What to do about Libya

The Romans twice ran Libya.

The first time, they brought the Libyans a “Golden Age.” As Wikipedia puts it: “As a Roman province, Libya was prosperous, and reached a golden age in the 2nd century AD, when the city of Leptis Magna rivalled Carthage and Alexandria in prominence. For more than 400 years, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were wealthy Roman provinces and part of a cosmopolitan state whose citizens shared a common language, legal system, and Roman identity. Roman ruins like those of Leptis Magna, extant in present-day Libya, attest to the vitality of the region, where populous cities and even smaller towns enjoyed the amenities of urban life — the forum, markets, public entertainments, and baths — found in every corner of the Roman Empire. Merchants and artisans from many parts of the Roman world established themselves in coastal Libya and the province was greatly 'Romanized' ... "

The second time was in the 20th century, when the Italians, sensing the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire, colonized the now-Muslim Libya. When Benito Mussolini took power in Rome, he brutally suppressed Libyan rebels, and eventually pacified the country. Unfortunately for Mussolini, he picked the wrong side in the Second World War, and eventually was shot and then hung for his trouble.

America first went to war in Libya when Thomas Jefferson was president. He refused to pay tribute to the Tripoli Pirates, and the result was a nasty little war that tested the patience of the American people and the resolve of the new president.

One-hundred and eighty-six years later, Ronald Reagan went to war with another pirate, this one by the name of Gadhafi. Reagan grew weary of Gadhafi’s sponsorship of terrorism, and he launched a missile strike that nearly killed the dictator.

One of the most notorious figures in Libyan history was Red Beard, or Barbarrosa, a pirate king who conquered Tripoli and named Libya the Barbary Coast. You can visit the Barbary Coast in Las Vegas, but I don’t think it has the same feel.

After Red Beard went the way of all pirates, it was the Turks who took control of the country of Libya. And for about 450 years, the Turks ran it (some would say into the ground).

I think it is important to remember the history before we decide what we will do in the future.

We face a lot of bad choices in Libya today. This is one of those moments where everybody looks to the United States to lead. They look for the U.S. to lead because they are feckless and weak and they believe that we will spend our blood and treasure over there.

Many folks have demanded that we impose a no-fly zone in Libya, but as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pointed out, when you impose a no-fly zone, you are involving yourself in war. That means you have to take out the enemy's anti-aircraft batteries, and you put your brave airmen in danger. Don’t we already have enough going on in Iran and Afghanistan?

The president hasn’t exactly led boldly here, but you can’t really blame him, either. This is a tough call. Sentimentally, you want to help anybody who wants to take Gadhafi out, but you don’t necessarily want to waste our money or the blood of our brave troops by involving ourselves in what is essentially a civil war.

Why can’t the Turks and the Italians handle this one? They seem to have a history here that we don’t. And we have a lot of other stuff going on.