Unconfirmed reports suggest that embattled strongman Muammar Qadhafi is considering a deal under which he could leave Libya with family and fortune intact, but the country has descended into a protracted conflict between its military and a resilient group of rebel fighters. The battle for Libya's future will almost certainly remain stalemated as long as the international community refuses to impose a no-fly zone to protect the rebels. This means more of Qadhafi's brutality, mounting casualties, and higher gas prices.
POLITICO reports that President Barack Obama is determined to resist pressure for military intervention in Libya, ranging from imposing a no-fly zone to deploying U.S. troops, even if Republicans accuse him of weakness for it.
As one Obama administration official put it, "History has shown that when you rush into these things, you get it wrong. We're not going to rush no matter what anyone says."
To some extent, this position is understandable. No matter what we do, Libya's historical lack of government institutions makes the prospect of a failed state very real. And if the U.S. takes the lead in an intervention, it goes without saying that the rest of the world will expect us to maintain that leadership role long after the violence subsides. In financial terms, taxpayers would be left holding the bag. With the debts of Iraq and Afghanistan still accruing interest, it comes as no surprise that the White House, under fire for a burgeoning deficit, is gun shy.
It must also be noted that while there are Arab and Muslim voices now asking for help in Libya, if the U.S. intervened, there would inevitably be a chorus of Arab and Muslim voices that decry a US "slaughter."
On the other hand, America's lack of leadership on Libya in recent weeks has been shameful. As Qadhafi's regime commits war crimes in plain view of the world, Washington has punted to the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO. With the UN inclined to inaction, NATO tied up in Afghanistan, and the EU led by its business interests in Tripoli, this is effectively an endorsement of the status quo.
But the Washington Post reports that, "The United States and its European allies are considering the use of naval assets to deliver humanitarian aid to Libya and to block arms shipments to the [Libyan] government." Meanwhile in the UK, The Independent reports that Washington might be sending aid and weapons to the Libyan rebels by way of Saudi Arabia, as it did to the mujahedin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
An arms pipeline could certainly help the rebels defeat Qadhafi's forces, but it could also flood Libya with dangerous weapons that could later be used against the U.S. or its allies, just as it did in the 1980s. Indeed, those U.S. weapons ultimately ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda. And don't forget that elements of al-Qaeda — some 400 members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group — have escaped from jail in recent weeks to take up arms alongside the anti-Qadhafi forces.
For now, the White House insists that it will not step in until there is "clear evidence that Qadhafi is massacring his own civilians." This is disingenuous, at best, as a plethora of press and eyewitness accounts report that this is already happening. As Qadhafi, long known to be mentally unstable, continues to gun down his own people, America appears calculating and cold.
The U.S. may yet advocate for a no-fly zone or take other direct action, but only when an unspeakable act of carnage at the hands of the Qadhafi is reported, or if the price of gasoline rises to a level that threatens the president's political future. The oil market gyrations resulting from the situation in Libya may yet imperil America's economic recovery. But until then, the Obama administration will likely sit on its hands because of the many clear risks associated with intervention.