Non Military Options for Intervening in Libya

The repositioning of a few American naval assets closer to Libya seems to a number of observers evidence that the United States is planning some sort of military intervention in Libya. At the United Nations yesterday, the Venezuelan ambassador summed up these suspicions in a long and rambling rant about American imperialism.  Even a sharp Russian security expert with whom I am friendly posted on her Facebook wall: “If Americans invade [Libya], it will be a warning lesson [for] Russia: don’t even think about being week and without nuclear armament, BE STRONG, RUSSIA!”

Needless to say, people who believe the United States will invade Libya have a mistaken sense of American domestic politics and of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. On the former, there is simply no appetite (let alone military capacity) for the invasion and occupation of yet another Middle Eastern country.  On the latter, well, the Obama administration is very clearly working through the UN system on this one.  Any potential military action would have to be approved by the Security Council. That does not appear to be happening anytime soon.

So, where should Americans channel their humanitarian impulses?

There are several non-military options that have as good a chance of succeeding as military ones — and less of a chance of backfiring.  (The simple re-positioning of a few naval ships for possible contingency operations seems to have already become a PR tool for Arab autocrats.)

One idea that is being floated is setting up some sort of escrow account for Libyan oil exports.

This is an option that has been investigated over the course of several days by the Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition.  The idea is still in formation, but the gist is to make sure that payments from Libyan oil exports do not go into Qaddafi controlled coffers and that opposition groups are not flooded with millions of dollars of oil money that they do not have the capacity to administer.  There are several details to work out (like who would administer the account, how payments would be made, etc).  But the basic idea is to make sure that in this time of transition 1) money from oil does not benefit the now illegitimate Libyan regime 2) oil money does not serve as a corrupting influence in whatever new Libyan government takes hold.

Finally, it is also worth recalling a somewhat similar idea that was floated by Steve Clemons shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.  He proposed setting up an escrow account for 40% of Iraqi oil exports, funds of which would be paid directly to Iraqi households. The idea was modeled on the Alaska Permanent Fund, which makes payments directly to Alaskan residents from the state’s oil sales.  He wrote at the time:

By spreading capital broadly among new stakeholders, the plan would also prevent a sliver of Iraq’s elite from becoming a new kleptocracy. Finally, the creation of an Iraqi oil fund could begin to help repair America’s damaged image abroad — itself no small dividend at a time when many people remain suspicious about American motives in the Middle East.

Both ideas are worth exploring. And they also show that “interventions” need not be of the military kind to be potentially helpful to the situation in Libya.