Only days ago, rebels were boldly promising to march on Surt, Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown, then on to Tripoli, where opposition leaders predicted its residents would rise up. But the week has witnessed a series of setbacks, with a punishing government assault on Zawiyah, near the capital, and a reversal of fortunes in towns near Ras Lanuf, whose refinery makes it a strategic economic prize in a country blessed with vast oil reserves.
There was a growing sense among the opposition, echoed by leaders in opposition-held Benghazi and rebels on the front, that they could not single-handedly defeat Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.
“We can’t prevail unless there’s a no-fly zone,” said Anis Mabrouk, a 35-year-old fighter. “Give us the cover, and we’ll go all the way to Tripoli and kill him.”
That seemed unlikely, though. Even without warplanes, Colonel Qaddafi’s government could still marshal far superior tanks, armor and artillery, along with the finances and organization to prosecute a counteroffensive.
I was thinking about these paragraphs on the way into work this morning. It seems to me to be both important and worth noting that if the United States and its allies are to intervene in Libya, simply enforcing a no-fly zone will not be sufficient enough to alter the balance of power in favor of the rebels. (Assuming that this is something in the national interest to do in the first place.) Just going off of field reports as well as a rough order of battle, it seems likely that it would take a more aggressive military intervention to really alter the balance in Libya.* Are the United States and its allies willing to do such a thing? Would that be in our interests?
Meanwhile, in Japan, a few things: the Japanese Foreign Minister has explicitly requested U.S. aid, and the United States has -- correctly, in my opinion -- dispatched warships and humanitarian assistance to our longtime ally. We have no such clear and open invitation to intervene in Libya, though according to Shadid, some rebels are getting frustrated by our inaction:
As each day passes, anger among the rebels grows at what they have described as inaction on the part of the international community and in particular, the United States.
“Obama and Qaddafi are the same!” one fighter, Mohamed Mgaref, shouted at a medical clinic about an hour from the front, as ambulances ferried some of the four dead and dozens wounded in the fighting.
Japan is the world's third-largest economy and a long-time U.S. ally in Asia. Libya, by contrast, is a country of 6.5 million people with the 74th largest economy in the world and roughly 3.3% of the world's proven oil reserves.** So obviously, our interests are far greater in the former than in the latter. But how would it change our calculations if we had a clear and explicit public request from Libya's opposition to intervene militarily?
*This is what is now known as "static, unidimensional analysis" apparently.
**Sources are the CIA World Fact Book and the 2010 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
UPDATE: In related news, Leon Wieseltier continues to carefully weigh U.S. interests and policy options regarding Libya with his usual humility and respect for both the decisions facing our elected leaders and the uniformed men and women who would carry out a military intervention. One senses that Wieseltier is being appropriately humble about what we could expect military power to achieve in Libya as well as about his own limited understanding of the internal politics of -- Hahahaha, but I kid, I kid.