There are no goals for the no-fly zone

The United States and its NATO allies — with vocal support from the Arab League but little actual military assistance — are now engaged in a war in Libya.

It’s called enforcing a no-fly zone. But, make no mistake about it, Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi and his allies consider it a war — an international invasion of his country to influence the outcome of a civil war.

Having Gadhafi gone and replaced by a truly democratic regime would be a blessing for the entire world, and especially the Middle East. But that’s not the stated goal of the United Nations resolution that led to the imposition of the no-fly zone, or U.S. participation in that effort.

The operation is ostensibly aimed at protecting civilians in Libya, especially those civilians who have recently been challenging Gadhafi’s 40-year reign over the north African country.

But beyond that, there are no clear goals for the operation. When asked Sunday to define the mission and its objectives, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “I think circumstances will drive where this goes in the future.”

With that in mind, here are some potential circumstances that may develop. We wonder how the mission might evolve in response to them.

✔ Even with the no-fly zone, Gadhafi’s forces continue to crush the rebels — as appeared to be occurring Monday — and attack civilians. Will NATO expand its mission, perhaps to include ground forces?

✔ A stalemate arises between Gadhafi and the rebels, with equilibrium maintained largely because of the no-fly zone. How long are we and our allies willing to enforce the no-fly zone?

✔ The rebels overthow Gadhafi. However, they install a government that’s just as authoritarian as Gadhafi’s, but more amendable to supporting and hosting al-Qaida terrorists. Do we walk away at that point?

✔ Government forces in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen used lethal force to break up protests in their countries. There was even a small protest in Saudi Arabia Monday, broken up by state riot police. If these continue and worsen, should we intervene in any of these countries “to protect civilians”?

✔ Finally, as we have asked regarding Afghanistan, how do we define success in Libya and what is our exit strategy?

Certainly, reasonable people can disagree over whether a no-fly zone for Libya is a good idea. Heck, even the top two men in Russia’s government are said to be feuding over whether the U.N. resolution — which Russia didn’t formally oppose or support — was a mistake.

But, before we and our allies sent the first missiles and warplanes into Libyan skies, we should have had a clear idea of our mission objectives, not just a vague notion that future circumstances would define it for us.


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