Lugar Says U.S Cannot Afford a War in Libya

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Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, released the following statement today:

Protestors and innocent people in Libya are being shot and killed. The tanks of Muammar Qadhafi’s supporters are firing at lightly-armed rebels and government planes are attacking insurgent positions.

Understandably, calls are growing for the United States to step in and do something to stop the bloodshed. The most popular option is imposing a no-fly zone, a supposedly low-cost, low-risk course of action.

Imposing a no-fly zone, requiring extensive bombing of Libyan military facilities, would be an act of war, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said. The United States should not, in my view, launch military intervention into yet another Muslim country, without thinking long and hard about the consequences and implications. Given Libya’s strategic importance, owing to its oil and its location, a misstep would be very costly. 

Are we prepared, either alone or as part of an alliance, to see such military intervention through to the end? If the no-fly zone doesn’t stop the street-to-street fighting, are we prepared to escalate further, to put boots on the ground? Would that involve taking control of the country? Would we be obligated to stay until democracy is established? 

Such tasks would further stress a military already stretched thin by long deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even if intervention could be limited to a no-fly zone, this is a complex, expensive military operation involving a large number of assets in the air, at sea, and in space. It would impose significant new costs on a budget already under extraordinary strain.

In other words, a major military action to support anti-Qadhafi forces is a commitment that would require, in my view, a formal declaration of war by the Congress of the United States, not just a tactical redeployment of some aircraft.

Moreover, our intervention may well not have the positive effects that supporters assume. There is a plenty of evidence instead that our intervention could create anti-American fervor within the country and the region. It would also allow Qadhafi to portray himself as a hero battling the infidels. Muslims worldwide could be inflamed anew by another U.S. strike against an Islamic country.

This is now a civil war. Intervening in such conflicts is fraught with unknowns and unintended consequences. Who is it we want to help? We really don’t know how the rebels are organized or what their plans are for the governance of the country. For that matter, we don’t know exactly who’s fighting for Qadhafi, aside from his sons—a lot of the armed forces have deserted him.

Self-determination has proved fundamental to the success of revolutions such as this, including Egypt and Tunisia. American help often taints those we assist. If the winners of this conflict are seen as shills of America, they will face repudiation by others in a post-Qadhafi Libya.

We also have to consider the impact of American military action on the reform fervor sweeping the rest of the region. It may well strengthen the hand of the autocrats who would accuse the protesters in their country of serving outside interests or attempting to provoke American intervention.

Moreover, we’ve had experience in using the U.S. military on a humanitarian mission in the midst of a civil war—it was to stop warlords, armed with little more than Jeeps and machine guns, from stealing food aid for starving people in Somalia in 1993. It ended in disaster, a score of young Americans lost their lives, and Al Qaeda took inspiration from the perceived American weakness.

Clearly, the United States should do what it can to provide humanitarian assistance of food, shelter and medical care to those affected by the fighting in Libya, and ratchet up sanctions and other diplomatic pressure on the regime. We should work with allies on potential multi-lateral responses.

And we should not hesitate to use military force when it is necessary and our objectives are clear. But given our experience in Somalia, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, the burden of proof lies on those calling for military intervention to demonstrate that doing so would be in the United States’ national interest.       

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