, political reform -- that’s broadly representative is an essential part of ensuring stability, and by extension U.S. interests, post-2014.

Happy Anniversary, Iraq War
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at Foreign Policy, Matt Duss and I have a new piece marking the 8th anniversary of the Iraq war - and the lessons from that conflict that remain frustratingly unlearned:

As the United States and its European allies launch attacks against the regime of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddhafi, it seems almost poignant that this third military intervention in a Muslim country in the last decade began nearly eight years to the day that the United States invaded Iraq. It is a fitting reminder that even as 50,000 soldiers remain in Iraq, and American soldiers continue to be killed and maimed there, the lessons of that disastrous decision to go to war remain largely unlearned by many in the foreign policy community.

At the outset it's important to acknowledge the key differences in the manner in which these interventions have been undertaken and the differing levels of international and regional legitimacy that they possess. But it is the similarities that are more disquieting. The U.S. has yet again become involved in a military effort of indeterminate length, justified through a questionable definition of national interest and with little forethought to the long-term consequences of utilizing military force. It seems the costs and consequences of Iraq have simply not been fully appreciated by policymakers and pundits.

. . .  We find ourselves again on the cusp of a military intervention/escalation that has no clearly identifiable end state, driven by familiar appeals to American "credibility" -- a credibility defined almost entirely in terms of a willingness to use force. Such appeals indicate a defiant ignorance of the fact that the unwise use of force can also dramatically and dangerously undermine America's credibility. This should be a central lesson of Iraq. Alas, it seems that "shoot first and ask tough questions later" remains our default position.

You can read the whole thing here

 

On Precedents and Double Standards in Libya and the Wider Region
Posted by Eric Martin

A few days back, Shadi Hamid made an interesting argument in favor of intervening militarily in Libya that I would like to revisit:

One of the main sources of Arab antipathy toward America is our long, tragic history of supporting repressive dictatorships in the region. This five-decade-long bi-partisan policy gave us the self-destructing Arab world that we have now (and also contributed to the rise of Arab terrorism as Steven Brooke and I argue here). The "stability paradigm," - which is just about as "realist" as you can get - has proven a failure.

Let's grant Shadi's premise for the sake of argument: US support for brutal autocratic regimes in the region has fostered resentment and, at times, a virulent strain of anti-Americanism that has produced violent manifestations. 

But if that's the diagnosis, how exactly would launching military attacks on Libya provide the cure?  After all, Qaddafi's is most definitely not one of the autocratic regimes that the US has funded, armed and otherwise helped to maintain power. Quite the opposite. 

A similar argument was made in anticipation of the invasion of Iraq, with a similar logical disconnect separating premise and conclusion. Again, Iraq's was not a regime supported by the United States (at least, not since the 1980s, after which the US fought a war and maintained a no-fly-zone and other punitive measures), so how would its ouster convince denizens of the Middle East that the United States was not conspiring with autocracies when it suited US interests?

If anything, it reinforced this notion by stressing the disparate treatment certain regimes received (Iraq) under the putative justification of spreading freedom and democracy, while US client-states remained in good favor despite their blatant disregard for human rights and democratic norms (not even so much as a reduction in aid or other forceful ultimatum requiring reforms).

Similarly, our muscular action in Libya, while we turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia's activities in Bahrain (at the Bahrain regime's request and with its assistance), and events in Yemen, will drive home the point that "friendly" dictators will continue to receive US support, even if less accommodating regimes will be targeted in furtherance of our highly malleable and selective (though universal?) support of "freedom and democracy."

As the New York Times notes (via Matt Yglesias), the intervention itself might be serving to further entrench those autocrats that we find strategically appealing:

With his brutal military assault on civilians, and his rantings about spiked Nescafé, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi handed many leaders across the Arab world what had otherwise eluded them: A chance to side with the people while deflecting attention from their own citizens’ call for democracy, political analysts around the region said. And they really do not like him. Even Arab leaders most critical of the United States’ intervention in the Middle East have reluctantly united behind the military intervention in Libya. That has given a boost to Arab leaders in places like Saudi Arabia who are at the same moment working to silence political opposition in their backyards. [emphasis added]

Interestingly, Zalmay Khalilzad fully endorses the implementation of this type of double standard.  Here is Khalilzad's description of the underlying dynamic:

...[T]he dysfunction of the Middle East today generates the most threatening challenges to the international community. The largely peaceful, youth-oriented, democratic revolutions across the region present an opportunity to catalyze a fundamental transformation.

