Cautionary warning to would-be interventionists in Libya: This place makes Iraq and Afghanistan look like models of social cohesion.
U.S. intelligence analysts caution that Libya is so depleted by four decades of rule by Moammar Gaddafi that forming a stable successor government will be difficult in the extreme. "There are no strong institutions, no strong professional military, no political parties and limited national identity," one analyst explained today in an interview. "That said," the analyst continued, "the Libyan people feel they're accomplishing the impossible" in their uprising against the dictator.
The heart-rending news from Libya poses a classic dilemma for what might be called "liberal interventionists." It seems immoral to watch silently as Gaddafi's planes attack Libyan insurgents -- and so the political pressure is rising on President Obama to impose a "no-fly zone" or take other action to support the rebels.
But at the same time, the dangers of intervention are starkly obvious.
The United States will be injecting itself into a Muslim nation's civil war, without a clear set of objectives or an easily identifiable exit strategy. This isn't a case of coming to the aid of a well-established opposition. Today's Libya is more disorderly and uncertain than that.
The White House is looking at a range of options, including the no-fly zone that, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates rightly said Wednesday, necessarily implies a preemptive strike against Libyan air defenses. Other options include jamming and other measures to shut off Gaddafi's ability to communicate with his commanders, much tighter sanctions to strangle the regime and other multinational moves.
And then there is the unmentionable: A paramilitary covert action on the ground in which CIA and U.S. Special Forces, ideally working with similar teams from other nations, work in the shadows amid the chaos of Libya to take apart what's left of Gaddafi's military and bring rebel leaders to power.
If the Obama administration opts for uniformed military action, I hope it gains the backing of organizations that represent nations closer to the scene and, in truth, have a bigger stake in what happens: the Arab League, the African Union and NATO. If troops have to stay in Libya and rebuild order (as they surely will), they should come from those organizations, not the U.S. military.
America has enough expeditionary wars as it is without marching off, as the Marine Corps march has it, "to the shores of Tripoli."