What to think about Libya

President Obama can’t catch a break. Conservatives have complained that Obama has been dithering and indecisive on Libya. Liberals, on the other hand, have expressed grave reservations about the conflict.

I think the charges of dithering are unfounded. There were very important reasons to secure international agreement – especially from the Arab League – and not stepping in unilaterally. It would not have benefited Libyan rebels to be soon as U.S. stooges – nor would it be in our best interest to be seen rushing into a third invasion of a Muslim nation.

But I think Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall sounds some very legitimate concerns in a post he called, “Just a bad, bad idea.” As he summed the situation up, “We’re calling a time out on a really ugly situation the fundamental dynamics of which we aren’t in any position to change. That sounds like a mess.” And Ezra Klein makes a compelling point, too, when he says we’re getting into this without a clear understanding of the depth and potential cost of our commitment. But, as he says, “Once Libya is our problem, it will stay that way.”

The situation in Libya was bad. Gaddafi, who initially looked vulnerable, was able to regain his footing and mobilize mercenaries and the heavy arsenal at his disposal. His indiscriminate retaliation was atrocious. But it’s unclear now whether he’s sufficiently dug in that it will take more than simply safeguarding rebel forces from aerial attack to give them an actual fighting chance. Involvement beyond that by Western troops will not be viewed kindly in the Arab world. (Already, some members of the Arab League are disturbed by the extent of the military action, which they believe went beyond what was necessary to establish a n0-fly zone.)

Part of me is glad the United Nations agreed to the no-fly zone, but another part wonders if we are not taking the first steps into another endless, expensive overseas commitment that will have lasting consequences we cannot yet comprehend.

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