In a piece Tuesday for the American Enterprise Institute's "Enterprise Blog," former Undersecretary of State and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz characterized U.S. action in the wake of violent unrest in Libya as "shameful" and "sitting on our hands." Our immediate response, writes Wolfowitz, should have included the list of actions below.
-- Recognition of a provisional authority in liberated areas (or even a Provisional Government of Free Libya if the Libyans can organize a credible one), initially in Benghazi in the east and Misurata in the west, which seem to be liberated, although are still under threat of air attack;
- Provision by member countries, including specifically Egypt and Tunisia, of any support requested by these provisional authorities;
- Imposition of a NATO-supported "no fly" zone over Libya to halt further bombing by Qaddafi's forces;
- Urgent supply of food and medical supplies to any point in Libya that is accessible by road or by military transport aircraft;
- Provision of arms to the provisional authorities.
Wolfowitz goes on to characterize America's "inaction" as rooted in the general concern of the Obama administration and others over acting unilaterally in the fact of turmoil overseas, especially in the Islamic world.
There is a great tendency within the foreign policy community to believe that any action is good action. Our immediate reaction, naturally, is to ask what the international community can do in the face of violent unrest like that currently unfolding in Libya and to believe that US intervention of any kind will only serve to improve the situation. This is, after all, what those at the State Department and many within the think tank and academic communities are paid for.
While there's no doubt that the reports out of Libya of the Gaddafi regime's brutal response to its own people's demands are deeply troubling, America's options on how to respond are far more complex than Wolfowitz seems to recognize. Simply providing arms to those Libyan elements who oppose Gaddafi for example, is at best a short term solution and at worst, deeply irresponsible. We may dislike Gaddafi, but injecting more arms into a conflict that borders on, if it has not already become, a full-scale civil war places the US at fault for an entire set of potentially deadly unintended consequences. It doesn't take much historical research to see that arms used to oust dictators have a nasty habit of continuing to work once the dictator falls. Similarly, imposing and enforcing a NATO-supported "no fly" zone over Libya would stop the Gaddafi regime from using its limited air assets, but once planes and nations begin shooting at each other the game again becomes far more complex.
At this point, all the international community knows is that those protesting across Libya, and those who might make up a "Provisional Government of Free Libya", vehemently oppose Gaddafi. While the U.S. shares these sentiments, the "an enemy of my enemy is my friend" approach simply risks too much in the long run for the people of Libya until the long-term intents and identities of those involved can be made clear. The Obama foreign policy team has thus far made the right choice by exercising restraint and refusing to act unilaterally in Libya. Restraint may not be a good option or seem like the best one at the time, but rushing to intervene in domestic political struggles has a long history of unintended, negative consequences. A history that Wolfowitz and the logic behind neoconservative, intervention-based foreign policy seem to ignore.