Yet he argues that the US should only take vague steps to apply some undefined "pressure" on "friendly authoritarian" regimes, but, on the other hand, utilize military assets (in one form or another) to oust those regimes hostile to US interests (Libya, Syria, Iran). He argues that if we fail to act in Libya:

Other dictatorships would then be emboldened to squelch their democratic opponents and resist liberalization.

But he fails to mention what lessons will be drawn from Bahrain and Yemen.  In that sense, Khalilzad is not so much endorsing a regional transition in support of broad-reaching democratic revolutions, as he is recommending using the spread of freedom and democracy as a pretense to help unseat US adversaries (sound familiar?), while engaging in the same toothless goading of the "friendly authoritarian" regimes. 

There may be sound strategic reasons to follow the advice of Khalilzad or Hamid, but disabusing the Arab public of the notion that the US supports friendly autocratic regimes despite their brutality and anti-democratic tendencies should not be one of them.

March 21, 2011

Intra-DA Libya Smackdown
Posted by Michael Cohen

So the folks at bloggingheads decided to make it interesting with an intra-blog showdown between me and Heather - it's probably just preparation for when Shadi and I have the bloggingheads equivalent of Thunderdome smackdown. Until then, watch two foreign policy pundits try to make sense of this whole Libya intervention:

 

Stumbling Into War
Posted by Michael Cohen

I've been trying very hard to find reasons to be supportive of the current US/UN war in Libya - but it's getting increasingly difficult. And the main reason is that it looks a lot like amateur hour at the White House right now.

First of all, from everything that is being reported (and Josh Rogin as usual is doing yeoman's work on this front) it appears that the White House only made the decision to go to war in the last several days. Consider that for a second; for weeks the US was resisting the use of force in Libya - and then within what appears to be a 96-hour period we went from opposition to intervention to supportive of intervention to escalation far beyond a no-fly zone to actually going to war. And all of this happened without any national debate, any serious consultation with Congress and any strong statement of objectives and purpose by President Obama. 

As Fallows points out in a whipsmart post, the only debate that seemed to happen was the one in the Oval Office . . . to change the President's mind about the use of force. And it should be noted that the person who seemed to have the most impact on shifting the President's view was the woman he beat in the 2008 Democratic primary, in large measure, because of her misguided support for another military intervention that wasn't properly throught thru. 

But the even larger problem is that no one in the White House seems to have any idea what they are ultimately trying to achieve. Here is Hillary Clinton last week, “If you don’t get him out and if you don’t support the opposition and he stays in power, there’s no telling what he will do.”  Apparently, in this Administration Hillary is playing the role of Madeleine Albright - a woman who never saw a war she couldn't moralize about.

But according to Adm. Mike Mullen, "The goals are limited. It's not about seeing him go. It's about supporting the United Nations resolution which talked about eliminating his ability to kill his own people." In fact, Mullen actually suggested that Gaddafi might stay in power despite the assault. 

The obvious problem here is that our current military strategy will not eliminate Gaddafi's ability to kill his own people - it will just make it more difficult for him to kill them via airpower. And, in what is a very positive note, it appears that the coalition effort may have in the near-term stopped a potential massace in Benghazi. But if we are serious about impeding Gaddafi's ability to harm civilians there is far more that needs to be done - and it seems fairly obvious that the United States isn't prepared to do it.

But all this begs the question: what is the end game here? Are we really willing to accept Gaddafi staying in power? Or are we executing the Hillary strategy?

Are we and our UN allies prepared to patrol a no-fly zone ad infinitum if Libya is basically partitioned, de facto, into two states? And what if our are already weakly-held together coalition abandons the job - something that already seems to be happening with the Arab League?

None of these questions have been answered. Indeed I'm not even sure they have been asked. Instead it seems like an impulsive President decided, without a great deal of consulation of even consideration, to launch a miliary strike on Libya to prevent a civilian massacre - and gave scant thought to what comes next. In other words it appears that he decided to shoot first and ask tough questions later.

I hate to say this, but I thought that was the profile of the guy Obama beat in 2008.

