February 22, 2011

On Libya

I am about to depart Cairo after five great days here spent conducting interviews and gathering "atmospherics" in post-Mubarak Egypt. I want to thank my employers for allowing me to take an extra five days off work to do this research as well as Issandr el-Amrani and his wife for being such generous hosts. I also want to thank Elijah Zarwan and many other people who have shared their expertise but would prefer to remain anonymous. I got to visit with my old friend Charles Levinson before he ran to the border, and let me continue to recommend both his coverage and that of his colleagues at the Wall Street Journal for what has been, in my observations at least, the best newspaper coverage to emerge out of these events. (al-Jazeera and CNN's Ben Wedeman, meanwhile, continue to set the standard for television journalism.)

Like all of you, I have been horrified to see the images and reports coming out of Libya. Some of the images have been truly shocking, as has been the behavior of the evil Libyan regime.

But I am already reading calls for the United States and its allies to intervene in Libya, and I think we should all take a step back and first ask four questions:

1. Will an international intervention make things better, or worse?

2. If worse, do nothing. If better, who should be a part of this intervention?

3. Should the United States lead the intervention?

4. If so, what should we do?

All too often in humanitarian emergencies or conflicts, we skip ahead to Question 4 without first answering the first three questions. Let us not make that mistake this time. (Because I don't myself even know the answer to Question 1.)

Okay, off to the airport...