I strongly opposed the Iraq war. I was in favor of the US invasion of Afghanistan. I favored intervention in Kosovo and the first gulf war. I opposed the US interventions in Latin America in the 1980s. I held all these positions firmly and had few doubts.
But I don’t know what to think about the UN/NATO campaign in Libya. I’ve never felt this way about a US military campaign during my lifetime. On the one hand, Qaddafi is clearly an awful dictator who shows no hesitation in attacking his own people. Unseating him would be a great outcome. Support for intervention – even if not for the specifics of current military actions – from populations across the middle east is remarkable. It does feel as though taking action puts the US on the right side of history.
But at the same time, it doesn’t feel like this is the US’s or NATO’s fight. Western governments attacking a middle eastern regime has rarely worked out well. There is no obvious endgame here. Partition and an extended civil war is clearly a possibility. And even if the rebels win, it’s far from clear that they’re much better for the Libyan people or the world than Qaddafi.
In the absence of clear reasons for intervening, my bias is against military action, at least until the facts become clearer. But in this case, where delay would have presumably meant total destruction for the rebels, it’s harder to convince myself that that’s right – this is a decision which, once made, can not be unmade.
So, for the first time in my adult life, I’m left ambivalent about whether a major US military involvement is a good or bad idea.