I am watching Aljazeera Arabic, which is calling people in Tripoli on the telephone and asking them what is going on in the capital. The replies are poignant in their raw emotion, bordering on hysteria. The residents are alleging that the Qaddafi regime has scrambled fighter jets to strafe civilian crowds, has deployed heavy artillery against them, and has occupied the streets with armored vehicles and strategically-placed snipers. One man is shouting that “the gates of Hell have opened” in the capital and that “this is Halabja!” (where Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ordered helicopter gunships to hit a Kurdish city with sarin gas, killing 5000 in 1988).
Two defecting Libyan pilots who flew to Malta confirmed the orders to strafe the crowds from the air and said that they declined to obey the order. Other pilots appear to have been more loyal.
The U.S. has the capability to deploy fighter aircraft in the region and stop this from happening. It also has a deep history of disrespect for Libyan sovereignty from the Marines sent to Tripolli in the Revolutionary era to the bombing of a Libyan chemical plant in mine. Does Ghadaffi deserve sovereign respect vis-a-vis democratic protesters from a nation like the United States that was founded on revolutionary overthrow of tyrrany? Would a single show of force in this instance establish a credible threat that would influence the behavior of dicators elsewhere even without its actual exercise? We could tell nervous monarches that we distinguish between legitimate monarchies and dicatorships.
Why not? Unlike leaders of regimes in Egypt and Bahrain, we have no history of Libyan cooperation with the U.S. We wouldn't necessarily have to take down the entire regime. There are locals on the ground who could do that. We could simply shut down one military tactic of the regime in order to show disrespect and emasculate that regime in a case where it is clearly engaging in a gross, mass violation of human rights of the worse magnitude. Perhaps we could bomb Ghadaffi's house while we were at it.
It isn't as if the U.S. has some long tradition of non-intervention in Middle Eastern affairs to defend after two U.S. initiated wars in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Also, the extingency of an unfolding situation could justify not seeking a broad diplomatic coalition. The War Powers Act permits U.S. Presidents to make brief military interventions without Congressional approval.