As the United States, France, and Britain take the plunge into Libya's internal conflict, we need to be very careful about understanding what the objectives really are. Proponents of intervention offer a mix of three distinct objectives being sought -- and they don't necessarily match.
First, yesterday's U.N. Security Council Resolution allows for the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians, which is great except that nobody who knows anything about military operations -- and no one who I have talked to in the military -- believes that the no-fly zone will achieve that. If you look at the tactics being used by the Muammar al-Qaddafi regime, it's ground forces that are executing the regime's oppression. Where we have seen bombings, it is primarily of rebel arms depots or barracks.
A second objective being advanced by intervention proponents -- but not supported in the resolution -- is the need to tilt the balance of power away from Qaddafi. The no fly zone stands little chance of achieving this either; it's a more than 600-mile trip from the rebel stronghold of Benghazi to Tripoli, and even if the rebels had air support on their journey, Qaddafi's forces could clean their clocks as they advanced. To really tip the balance, you'd probably need sustained close air support and arms. Yet paragraph nine of the earlier resolution (1970) expressly forbids arming the rebel forces. So if we really want to tip the balance of power and arm the rebels, as the Egyptians seem to be doing, we need to recognize that we will be in violation of a U.N. Security Council Resolution. And again, there's no guarantee it would work.