Editor's Note: This week, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. is providing the question and joining in the discussion.
The unthinkable becomes the inevitable at a staggering clip in the Middle East these days. A month ago, Muammar el-Qaddafi seemed not only secure in his 40-year rule but to have reached a modus vivendi with the West. By March 3, President Obama was saying Qaddafi had to go and instructing the departments of State and Defense to look into "a full range of options" in the event of a humanitarian crisis or a "bloody" stalemate -- including, he said explicitly, a no-fly zone. As the situation continues to escalate, the fact that the president has shown every sign of a deep (and rational) reluctance to use force hardly means he won't feel compelled to in the coming weeks.
What are America's options to intervene in the Libyan civil war? We've already applied targeted sanctions such as seizing bank accounts linked to the regime. What comes next? Can we enforce a no-fly zone without launching airstrikes against anti-aircraft units still loyal to Qaddafi -- assuming we can tell which ones the loyalists are? Given historical precedents in terms of instituting a no-fly in Iraq in the 1990s, and using airpower to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo that same decade, what are the lessons from such experiences? Should we offer weapons and advice to the Libyan rebels -- assuming we can figure out who leads them? Do we need to wait on NATO, the U.N., and/or other Arab governments to come to a firm stance before we act ourselves, and if so, what are the chances that they will support a military intervention?