A few days ago, I asked the question (over at the international law blog Opinio Juris), what are the best legal arguments that would permit or preclude military intervention in Libya, by the US or some other party or parties, on humanitarian grounds (other than rescue of one’s own nationals)? The question generated an illuminating array of responses, which I wanted to categorize and expand upon here, but starting with some observations on the law and politics of US policy on intervention, as touching on Libya and beyond. (You should also check out Jack Goldsmith’s discussion of US domestic law relevant to intervention at Lawfare.)
I. Intra-USG Politics
So far as I can tell as an outsider to government, the appetite inside the administration, DOD, DOS, or anywhere else where I’ve been able to glean, for any military action on the ground is way, way, way less than zero. Since that almost certainly mirrors US public opinion, that is not a surprise.
But even limited to air action, my personal impression, fwiw, is that the appetite inside the administration to try and undertake a no-fly zone, by ourselves or in coalition, is also zero. The military is deeply opposed (and not just Gates). I’ve informally spoken with a number of officer friends who think the US trying to do this, whether alone or with the blessing/participation of other parties – including, interestingly, even if blessed by the Security Council – is prudentially a terrible idea. The idea of the US involved militarily in conflict in yet another Muslim country seems to them a very bad idea, resources are already stretched thin, and no fly zones lead to many unpredictable and unanticipated entanglements. (But maybe this is changing and the administration is swinging round to support a no-fly zone, [...]