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Libyan no-fly zone would worsen, not improve humanitarian crisis

March 9, 2011

Libya’s humanitarian crisis is of great concern. However, as with Afghanistan and so many other conflicts in the world, there is no military solution. The humanitarian crisis should be handled through aid and relief by expert humanitarian organizations, not with bullets and bombs by military intervention.

Moreover, a n0-fly zone in Libya—whether by the U.N. or U.S.—would not improve the growing humanitarian crisis in the country, nor would it ensure the removal of President Muamar Qaddafi from power.

The U.S. should not intervene militarily for several reasons:

First, war rarely if ever improves a humanitarian crisis. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates–second in command of the U.S. military only to President Obama–recently told the House Armed Service Committee “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s what you do in a no-fly zone.” Gates went on to say a no-fly zone would be “a big operation in a big country.” On its way out of Iraq and bogged down in Afghanistan, the U.S. cannot afford–costing billions of dollars–another “big operation” in yet another country.

Second, it is a near certainty that innocent civilians will be killed. From 1992-2003, the United States maintained two no-fly zones in Iraq, as well as crippling sanctions from 1990-2003 against Saddam Hussein’s government. The sanctions were directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Iraq civilians. The combination of sanctions and the no-fly zones crippled the civilian population but failed to dispose Saddam from power. The outcome would undoubtedly be the same if more aggressive, hard-power tactics are used in Libya.

Third, U.S. strategic interests in promoting democracy and human rights in Libya will not be helped by military intervention. The U.S. will gain nothing by going to war with the faltering Libyan government or by attempting to occupy the country–even with a small, temporary force and the best of intentions.

Fourth, some contend that the U.S. has significant energy-related strategic interests.  Yet, the Economist reports that Libya contributes “some 1.4m barrels a day, or about 2% of the world’s needs.” According to Reuters,  “Over 85 percent of its crude exports go to Europe, while around … 5 percent [goes] to the United States.” Nearly 80% of Libya’s oil supply is currently controlled by the anti-Qaddafi rebels.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, American interventionism has brought neither peace nor stability to Iraq or Afghanistan, and is unlikely to deliver either in Libya as well. Moreover, military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has in fact disrupted the power structures which officials marching the U.S. to war did not take the time to understand–sound familiar?  Senators John Kerry (MA), John McCain (AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (CT) are leading the rhetorical charge in the Senate while Rep. Buck McKeon is making similar remarks in the House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated “no options are off the table” and a no-fly zone should “have the backing of the U.N.” Let us be reminded: all of these people were wrong on Iraq in 2003; they are wrong on Libya in 2011.

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