Let the Libyan people decide

In Benghazi’s city square, a banner 15 feet tall reads, in English:  “No foreign intervention. Libyan people can manage it alone.” Initial reports state that Libyan government thugs and mercenaries have massacred nearly 1,000 protesters. It’s probably going to get worse.

How can we stand by and let more people die when we could prevent it?  Simple: we respect the democratic ideals and sovereignty of these protesters—after all, that’s what we’re trying to protect.

You’d think that the Libyan people were using every interview to beg for air support after hearing senators on both side of the aisle this week. Yet, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have implied the Obama administration’s response is too hesitant and too soft.

The two senators are calling for a Libyan No-Fly Zone. The purpose of this plan is to restrict flight over the North African nation so that “Gadhafi can’t be attacking his own people from the air or flying in more mercenaries,” Lieberman said.

Before we try to help, let’s review three major power shifts in the Middle East in the last decade. Egypt is well on the way to establishing a government for and by the people, without military support. Afghanistan and Iraq are drowning in corruption and civil war.

Don’t get me wrong: Gadhafi needs to be stopped.

His regime has used political violence for just over four decades, but the No-Fly Zone is not even close to an ideal solution. Under what circumstances would U.S. planes shoot down Libyan craft? Would they only go after marked military planes? What about civilian planes carrying mercenaries? What about civilian casualties caused by downed aircraft—and taking out Libya’s anti-air defenses?

Some sponsors of the idea—Lieberman included—want to arm the populace on the ground as well. I for one am hesitant to start handing out guns to a group whose only common goal we can be sure of is getting rid of Gadhafi.

The U.S. has tried arming groups with similar goals before—Batista in the 1960s, the Taliban and the Iranian Shah in the 1970s; all three of them used violence to stay in power.

All pessimism aside, the real issue here is whether or not we have the moral duty that Lieberman and McCain suppose calls for action. If we are compelled to foster democracy in countries, whether or not the locals want it, what becomes of Saudi Arabia—a monarchy that the populace hates and that the U.S. has supported for years?

In the late 18th century, our nation called for foreign support against the British in our own revolution. Without other countries respecting our wishes. We might never have become independent. We should respect this legacy by honoring the wishes of the newest attempted democracy.