Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thinking About Libya

Like many other people, I'm trying to figure out what to make of this whole Libya situation.

In foreign policy commentary, there's a strong tendency to see everything in terms of the last major conflict, which had people thinking that Vietnam was World War II or that the Iraq War was Bosnia. I'm trying to avoid that mistake. But I think War or Car got a universal truth about wars right -- even if they have good consequences, they're usually terribly cost-ineffective ways of achieving those consequences.

I guess the best optimism-raiser about Western intervention that I've seen was from Juan Cole -- partly because he was an intense Iraq War opponent. I guess I'm going to be looking at what happens through the lens of his "How the No Fly Zone Can Succeed" post from now on. The kind of intervention described there sounds like the kind of thing I'd be okay with, but I don't know if it's what our policymakers have in mind.

The two big questions I have are (1) how likely is it that allied airstrikes will successfully push back Gadhafi's forces? And (2) what happens in rebel-controlled territory? I don't have enough of an understanding of the military situation to understand the first, and I don't know enough about the rebels to understand the second. If things work out halfway with (1), you could end up with two brutal figures ruling halves of Libya and fighting a long civil war. That would probably be the worst way this could end up.
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