Five Arguments Against Intervention in Libya

By Amar C. Bakshi, CNN

Prominent U.S. pundits are expressing deep skepticism about the U.S. intervention in Libya.  I’ve compiled some of the frequently-made arguments in this post, and am scouring the web for pro-intervention points of view to post in the next roundup. Skeptics of the intervention are asking: Why this? To protect what interests? At what cost? For whom? And what next?

1. Why this?

Ezra Klein thinks there are better things to do with our money:

“The easy response to this is to ask how I can be so diffident in the face of slaughter. But consider Obama’s remarks. “Left unchecked,” he said, “we have every reason to believe that Gaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die.” Every year, one million people die from malaria. About three million children die, either directly or indirectly, due to hunger. There is much we could due to help the world if we were willing. The question that needs to be asked is: Why this?”

2. What are our interests in Libya?

Richard Haas argues that the U.S. doesn’t have any, anyway:

"…U.S. interests are decidedly less than vital. Libya accounts for only 2 percent of world oil production. The scale of the humanitarian crisis is not unique; indeed, this is not strictly speaking a humanitarian intervention. It is a decision to participate in Libya's civil war.”

Leslie H. Gelb agrees:

“No foreign states have vital interests at stake in Libya. Events in this rather odd and isolated land have little bearing on the rest of the tumultuous Mideast region. Also not to be dismissed, there are far, far worse humanitarian horrors elsewhere. Yet, U.S. neoconservatives and liberal humanitarian interventionists have trapped another U.S. president into acting as if the opposite were true.”

3. At what cost?

Jim Manzi contends that we cannot afford this:

"I understand the humanitarian impulse to help the underdog, but we have finite resources, and cannot hold ourselves responsible for the political freedom of every human being on Earth. As many others have said, the obvious problem with this action is that we must set the pretty gauzy-sounding benefits of influencing public opinion in the Middle East, avenging ourselves for the Pan Am bombing, possibly improving the lives of people in Libya and so forth, against the many ways that this could plausibly turn into a much more expensive proposition than is currently anticipated – and not only in terms of money."

Tom Friedman agrees:

"…sadly, we can’t afford it. We have got to get to work on our own country. If the president is ready to take some big, hard, urgent, decisions, shouldn’t they be first about nation-building in America, not in Libya?"

4. Who are we helping?

Friedman further holds that we don’t know who we are helping:

"...we should be doubly cautious of intervening in places that could fall apart in our hands, a là Iraq, especially when we do not know, a là Libya, who the opposition groups really are — democracy movements led by tribes or tribes exploiting the language of democracy?"

5. What happens next?

James Fallows says that the American military rarely asks this essential question:

"Count me among those very skeptical of how this commitment was made and where it might lead….The most predictable failure in modern American military policy has been the reluctance to ask, And what happens then? We invade Iraq to push Saddam Hussein from power. Good. What happens then? Obama increases our commitment in Afghanistan and says that "success" depends on the formation of a legitimate, honest Afghan government on a certain timetable. The deadline passes. What happens then?"

Next up: five arguments in favor of intervention.

What do you think?

Amar Bakshi