You can take the boy out of the Mennonite Church, but you can't always take the Mennonite Church out of the boy: It's been nearly a decade since I walked away from my faith, but the pacifist foundation I acquired during those days still largely shapes my outlook.
Largely, but not completely. I believe the United States was right to topple the Taliban and go after Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Afghanistan following 9/11: I think nations have the right to self-defense. But I was against the Iraq invasion—I'm against defense so pre-emptive we don't even know if any threat is actually going to emerge—and I'm against President Obama's decision to instigate a limited war in Libya.
Well, it's not because I love Col. Qaddafi. I think he's a bad man who does bad things, and I'll be happy when his reign comes to an end. I'm rooting for the Libyans rebelling against him.
I just haven't heard a clear and convincing reason why the United States should get involved.
Now, I'm not a national security expert of any sort. It does seem to me reasonable, though, to ask a series of questions before jumping into a military commitment abroad:
A: Does the party against whom the United States is considering military action threaten U.S. security? If the answer is "no," the conversation should almost always stop here. There is an alternative question that permits progress, in my mind, even if U.S. security isn't directly threatened:
B: Is the party against whom the United States is considering action committing genocidal-levels of violence, such that even by the standards of war or civil war the conscience is shocked? This is probably a little more nebulous and requires more debate, and lots of people are going to draw the lines differently here.
C: If the answer to (A) is "yes," are there non-military means that could effectively mitigate the threat? Also difficult to answer, in part (I think) because it's harder to see cause-and-effect working together with non-military methods. It takes longer, it's more frustrating in some respects.
D: If the answer to (C) is "yes," do that. If the answer to (C) is "no," then: What is the desired end state of U.S. military action? A return to a previous status quo? Regime change? What? (Put another way: What does "victory" look like?If a clear answer to this question isn't forthcoming, it should be.
E: What is the worst-case scenario that could develop from U.S. military intervention? Is the scenario more or less threatening to U.S. security than the current threat? If the answer is "more," then you might want to refrain from military action.
F: Does the United States have the military and financial resources to bear the burdens of that worst-case scenario? See the action recommended in "E."
With regard to Libya, my answers are thus:
A: No. Some advocates talk about the security of the oil markets, but even if one makes a moral defense of deadly force to preserve cheap gasoline—difficult, I think—I'm not certain that Libya is creating that much instability, on its own. (Lots of other stuff going on in the Middle East might be affecting those prices, too.)
B. No. Qaddafi is a bad guy. But there isn't, from what I see, ethnic cleansing. He is trying to defeat the people who are trying to depose him. I think that's deplorable, but I don't see that it's hugely different from many civil wars that the United States doesn't involve itself in.
C. Actually, no. Qaddafi spent a generation living under sanctions and diplomatic isolation. The renewal of those conditions won't force him from power. If you believe that Qaddafi must be removed military action by the U.S. is your best bet.
D. I assume the desired end result is the end of the Qaddafi regime. Roger Cohen lays out why the proposed no-fly zone is unlikely to bring that end state about. Furthermore, I'd assume "victory" includes his replacement by some more democratic form of government unlikely to (say) support terror attacks aganst American and allied targets at some point in the forseeable future.
E. Two worst-case scenarios: Qaddafi remains in power, and the U.S. and its allies will have spent blood, treasure and prestige fruitlessly. Or Qaddafi is toppled, and (reminiscent of Cold War Afghanistan) replaced by a radical group that either supports or gives refuge to Al Qaeda or some similar group. Bad scenarios; not sure if they're so bad (or so likely) as to inhibit military action.
F. Apparently we don't have money for NPR these days. So...no.
You'll notice that some answers seem to offer qualified support for a military intervention. But the answers to the first two questions are the critical, foundational ones. Just because Col. Qaddafi is a bad man doing bad, evil things, does not make it wise for the U.S. to intervene.
Of course, the burden is never on those who support an intervention, really. It's usually on those who would refrain. That's too bad. At least during the Cold War, we believed that our interventions had a place in a larger struggle against totalitarian Communism. These days, we go around intervening ... mostly because we can, it seems. I think that approach invites blowback, and is ultimately unsustainable. Even if Libya ends up being "successful" in some respect, I'm not sure the United States can or should bear the burden of the accumulated Libyas. I haven't seen a compelling reason to intervene. I must oppose this action.