Libya: Did we have a responsibility to intervene? WORKERS FROM BANGLADESH, now huddled in a refugee camp in Tunisia.Did we have to do this? That’s a moral question as we discussed yesterday. But, that’s also a practical matter, since it means that we now are engaged on three fronts in the Middle East. So far, the military intervention in Libya has neutralized Libyan air defenses and established a widening no-fly zone. Refugees continue to scatter far and wide across that region.

Did we have to step in? The American public did not favor the intervention. Almost two thirds (63%) said the United States did not have a responsibility to act in Libya, according to a poll taken by the Pew Research Center a week before the UN resolution authorizing military action. Opposition was widespread. The majority of men and women, young and old, Republicans and Democrats opposed intervention. Opposition to bombing Libya’s air defenses was especially strong (77% opposed), but opinion was divided on establishing a no-fly zone. Few Americans (only 13%) support sending in ground troops.

Why did so many Americans oppose intervention? The main reason is over-commitment—the U.S. military is already spread too thin to warrant a third front. This is a practical reason, not a moral one. But the main reason for intervention (noting that most oppose it) was ideological: that it’s important to show that America backs democracy. And, the poll found, those who do say we have a responsibility to act in Libya are likely to cite moral obligation as the reason.

Of course, public opinion doesn’t dictate foreign policy. But widespread opposition to the Libya intervention does indicate that Americans will have little patience with anything but a quick in-and-out intervention. Libya 2011 is not Iraq 2003—but how long will we be involved?

Today, please Comment on these questions:

Do you support or oppose the Libya intervention?

Have you changed your mind about it in recent days?

How much patience do you have for U.S. involvement in Libya?

(Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.)

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