Al Jazeera reports that “conservatives” in USA are recommending “military intervention”. The concern seems to be that this could be a repeat of Iraq.
There are some similarities but also a lot of differences between Iraq and Libya. In Iraq popular uprisings were dealt harsh blows and were no threat to the Baathist regime. In Libya, opponents to Gaddafi have control of most of the country and are cooperating and it would not be necessary to occupy the country in order to bring down Gaddafi’s regime.
For example, withn a few days, Nato and others could set up
- air patrols/surveillance to guarantee Gaddafi’s airforce remain grounded and navy in port,
- close air support to eliminate use of armour and heavy weapons against citizens, and
- close air support including guided bombs to allow Libya’s citizen army to deal with Gaddafi promptly.
In practice this would likely take up to a few weeks to ensure proper liason with the interim government and to organize armed units sufficient for the assault on the ground. If there are sufficient men and equipment of the Libyan military joining the side of the interim government, it could be that none of this would be necessary, but with assistance from air and sea, the job could be done much more swiftly to minimize casualties and destruction of infrastructure. At the moment Gaddafi has tanks roaming out 50km or so from Tripoli and such heavy equipment prevents a real possibility of overthrow if Gaddafi can bring it to bear.
As we saw in Iraq, control of air and land permits an organized army to accomplish most objectives quickly and with fewer casualties. If assets of the interim government liased closely with external forces to design specific limited roles and targets Gaddafi could be out in a week or so. If the status quo remains, a brutal urban civil war using rifles against armour and heavy equipment could drag on for months with heavy casualties.
I would prefer a short sharp action to dislodge Gaddafi before he does any more damage to his country. To do otherwise might be smoother politically but catastrophic as the imminent battle unfolds. The USA and Nato need not fear they will be trapped in an endless ground assault. The Libyan people have demonstrated ample determination to do that on their own. They do need more than bodies to win decisively, however.