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Posted at 4:49 PM ET, 03/ 3/2011

A warning to would-be interventionists in Libya

By David Ignatius

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."

By David Ignatius  | March 3, 2011; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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The "post-colonial borders" of Libya were an afterthought in order to expedite Italy's legal ability to sign the WW2 peace treaty.

And there are still one+million foreign migrant workers inside Libya (population 6.5 million), mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, being confused with Qaddafi's mercenaries?

Where do Libya's Berbers and Touregs fit into this most artificial of post-WW2 nation-states?

No wonder both Egypt and Tunisia's post-revolution prime ministers resigned this week. This is going to be a very long, and tragic, saga.

Posted by: K2K2 | March 3, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Maybe this Civil War in Muslim world is just what U.S. need...

Posted by: kemskiy | March 3, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

You're right, the US is spent. AIPAC and Israel need to realize that the US can't and won't fight any more wars like Afghanistan and Iraq. And the US military will make sure we don't get involved with fighting Iran, even to the extent of shooting down attacking Israeli planes - as said by no less than Z. Breszinski. About time we stopped doing AIPAC's bidding.

Posted by: ronin1776 | March 3, 2011 6:20 PM | Report abuse

One option that isn't mentioned in the article is sending in Special Forces A teams to train and organize the protesters for the fight that they are already engaged in with Qaddafi's forces. People forget that this is exactly what SF was created for: to work with partisan forces against a hostile government. They are trained to understand how rebel forces are organized and motivated and to work by, with, and through those forces.

There is no need for us to engage in any direct action. The Libyans have proven themselves willing to carry on the fight by themselves. But they might find the kind of professional training and leadership that SF could provide to be useful, and it wouldn't necessarily require our guys to fire a shot.

Far cheaper with less downside strategic risk than most of the other options listed. People definitely underestimate how difficult and complex a no-fly zone would be to enforce. And direct action by western forces, no matter how "covert," could be very, very risky.

Lets not forget that we have a force that is designed to support and train indigenous rebel forces and is equipped with a great deal of cultural training -- U.S. Army Special Forces. Their first mission is this, not the kicking-in-doors, high-speed direct action missions that make for great movies.

Posted by: DM_Inf | March 3, 2011 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Apparently the Monitor Group and some prominent neocons sold themselves for 3 million dollars.

"US firm Monitor Group admits mistakes over $3m Gaddafi deal

Consultancy group entered into multimillion dollar contract with Libyan regime to portray Gaddafi in a positive light

A consultancy firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has admitted it had made serious mistakes in entering into a multimillion dollar contract with the Libyan regime to portray Muammar Gaddafi to the west in a positive light.

The Monitor Group, which has 30 offices around the world, has become the focal point of a billowing controversy over the engagement of western individuals and institutions with the discredited Gaddafi regime.

Between 2006 and 2008, the firm entered into a contract with the regime that was worth at least $3m (£1.8m), according to confidential documents obtained by the Libyan opposition.

An undisclosed portion of that money was passed on by Monitor to leading academics and policymakers in the US in the form of honorariums, consultancy fees and travel expenses.

Experts were encouraged to travel to Tripoli to meet a range of senior regime figures, including Gaddafi himself and his son Saif al-Islam, both of whom are now on the UN's sanctions list designed to prevent Gaddafi's assault on his own people.

The individuals who were engaged in the Monitor project included Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History; Richard Perle, a prominent neocon who advised President George W Bush in the buildup to the Iraq invasion; and American academics such as Benjamin Barber, Joseph Nye and Robert Putnam."

They will support anyone for a buck!

Posted by: FoundingMother | March 3, 2011 10:24 PM | Report abuse

To ronin1776: What in the world are you talking about? Where is Israel mentioned in this article? Israel hasn't said a word about intervening militarily in Libya. You've got too many Jews on your mind, my friend. That's a sickness.

Posted by: gadlut | March 4, 2011 1:10 AM | Report abuse


Breaking footage has just been posted to YouTube of Gaddafi landing in France. I knew the French would accept him with open arms:

I wish Gaddafi should take a site and must leave Libya. Are you think it?

Posted by: webcontent2011 | March 4, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for your thoughtful and frakly commonsensical analysis, which was so very lacking prior to America's intervention in Iraq.
Sadly, Sen. John McCain has called for airstrikes, still another good reason to have NOT picked him as POTUS.

Posted by: goyo1588 | March 4, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Finally, somebody with some influence seems to be starting to realize that a Fourth US war right now is a bad idea. Any attack or other action is an ACT OF WAR. And there are rules for a war that must be observed.

Obama should require that Congress first Declare and fully fund a war, something not actually done since 1941. That meets the Constitutional requirements and also avoids the impeachment trap being laid. To move without Congressional declaration from both houses and a funding source would be the height of irresponsibility.

The US military needs no fourth war. Korea (still active, thought non-nuclear at present), Afghanistan, and Iraq are enough for our military, especially since no funds have been raised to pay for any of them. Our Bank of China card has to be close to the maximum limit.

Posted by: MarkofLewiston1 | March 6, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse

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