Libya: To Lead or Let Go?

Max Boot from Los Angeles Times argues that continued international intervention is necessary, although not necessarily an American one:

At a minimum, an outside stabilization force will be needed to prevent government weapons stockpiles, including reported stores of mustard gas and other potential weapons of mass destruction, from falling into the wrong hands. Already there are reports of some of Kadafi’s portable antiaircraft missiles being looted; if they find their way to the global arms market, the likelihood of their use by terrorists against civilian airliners rises. A stabilization force would also give the Transitional National Council time to train and stand up its own security forces.

There is little appetite in the United States for another commitment of ground troops, which is why it will be important for European, African and Arab allies to carry the bulk of the peacekeeping burden

Some may argue that an international stabilization force — which means sending foreign troops into Libya — risks replaying the key mistake of the Iraq war. But that depends on what you think the mistake was. Was it the very presence of U.S. troops that sparked that insurgency? There probably would have been Sunni Muslim resistance to a Shiite-dominated regime in any case. What allowed the situation to spin out of control was that the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi security forces and did not send enough of its own troops to fill the vacuum.

By contrast, post-conflict scenarios in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor worked out better, because in all three places there was a substantial deployment of international peacekeepers early on. None of those countries is paradise, but all are more peaceful than Iraq or Afghanistan, and they offer a better model for revolutionary Libya — and its allies. If NATO refuses to send a peacekeeping force (as looks likely at the moment), and if the U.N. doesn’t step up, there is a real risk of Libya becoming a failed state.

Anne Applebaum from the Washington Post, on the other hand, argues for America to only “lead from behind”:

The Libyan revolution needn’t end in civil war. But there is no guarantee that it won’t. Either way, our ability to influence the course of events is limited. We can aid the rebels, as we have been doing all along: In fact, the Libyan opposition has quietly received not only NATO air support but also French and British military training, as well as weapons and advice from elsewhere in Europe and the Persian Gulf, most notably Qatar. But we can’t fight their war for them, we can’t unify them by force, and we can’t write their new constitution. On the contrary, if we make ourselves too visible in Libya, with troops on the ground or too many advisers in dark glasses, we will instantly become another enemy. If we try to create their government for them, we risk immediately making it unpopular.

What we should do instead — to use a much-mocked phrase — is bravely, proudly and forthrightly lead from behind. When the NATO engagement started, I argued that Obama’s best weapon was silence: no false promises, no soaring rhetoric, no threats. Keep this their war, not ours. The result: The rebels who just marched into Tripoli and waved at Al-Jazeera’s cameraslooked like a Libyan force, not a Western one — because they were. The images of them stomping on Gaddafi’s photograph looked a lot more authentic, and will play better in Libya and across the Arab world, than did the images of Marines pulling down a statue of Saddam Hussein in 2003, an American flag draped over his head.

What is the best transition option in your opinion? Do the West today (either America or NATO) still possess the moral and political authority to intervene in the affairs of troubled countries? 

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