Home / Robert Farley / Briefly, on No Fly…

Briefly, on No Fly…


There’s a lot of interesting stuff out on the utility of a no fly zone over Libya; I’d recommend Spencer, David Axe, Adam Elkus, and Magnus to start. The operational details are actually pretty important, because the political impact of any effort to enforce a no fly zone depends on decisions to pre-emptively suppress the Libyan air defense network, to attack Libyan airbases, to exempt rebel aircraft, to destroy Libyan helicopters, and so forth.

I am generally reluctant to adopt the position that advocacy of any particular military action makes one “just like a neocon”; I think that there is, within the larger family of potential military interventions, a number of actions that don’t “rise to neoconservatism”, and the advocacy of which doesn’t necessarily make one a “hawk.” No fly zones are a pretty non-invasive way of invading a country, so to speak. However, we shouldn’t be under any illusions about the political decision to intervene militarily in the Libyan civil war. Any decision to intervene means, effectively, that we have decided on regime change in Libya. This is to say that we’ve decided the rebels should win, and we’re willing to undertake steps that will make it easier for them to do so. When understood in this context, enforcement of a no fly zone is different from forcibly seizing Tripoli only in the level of Western risk and material commitment. It’s not even clear that seizing Tripoli with the USMC and handing it over to the rebels would be less bloody than letting them bludgeon Gaddafi’s remaining forces into submission in a long ground campaign.

As such, advocates of a no fly zone have to answer two difficult questions. First, to what extent do we really want to be responsible for installing the next regime in Tripoli? This is what we’d be doing, because a no fly zone is a military intervention intended to help one party win. Second, what if Gaddafi wins in spite of the enforcement of a no fly zone? There was a point at which Saddam Hussein seemed utterly dead in 1991, with a no fly zone appearing to be the coup de grace. Committing the United States to regime change in the form of enforcing a no fly zone made 2003 radically more likely, if not inevitable.

Advocates of a no fly zone, even those I respect, haven’t answered these questions to my satisfaction.

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