It has taken me quite some time, but I now believe that we should enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, ideally as part of a NATO or UN operation, but speed is probably more important than allies.
The huge wave of non-violent pro-freedom and democracy protests sweeping the Arab world is potentially a major strategic victory for America. First, the protesters may succeed in establishing democracies in many, if not most, Arab countries, a big plus for the U.S. Second, the protesters have handed al Qaeda a strategic defeat. After all, 15 years of violence never toppled a single corrupt Arab government, and non-violent protest took out two in a few months.
Unfortunately, there is a way to defeat large popular non-violent uprisings: massive deadly force. In Egypt public and (no doubt) private pressure from America helped prevent this, but we have no such influence in Libya and Gaddafi has taken this approach with a vengeance. If Gaddafi succeeds in crushing the protesters, other Arab dictators will know exactly how to stay in power. If Gaddafi falls, Arab dictators will have little choice but to bow to the aspirations of their people.
The question, of course, is how to help the protesters. The answer, of course, is to listen to them. They are quite clear on one point: they don't want boots on the ground. British special forces inserted into Libya were arrested by the protestors and sent home. On the other hand, voices within the protest movement are increasingly of one mind: take Gaddafi's air force out of the equation.
This is something we can do, and we are probably preparing. Aircraft carriers have been sent to the region. Reconnoissance planes are flying off the coast. Warships are gathering for potential 'humanitarian missions.' Allies are being consulted. NATO is meeting. UN resolutions are being drafted. Unfortunately, international consensus takes time and speed is of the essence.
In the last few days the government has driven protesters from two cities. Gaddafi's firepower is beginning to overwhelm the opposition. Establishing a no-fly zone is an act of war, which is always risky, but taking down Gaddafi's air force will certainly help, a lot, and with a bit of luck putting America's unmatched firepower in the service of the protest could trigger a government collapse. With a third corrupt Arab dictatorship down, the winds of freedom and democracy could well sweep the Arab world with little additional effort from, but lots of benefit to, America and the rest of the world.
What you can do: go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact or call 202-456-1111 and make your voice heard.