March 20, 2011

There's Nothing Easy About War - The Libya Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

There's a lot that Shadi has written below that I find disagreement with, but one paragraph really does jump out:

I don't know about you - but I have trouble understanding how people can be okay with sitting back and doing nothing, when, with military intervention, it [protecting civilians] could fairly easily be prevented. We can stop it.  Moving to the strict "interests" rationale, it seems fairly self-evident that Libya, under an isolated Qaddafi, would likely return to attacking Western interests in the region, including through terrorism. He's done it before.  

Putting aside the notion that an isolated Qaddafi would be more likely to return to terrorism than say a Qaddafi under military attack from the West . . . I would have thought by now that after that whole "greeted by liberators" and "cakewalk" thing in Iraq, foreign policy analysts would be a little more circumspect in describing the use of military force as "easy." This is precisely the sort of language and attitude that worries me so much about this operation - the propensity to watch pictures of cruise missiles flying off ships or see the wreckage from Allied airstrikes and come to believe that anything we are trying to do in Libya today is not extraordinarily difficult or that somehow the hardest part has been done.

I have enormous respect for Shadi's passion around this issue - and the passion of those supporting the use of force. And as I've said I think the decision to intervene is a close call. But it would be helpful if those advocating the use of force were a bit more skeptical about what it can hope to achieve - particularly in regard to protecting civilians. This sort of disregard for the inherent challenges in military intervention is both wrong, it's dangerous - and it seems endemic in the foreign policy community. And dare I say it's a good part of the reason we've stumbled our way into the third military intervention in the last ten years in the Muslim world. How many times will we underestimate the consequences of using military force before we become a bit more hesitant about its recommended utilization?

And to be very candid, no one seems more guilty of this than the President of the United States. Consider this quote from the NYT piece about the decision to intervene:

The president had a caveat, though. The American involvement in military action in Libya should be limited — no ground troops — and finite. “Days, not weeks,” a senior White House official recalled him saying.

Where does this sound familiar? Perhaps from the debates about Afghanistan when Obama demanded that escalation be short-lived and troop withdrawals commence in July 2011. Or perhaps when he told the military that no US troops should be sent to areas that couldn't be turned over to the ANSF by the same date. How are those dictates working out?

You would think that after a deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan evolved from July 2011 to 2014 this President would be skeptical that any use of military force would be tidy, can be easily limited or could be completed in days, not weeks.

Apparently not.

March 19, 2011

Is Intervening in Libya in American Interests?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Does the US have a vital national security interest in Libya? It depends on how you define interests. But even if there's no clear-cut 'imminent threat' to U.S. security, that may actually be a good thing. The perception has long been that the U.S. only intervenes when it has "vital interests at stake." But, this time, we're presumably doing it to protect civilians, prevent a bloodbath, and assist those valiantly fighting for democracy. So the very fact that less may be directly at stake for the U.S. does not give me pause. If anything, that is another reason why this intervention should be applauded (isn't that why it's called humanitarian intervention?).  

In any case, I happen to define "interests" more broadly than, say, Daniel Larison who has made strong arguments against intervention (including criticizing my recent post). One of the main sources of Arab antipathy toward America is our long, tragic history of supporting repressive dictatorships in the region. This five-decade-long bi-partisan policy gave us the self-destructing Arab world that we have now (and also contributed to the rise of Arab terrorism as Steven Brooke and I argue here). The "stability paradigm," - which is just about as "realist" as you can get - has proven a failure. It is critical, then, that the U.S. begin to align itself with forces of democratic change. Autocracies, after all, don't last forever. Libya is part of this bigger strategic picture. People have warned that applying the "responsibility to protect" in cases where autocracies massacre their own citizens could set a precedent. But that is precisely the point - it should set a precedent.

By contrast, if Libya fails, Qaddafi stays in power, and the rebels are crushed, it will mark the end of what's left of the Arab spring. It will send a dangerous message to autocrats: if you want to stay in power, do what Qaddafi did. We should also note that after a people are brutally and systematically crushed, it takes a long time for them to recover (Syria and Algeria are two instructive examples). This would end Libyans' dream of democracy for quite possibly decades. 

