What Qaddafi has done to his people is morally reprehensible, but why is it any different than events in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire, or Bahrain? More importantly, how does intervention in the conflict meet vital American interests?
On the contrary, it appears more likely that intervention will harm America’s interests and strengthen those of its regional archenemy, Iran. Here are four reasons why:
1. It Weakens America’s Regional Nuclear Non-Proliferation Effort
One potential consequence of a nuclear-armed Iran is a regional proliferation spiral when nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey decide they too must acquire nuclear weapons. With more regional powers possessing nuclear weapons, the threat of a deliberate or accidental nuclear launch rises dramatically, especially in a region known for its volatility.
So far, the United States has helped prevent this outcome with a guarantee to extend its defense umbrella to regional allies against a nuclear-armed Iran.
However, after the President’s attack on a country that revealed its WMD programs to the West, America’s regional allies may be more reticent to cooperate on future nuclear non-proliferation matters.
After all, he is bombing a country that cooperated with the United States, while he has avoided open conflict with nuclear proliferators like Iran and North Korea.
2. It Signals to Regional Allies that America Might Abandon Them
The most important Middle Eastern country to American vital interests is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is responsible for much of the world’s 5 billion barrels of oil per day of spare production capacity. The kingdom has nearly always been a reliable partner in increasing oil production during periods of high demand.
Support for unknown rebels attempting to unseat another Middle Eastern despot, may encourage the Saudis to reevaluate their relationship with America. They might also decide to explore alternative strategic arrangements with other major oil consumers like the Chinese.
Any Saudi move away from American interests is a win for Iran.
3. It Encourages Future Regional Revolutionaries
President Obama’s actions in Libya also show the Arab street that the United States may support revolution against its own allies if it is sufficiently bloody. The Iranians will likely exploit this belief by encouraging Shia-led revolts like that in Bahrain throughout the Middle East.
If young Saudis start believing that American air power will aid them in an uprising, they may be more willing to revolt against the House of Saud. The Iranians will no doubt encourage this belief. The resulting instability would be disastrous for the American and global economies, but good for Iranian oil interests.
4. It Weakens Regional Counterterrorism Efforts
Before February 2011, Qaddafi was an American bulwark against al Qaeda in the Maghreb. He had been at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates since at least 1996, when the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) attempted to assassinate him.
America’s bombing of Libya has now antagonized a nation with a history of anti-American terrorism, but that had forsworn it within the past decade. Now, President Obama has created another terrorist threat overnight by attacking a regime that was previously a contributor to the U.S.-led war on terror.
Then there are questions about the opposition. Who are they? Whom do they support?
According to the former National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, Richard Clarke, Qaddafi’s opposition is “deeply religious” and most of the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists that Qaddafi drove out of Libya “came from Benghazi and the area around it.” In other words, from the heart of the rebellion. Given the Muslim Brotherhood’s support of American and European bombing of Libya, the prospect of a future democratic Libya friendly with the United States is an unlikely one.
Libya is now the enemy of Iran’s enemy, the United States. Now, Qaddafi is likely to become Iran’s new friend in the Maghreb. Unfortunately, so is any future Benghazi-led government. Iran likely wins no matter what the outcome, and America likely loses.
Now, the Iranians need merely watch, while their star waxes and America’s wanes.
Bad policy has consequences. The President might have avoided them had he consulted with his own Congress before he did so with the United Nations.