After some consideration I've come to the opinion that a no fly zone over Libya would be a serious mistake for a number of reasons.
Secondly, it's a response to current, awful, events not a long term plan. The longer term impact of military intervention is not even part of the thinking behind this scheme. For example, who exactly are we backing? I'm for the rebels against the regime, obviously, but Western intervention inevitably means strengthening the hand of one faction over others. I'm unconvinced we know what we're doing, or that if we do, we have the best interests of Libyan people at heart.
There are some forces in Libya who are calling for a no fly zone and others who oppose it. By enforcing military action on the say so of one group of rebels over another we are having a far more wide ranging impact than just doing what has been asked of us 'by the rebels'.
Thirdly, will it do any good? My understanding is that the Libyan air force is a tiny part of its military strength, which lies mainly in ground forces. So we would be throwing an air invasion into the mix without significantly depleting the regime's capacity to murder its own citizens. Indeed we would be strengthening that ability.
The siren calls to stop the murder are understandable, but a no fly zone *wont* stop the murders, only intensify them and in the eyes of some waverers in Libya legitimise them.
Fourth, what would the wider impact of military intervention in the revolution mean? In Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen the political implications of Western interference in what feels like a very home grown series of revolutions would be significant. The population of Saudi know that the West backs their dictators and to see their willingness to use military might, just as they did in Iraq, could hold back those struggles.
We are propping up corrupt regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan with the use of lethal force. To give the stamp of legitimacy on an extension of the right to use lethal force in any oil rich country we choose is dangerous. We are not the world's policemen, and even if we were it would not give us the right to stop black nations in the street and demand to know if this is really their country. *
However, the Arab League have backed a no fly zone, so does this mean it is legitimate? Well, the Arab League is a collective of 22 dictatorships who all buy weapons off the West and are scared shitless of their own populations taking the kind of action we have seen in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. So it cannot be regarded as the authentic voice of the Arab people, only of their dictators.
If you look at the list of member states of the Arab League you will see almost all have been rocked by protests in the last month. Of course they want their arms dealer friends flying war planes overhead, it gives them a sense of security. What better way of locking down those forces within their own countries who may be considering deposing them?
So am I in favour of doing nothing? No. I am in favour of our governments restraining their natural instincts to see killing someone as the way to solve an issue. I am in favour of the rebels continuing their brave fight to overthrow the Libyan government, just as others have done in recent times. I'm in favour of yet more Libyan servicemen and women laying down their arms or defecting with their equipment. Hardly a Utopian position.
What it does mean is having a little bit of steel in the belly. Bad things are happening, but that is no reason to make them worse or to do the first thing that comes to mind just because it is doing 'something'.
It also means having the tiniest bit of humility and understanding that the West can't just step in and sort out the problems in an African country by killing a few Africans. We may find that not everyone is as grateful for our help as we thought they might be.
In order to be true friends of these revolutions we have to accept that these are not our revolutions, but indeed revolts against regimes we have spent many years doing business with. The bullets and shells Qaddafi uses to rain down on his own citizens were manufactured here, and frankly many people in the Arab world know it to their cost.
* I heard this joke elsewhere, it's not mine sadly.