Editor’s Note: President Barack Obama says the U.S.-backed military intervention in Libya will remain limited in size and scope – to protect civilians with air power only, under NATO, not U.S., command – but he’s now under pressure to arm the rebels and is already wavering.

It seems the U.S. political/media establishment never sees the opportunity for war that it will pass up, as pols and pundits compete in chest-thumping exercises to show off whose rhetoric is tougher – with little regard for the consequences, as the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland notes in this guest essay:

It’s as if there is a “buy two wars and get the third war for half price” special. What a deal!

The allied intervention in Libya is so absurdly half-baked that (ad hoc) coalition aircraft are supposedly bombing only when civilians are in danger, but not when Gaddafi’s forces are beating up the opposition. That’s because the United Nations resolution did not authorize helping rebel forces or throwing Gadhafi out of power.

But it is unclear how bombing a building on Gaddafi’s compound fits under the category of saving civilians. Reporters who inspected the rubble said that it had been used by Gaddafi to receive dignitaries — including previously some of the reporters — but appeared to have no command or communications equipment.

Furthermore, theoretically, if Gaddafi’s forces fought only rebels and scrupulously avoided hitting civilians, then the coalition could sure save some ammo while patrolling Libya’s skies.

The vain hope seems to be that if the coalition attacks Libya from the air — since President Barack Obama has said no U.S. ground forces will be sent — the Libyan military will find it in their interest to throw out Gaddafi in a coup.

Of course, coalition air attacks would have to terrify the Libyan military enough to do that. Instead, reporters who have interviewed high-level Libyan officials say that they appear quite sanguine about their prospects for riding out allied attacks.

And Gaddafi and his minions have many grounds for optimism. Coalition forces can hammer Gaddafi’s ground forces on open terrain — for example, those on the outskirts of Benghazi — but Gaddafi’s military, at the very least, could take refuge in and build up defenses in the large cities.

This would significantly reduce the effect of coalition air attacks, because they would have to be curtailed in metropolitan areas. After all, it would look really bad to slaughter Libyans en masse — civilians for which the United Nations approved those very attacks to protect.

In addition, it would be very difficult for the untrained, rag-tag opposition forces to take built-up cities held by trained Libyan soldiers.

So without inserting coalition ground forces, a military stalemate may result, with Gaddafi controlling most cities and the rebels holding a few, including Benghazi. (The coalition will look even worse if Gaddafi’s continuing offensive against rebel holdouts succeeds even in the presence of the allied no-fly zone.)

One can foresee an unsuccessful no-fly zone that lasts years, as it did in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, with similar pressure building for the United States to invade and take out the demonized Gaddafi.

The demonization of Gaddafi started back during the Reagan administration. Once a foreign dictator is demonized by the formidable U.S. government’s public relations juggernaut, pressure builds to oust him in any way possible after sanctions and a no-fly zone have failed to do so.

So look out for a long U.S. entanglement in Libya and maybe a future American land war there.

Gaddafi’s human rights record is certainly nothing to write home about, but it is about the same as that of U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and not much worse than that of the Israelis in occupied Palestine, according to Freedom House.

Besides, the U.S. has not used military forces to protect civilians being abused to an even greater extent than in Libya — in Rwanda, Sudan, the Congo, etc. And the Constitution says that the U.S. taxpayer is on the hook only to provide for a “common defense,” not to stop violence many countries around the world commit against their own people or neighboring nations.

The bipartisan interventionist American foreign policy elites are in supreme denial, starting a third war when the U.S. Empire is already slogging along in two quagmires. With more than a trillion dollar annual budget deficit and a $14 trillion national debt, the empire is overextended.

Overextension by unneeded wars and interventions sank the British, French, Soviet, and many other empires’ economies throughout history. Those empires, too, thought it couldn’t happen to them, as the U.S. does now.

To preserve the republic and its influence in the world, presidents have to push back against the overwhelming pressures for military intervention coming from the foreign policy elites and the vested interests that back them.

Obama, analytical and seemingly a reluctant warrior by nature, has utterly capitulated to such interests.

This outcome gives little hope that future presidents will be able to reverse the tide, run a more restrained and sensible foreign policy, and lead the world by example instead of extreme measures.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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