Five Reasons the U.S. Should Not Have Intervened in Libya


gaddafiProminent U.S. pundits are expressing deep skepticism about the U.S. intervention in Libya. I’ve compiled some of the frequently-made arguments in this post, and am scouring the web for pro-intervention points of view to post in the next roundup. Skeptics of the intervention are asking: Why this? To protect what interests? At what cost? For whom? And what next?

1. Why this?

Ezra Klein thinks there are better things to do with our money:

“The easy response to this is to ask how I can be so diffident in the face of slaughter. But consider Obama’s remarks. “Left unchecked,” he said, “we have every reason to believe that Gaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die.” Every year, one million people die from malaria. About three million children die, either directly or indirectly, due to hunger. There is much we could due to help the world if we were willing. The question that needs to be asked is: Why this?”

2. What are our interests in Libya?

Richard Haas argues that the U.S. doesn’t have any, anyway:

“…U.S. interests are decidedly less than vital. Libya accounts for only 2 percent of world oil production. The scale of the humanitarian crisis is not unique; indeed, this is not strictly speaking a humanitarian intervention. It is a decision to participate in Libya’s civil war.”

Leslie H. Gelb agrees:

“No foreign states have vital interests at stake in Libya. Events in this rather odd and isolated land have little bearing on the rest of the tumultuous Mideast region. Also not to be dismissed, there are far, far worse humanitarian horrors elsewhere. Yet, U.S. neoconservatives and liberal humanitarian interventionists have trapped another U.S. president into acting as if the opposite were true.”

3. At what cost?

Jim Manzi contends that we cannot afford this:

“I understand the humanitarian impulse to help the underdog, but we have finite resources, and cannot hold ourselves responsible for the political freedom of every human being on Earth. As many others have said, the obvious problem with this action is that we must set the pretty gauzy-sounding benefits of influencing public opinion in the Middle East, avenging ourselves for the Pan Am bombing, possibly improving the lives of people in Libya and so forth, against the many ways that this could plausibly turn into a much more expensive proposition than is currently anticipated – and not only in terms of money.”

Tom Friedman agrees:

“…sadly, we can’t afford it. We have got to get to work on our own country. If the president is ready to take some big, hard, urgent, decisions, shouldn’t they be first about nation-building in America, not in Libya?”

4. Who are we helping?

Friedman further holds that we don’t know who we are helping:

“…we should be doubly cautious of intervening in places that could fall apart in our hands, a là Iraq, especially when we do not know, a là Libya, who the opposition groups really are – democracy movements led by tribes or tribes exploiting the language of democracy?”

5. What happens next?

James Fallows says that the American military rarely asks this essential question:

“Count me among those very skeptical of how this commitment was made and where it might lead….The most predictable failure in modern American military policy has been the reluctance to ask, And what happens then? We invade Iraq to push Saddam Hussein from power. Good. What happens then? Obama increases our commitment in Afghanistan and says that “success” depends on the formation of a legitimate, honest Afghan government on a certain timetable. The deadline passes. What happens then?”

{Global Public Square/ Newscenter}


  1. I’m sorry but these excuses do not override the moral imperative to help stop a massacre in Libya. Sure we could be saving lives elsewhere but a life is a life. No one’s life is more or less valuable than another’s life. Next, if the US actually stands for the moral principles it espouses then our “interests” do not matter. Or perhaps you could say our interests are our moral principles. Either way, this cannot be about oil or military bases or anything else. It’s about helping Libya. Next, you say we cannot afford this but what is the price of a human life? Human life is precious and sitting idly by while people get massacred simply because one is stingy is intolerable. Next, well what about when the US helped the French resistance in WW2? We know there were extreme communists in their ranks but was that an excuse not to help them? Besides, al Qaeda is very weak in Libya and Benghazi is already controlled by the rebels and there is no sign of al Qaeda activity there. Lastly, please do not compare this to Iraq. It is simply disingenuous. The mission in Libya is under a UN mandate and the mission in Iraq is not. NATO is already going to take over shortly so the military burden will be shared. There will be no occupation. On the ground, this is a purely Libyan affair. We are only leveling the playing field between the rebels and Gaddafi’s forces. If Gaddafi is overthrown then we can wipe our hands clean of it. If there’s a stalemate the most the US and NATO would do is to enforce a ceasefire. The Libyans will be responsible for forming their own government.

  2. this is hilarious! if you ever wondered why conservatives make fun of liberal commentators all the time, just read this word for word. our so-called highly educated journalist are speaking plain nonsense.

  3. Libya is a national cause and its protection against a blood thirsty tyrant is a world perogative. The debate around this surprises me each day I see more dissent, though with much of it, it is political against a president that the illiberal “conservatives” wish to smear. That said, I never felt anything other than a price tag on this action and we are clearly a capable nation. Thanks!

  4. Five Reasons to Intervene in Libya

    (1) Colonel Gaddafi and his sons had neglected the general welfare of the people. Wealth was distributed incredibly unevenly.

    (2) Democratic freedoms were suppressed.

    (3) He tried to deflect the internal dissent away from him and blame Israel for the problems of the country. He even suggested for the Palestinians to gather in massaive numbers at Israels borders.

    (4) He was quite happy to kill many of his countrymen in cold blood to hold onto power.

    (5) Benghazi could have turned into a killing field where tens of thousands of people could have been massacred.