In his New York Times column today (3/24/11)–headlined "Hugs From Libyans"–Nicholas Kristof boils down the argument in favor of the war in Libya:
Then, on Wednesday in Benghazi, the major city in eastern Libya whose streets would almost certainly be running with blood now if it weren't for the American-led military intervention, residents held a "thank you rally." They wanted to express gratitude to coalition forces for helping save their lives.
Kristof goes on to write that "a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted for now," and that the air strikes could not wait: "A couple of days of dutiful consultation would have resulted in a bloodbath and, perhaps, the collapse of the rebel government."
At the same time, Kristof acknowledges that"the uncertainties are huge" and that "there are enormous uncertainties," concluding:
But weighed against those uncertainties are a few certainties: If not for this intervention, Libyan civilians would be dying on a huge scale.
It is somewhat jarring to read someone argue that there are many uncertainties about the Libya war,but simultaneously declare that a bloodbath was certain. However you feel about this war, one could argue that a slaughter in Benghazi was a possibility, or that it was more likely than unlikely. But a certainty?
What is certain is that fighting on the ground is continuing in some Libyan cities. A Times news article today describes the situation:
A pounding from allied warplanes in the rebel-held city of Misurata forced Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's troops to pull back for much of the day, residents said, but by nightfall his forces had renewed their attacks. Government tanks terrorized the city, in one instance firing a shell that landed 20 yards from a hospital door.
It is somewhat unusual for the Times to describe shelling near a hospital as terrorism. Is that label applied consistently? When Israeli forces shelled a UN school in Gaza and killed 40 people in 2009, was it considered to terrorize the local population? Read one of the Times accounts of that attack, and others like it that killed civilians. Or read this one. No doubt in both cases civilians were terrorized. But the label seems to apply in one case more than another.