Does Larison think that being remembered for letting Libyans get slaughtered is going to facilitate a promising future of U.S.-Arab relations? No, it will be another blot on America's record. That is why I found it odd that Philip Gourevitch cited our support for autocrats as a reason to be wary of intervention. Wouldn't it be the opposite? Others, like Ezra Klein and Andrew Sullivan, as well as Gourevitch have wondered why we haven't intervened in, say, Ivory Coast or Burma where atrocities were (and are) being committed. This is the argument I find the most difficult to wrap my head around. Doing nothing in two countries does not justify doing nothing in a third. Doing the wrong thing consistently seems no better to me than doing the wrong thing inconsistently. I'd rather us get this one right than none of them. We also have to be realistic: politics, and by extension, foreign policy is about the art of the possible. It would be very difficult to assemble an international coalition to intervene in Ivory Coast or Burma tomorrow. But that internatonal coalition is already in place in the case of Libya, receiving unprecedented Arab support (and U.N authorization). So to the question of why Libya, the answer is relatively straightforward: because we can - where, in other countries, we can't. 

And this is yet another way Libya bears little resemblance to Iraq. As I argue in a recent Foreign Policy piece, where, in Iraq, we stood alone calling for war while most of the world opposed it, the dynamic, this time, was reversed. The United States - along with Russia, China, and Germany among the major powers - stood increasingly alone in opposing the emerging Arab and international consensus favoring intervention.

Let us now consider what is almost certain to happen in the absence of military intervention and then we can decide if that outcome is in the interests of the U.S. or the international community. Qaddafi would overrun Benghazi, an urban center of more than 1 million. Knowing what we know about Qaddafi, we can except brutal reprisals. Already thousands have been killed. But that would be nothing compared to the mass executions that Qaddafi would be likely to inflict on the rebel army and members of interim government. I don't know about you - but I have trouble understanding how people can be okay with sitting back and doing nothing, when, with military intervention, it could fairly easily be prevented. We can stop it. Moving to the strict "interests" rationale, it seems fairly self-evident that Libya, under an isolated Qaddafi, would likely return to attacking Western interests in the region, including through terrorism. He's done it before.  

Some people might take issue with "moral imperatives" or how morality is very much part of how I conceptualize broader U.S. interests. But we aren't France (and even France has taken to talking about the honor of the West in face of dictatorship). We are the United States and the U.S., for both better and worse, has claimed to be a nation that stands for something beyond the nation-state. That's why people look to us for moral leadership, even if they're likely not to find it. We are not Botswana. And the president of the United States is not the premier of China. Moreover, it is declared U.S. policy under both the Bush adn Obama administrations that the U.S. will support the universal, democratic aspirations of the Arab people. In this sense, we have encouraged them to do what we would do in similar circumstances - resist repression and fight for their freedom. 

In contrast, Greg Scoblete argues

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.

I'm not sure Libya meets this "standard" either. But I don't really understand why this is the standard that military action in Libya should meet. The lives of American citizens were not at stake in Rwanda but I think most people now realize that that was a dire mistake. Our failure to act there will remain yet another tragic mark on not only our history but that of the international community. 

Obviously, we need to have a broader conversation about America's role in a new, emerging Middle East? What do we have to say about U.S. leadership in an age of supposed Americna decline? We should think ahead. Doing the right thing not just in Libya, but elsehwere in the region, allows us an opportunity to re-affirm America's moral and political leadership at a time when there seems to be an absence of leadership on the world stage. It is not too late. And, one hopes, it is not too late for the Libyan people who still find themselves at the mercy of Qaddafi's advancing forces. 

March 18, 2011

I've Seen This Movie Before - It's Called Kosovo
Posted by Michael Cohen

Just watching Obama speak and I can't help but note the eerie similarities to what is being done on Libya - and the NATO war in Kosovo. Obama described a situation in which US and UN objectives in Libya are "well-defined" and focused around "protecting civilians."

Indeed Obama said "we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya." Forgive me for saying, but this doesn't make any sense

How can the use of force by an international coalition protect civilians if we aren't willing to put troops on the ground? In short, our objective are not well-defined; they are actually defined quite narrowly and are dangerously constricted. We are only willing to use force insofar as it keeps our ground troops out of harm's way. That goal, quite rationally, is being prioritized over the protection of civilians in Libya. But of course this creates a troubling mismatch between tactics and strategy.

