The New York Times reports that the Obama administration has committed itself to a policy of regime change in Libya and is now publicly contemplating military action, “The administration [has] declared all options on the table in its diplomatic, economic and military campaign to drive Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from power.” The talk is of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, which may sound like an incremental and moderate step. Defense Secretary Gates helpfully clarified to Congress that a no-fly zone “begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses.” It is an act of war.
On first glance, the move appears to represent a dramatic departure for the Obama administration and, indeed, U.S. foreign policy. Until now the United States did not have a policy of overthrowing governments solely because they violated human rights. If we did, we would be at war with half the world, starting with China. Not even the neoconservatives at their most bellicose had such grand ambitions.
…Equally worrying is the administration’s apparent beliefs about how to wield military force. Again, according to the Times, “Officials in Washington and elsewhere said that direct military action remained unlikely, and that the moves were designed as much as anything as a warning to Colonel Qaddafi and a show of support to the protesters.”
In other words, the United States will pretend to threaten a military option in the hopes that Qaddafi, whom the administration apparently believes has the guile of Forrest Gump, will not read the New York Times, not call our bluff, and will obligingly surrender without a shot fired. Whoever suggested this policy option did not study Qaddafi, failed to wargame what happens after he calls our bluff, and has forgotten the Kosovo War and Milosevic’s stubborn refusal to follow our script.