Yes or No No-Fly

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Micah Zenko, fellow for conflict prevention at the Council of Foreign Relations and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World and Bruce Jentleson, professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, author of  American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century debated whether or not there the international community should impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

Due to restricted media access and constantly shifting battlefields,  the international community cannot determine exactly what is happening in Libya, but rumors and eye-witness reports of atrocities abound. Despite a request from the Arab League for a no-fly zone over the North African country, the G-8 ministers could not agree on Tuesday if that tactic is merited in this case in order to limit civilian casualties and protect international interests.

Bruce Jentleson, professor of public policy and political science at Duke University and author of American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century, was adamant about the need for the international community to impose a no-fly zone.

If Gaddafi stays in power not only is it bad for the Libyan people but the message that goes out regionally and globally is if the international community is not prepared to do something about Gaddafi then other dictators are going to be pretty sure that other dictators aren't going to do anything about them.

Micah Zenko, fellow for conflict prevention at the Council of Foreign Relations and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World disagreed. He said it would be preferable if Gaddafi was not in power but it's not in U.S. interests to intervene in what he called a civil war.

This is not a peaceful democratic uprising by protesters, this is now an ongoing stalemated civil war which we don't know much about the rebels who are conducting it and we don't quite know what support we'd be giving them.

Zenko compared the situation Libya poses to the Ivory Coast civil war—where the U.S. has not intervened on behalf of the rebels. He also noted that the African Union has repeatedly asked the international community to put a no-fly zone over Somalia and that request has been ignored.

I don't think the U.S. should be intervening when asked by the Arab League, I mean we've never really asked the Arab League for permission to do anything else in the region. When the Arab league decides that we should now put a no-fly zone over Libya, why we should be doing that at their request.

There is a fear that enacting a no-fly zone would be a slippery slope for Western powers, particularly the U.S. A no-fly zone would most likely result in Libyan and American planes shooting at each other with potential death of Americans. There might also be a need for ground troops—pulling the U.S. military into yet another war in the region. Zenko said there is not yet proof of mass civilian killing on either side to merit the no-fly zone.

If a government or a rebellion force within a territory they control, willfully allows or actually kills civilians in large numbers, the U.S. should be willing to commit the resources to intervene to stop that. We have not seen that yet, if the state wanted to kill lots of civilians, they have a pretty significant military they could have been doing so already, and we haven't seen it in large numbers by the rebel forces either.

Jentleson, on the other hand, believes the risk of inaction is greater than the risk of action. He said it would send the message to dictators around the world that even if they kill and repress their people, they will not be stopped, that repressive regimes would say, '"after all they didn't do anything about Gaddafi and he's one of the worst around.'"