And this is literally the exact scenario that happened in Kosovo. We threatened the use of airpower unless Milosevic stopped the ethnic cleansing of Kosovars; Milosevic upped the ante and began massacring innocents; we ramped up the air war in Serbia all the while holding steadfast to our commitment not to put troops on the ground.

In the end of course Milosevic backed down; but does anyone feel the same confidence about Gaddafi being cowed by air strikes? Milosevic could surrender Kosovo and maintain power (indeed in the near-term he did). I'm not so sure Gaddafi can back down and survive. And what if things really go to hell and the country collapses into ethnic and tribal conflict? Then what? Still no ground troops?

This barely feels like a strategy; it's more an temporary measure to stop Gaddafi from reconquering Benghazi, which is well and good. But now that we are on the record saying that we will protect civilians where does that commitment end? If the airstrikes don't work will we sit back and watch, remaining steadfast in our commitment to no ground troops, as Gaddafi massacres his people?

It seems that concerns over the politics of intervention - and the obvious fear of getting involved in a quagmire - is restricting our palette of military options, which means that the objectives laid out by Obama today will be extremely hard to realize, if at all.

More Questions on Libya; And Even Fewer Answers
Posted by Michael Cohen

This morning Heather and I did a bloggingheads on Libya, which hopefully will be up here soon. It's sort of interesting debate because I think both of us are struggling on what to think about this situation. I think both of us are torn by our desire to see the international community help the Libyan people and prevent a humanitarian crisis and our well-earned skepticism about the efficacy of utilizing military force in pursuit of somewhat murky and uncertain political goals.

But one area where we did find consensus is around the notion that the actions of the UN have the opportunity to create a whole new international norm around the concept of R2P or right to protect. Certainly it sends a message to regimes intent on causing harm to their own civilians (although it does seem that the folks in Yemen haven't yet received that message). As Heather points out, this moment has to be seen as a victory for the international system and the very notion of collective security. 

And to be very honest this is part of the reason this whole intervention puts a bit of a pit in my stomach. I touched on this point a bit last night, but I think Daniel Larison does a nice job of capturing my fears:

Having set the bar very low for what qualifies a conflict for humanitarian intervention in Libya, it will be harder to reject intervention in the future. Our willingness to take military action against Libya probably isn’t going to deter other governments from cracking down brutally, as the lesson they will learn from this is that they need to quash rebellions more quickly. It is going to encourage rebels around the world to expect foreign support.

Now I understand that you can't game out every single scenario or that you can prepare for all contingencies - and perhaps how this event is perceived by other rebel movements can't necessarily be a constraint from action. I also understand that just because you can't help every country doesn't mean you shouldn't help the ones you can. But still it needs to be acknowledged that we have opened up a very messy can of worms here.

Why, for example, is Libya different from Bahrain or Yemen of Cote d'Iviore if any one of those countries spiral more out of control? Does R2P only apply in nations run by flaky leaders with no key allies? If you're an oppressed citizen in a more strategically important country are you just SOL? Or are we on the hook for a host of new military interventions on par with Libya?

And what's most potentially troubling about Libya is that we've eschewed half measures. Non-military solutions to this crisis (which were the first response of the international community) have basically been ignored. The national and to some extent international debate became no-fly zone vs. dithering or "not doing the right thing." Indeed with virtually no debate the US and international community has adopted the principle that there exists a responsibility to not just intervene, but intervene militarily when a country is oppressing and murdering their people. It would be great if that became a new global norm - but I think all of us know that this isn't going to happen; and that Libya is instead going to be a one-off deal.

But then again why should any of this be a surprise? There appears to have been absolutely no thought process by the Obama Administration or the international community as to what happens next . . . in Libya. Moreover, it's not even clear that we understand much about these rebels groups that we are nominally fighting on behalf of or what their goals are. It really needs to be stated that the accusations of dithering being thrust at the Obama Administration couldn't be more off-base. A little dithering would be good in comparison to the real lack of debate and contemplation about the potential consequences of our actions. 

So while I want to be optimistic about what's about to happen in Libya, instead I see a situation in which we have created a new and unsustainable international precedent to help populations at risk; we are about to military intervene in country with no clear political strategy or endgame in mind; we have a rather poor understanding of the key actors involved in the conflict and above all, we have - as is so often the case - adopted a policy of shooting first and asking questions later.

Other than that seems like the right thing to do.

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