Opinions regarding the proper response to the situation in Libya cut across partisan lines, with the full spectrum from not-our-problem isolationism to something-must-be-done interventionism represented on both sides. The Right is convinced President Obama's handling it poorly, of course, but there's nothing approaching a consensus about what ought to be done. The confusion is clear at the conservative flagship National Review, whose editorial now supports a no-fly zone (though they initially opposed it) opposite a column from Victor Davis Hanson (one of the preeminent cheerleaders of the Iraq invasion) who opposes intervention.
It's appropriate that opinions are all over, I suppose. It's a fraught question. As VDH sums up the humanitarian argument,
Libyans have been living an ungodly nightmare since Qaddafi’s coup in 1969, and it would be a fine and noble thing to lend them a hand to end their four-decade-long misery. The world would be a better and safer place without Qaddafi and his odious clan in power.
Yes. But Qaddafi will have to be replaced. There is simply no indication that there is any significant core of individuals among the rebels who would be any better, and it is a deeply dangerous folly to suggest that things could not get any worse. Libya's modern history -- a lawless span of coast that nobody else wanted, so the Italians got it -- uncomfortably parallels Somalia's. And the probably-doomed rebels? Well, they're the enemy of our enemy, but it's not at all clear that they're our friends:
On a per capita basis, though, twice as many foreign fighters came to Iraq from Libya -- and specifically eastern Libya -- than from any other country in the Arabic-speaking world. Libyans were apparently more fired up to travel to Iraq to kill Americans than anyone else in the Middle East.
It would be whistling in the dark to suppose that whatever demographic cohort sent so many to fight and die in Iraq is not also front-and-center in the ranks of the rebels we are currently debating whether to support. The most cynical part of me might support a no-fly zone simply to even things up, to prevent this struggle from ending before it has worn down both sides. Like the Iran-Iraq war, it's a war you wish both sides could lose. Sadly, the real losers, as always, are the Libyan people, the majority of whom are by all accounts friendly, hospitable, and desirous of rational government.
I wish there were an easy answer, but there just isn't. This is the world we live in. Foreign policy is really hard. As I've mentioned before, my biggest concern about President Obama at his inauguration was that he seemed convinced that foreign policy is easy and everyone else had just been doing it wrong. He does seem at least to have been disabused of that notion.