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Don't Use U.S. Force in Libya!

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
March 8, 2011
The Daily Beast


Hold your wallets and hang on to your military-age children. Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and McCain, along with hordes of humanitarians and neoconservatives, have converged with one aim, to push the U.S. into war in Libya. Yes, it would be war, though they like to call it "humanitarian action" and pretend it's just a simple matter of declaring and enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya. What they're really proposing is a potential tragedy—for the U.S. and for Libyans. Better to let Libya's neighbors do the heavy lifting with restricted U.S. help, as President Obama seems inclined to do.

To begin with, what's going on in Libya should not in any way be confused with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In that African horror, Hutus were slaughtering an estimated 800,000 defenseless Tutsis. The U.S. military actually had a good and workable response to this genocide. The generals suggested sending in a few thousand troops to set up a "safe haven" in Rwanda's border region, where civilians could flock for protection. U.S. troops would not engage in combat at all.

It was a tragedy that President Clinton rejected this proposal for fear of getting involved in an African civil war like Somalia. It was also a tragedy that he waited so long to intervene militarily in Bosnia, where the aggressors, the Serbs, and the victims, the Bosnian Muslims and the Croats, were quite clear. Helping the victims in Bosnia was not a shot in the dark; Americans and Europeans knew the leaders of the victims pretty well and could make sensible decisions on whom to help and how.

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