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Taking the high road to hell

March 24th, 2011

Picketers protest the American involvement in Libya on March 23 in San Francisco. (AP)

I don’t blame Americans for supporting U.S. military intervention in Libya. After all, when cloaked in the guise of multilateralism and the moral superiority of a humanitarian cause, intervention in Libya sounds like a responsible use of military power.

However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Obama’s “limited” commitment to protect civilians in Libya from Gadhafi’s forces is setting the United States up for either an embarrassing military failure or a dangerous, unwanted troop deployment.

By pledging to protect civilians from Gadhafi’s revenge, Obama has effectively committed the United States to toppling the Gadhafi regime.

Yes, it is possible that the no-fly zone established by the United States and coalition forces will tip the balance in favor of the rebels, and Gadhafi will finally be ousted from power.

However, it’s equally as likely that it won’t.

In this case, the government and rebel forces will become trapped in a bloody stalemate that results in civilian deaths on both sides. As the fighting intensifies, it will become increasingly unlikely that the two sides will ever be able to be reconciled, and Libya will be gradually torn in two.

Meanwhile, the lengthy military commitment required of the U.S. will slowly open up the Pandora’s box of potential nightmare situations. It is a fact that accidents happen in war. Despite Obama’s good intentions, U.S. bombs will fall in the wrong place and, unfortunately, kill the very people the U.S. vowed to protect.

As the civilian death count increases, mounting pressure will force the United States to either cut and run or escalate with a full-scale invasion.

The latter would put U.S. troops in a country that was never a threat to U.S. national security in the first place. Not only would this increase anti-Americanism in a region already replete with it, but it would also expose more U.S. troops to all the perils of occupation that we have seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The former would expose civilians to the same dangers that supposedly drove the U.S. to intervene in the first place, possibly resulting in thousands of deaths at the hands of Gadhafi’s cronies. It would also allow Gadhafi to claim that he defeated the world’s only superpower, which would bolster his legitimacy and completely destroy any chance of a successful Libyan opposition movement.

It was a mistake, therefore, for Obama to use military force in Libya. Not only is the United States now engaged in a limited but potentially open-ended war with the government of Libya, but Obama’s goals – to protect civilians and to not deploy ground troops – also seem to be at war with each other.