UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was based on the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect. The genesis of this doctrine was the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Security Council Resolution 1973 is, it appears, a good use of the doctrine and represents a use of military force that is not essentially an act of war. It is this unusual circumstance that has caused confusion, intentional or otherwise, in the US political scene this week.
A few points can be made to clarify the situation:
1. The use of R2P is intended to save civilians from gross human rights violations and violence. Certainly, Ghadafi has proven that he is acting violently against his own people. The world has called his rule illegitimate due to his recent response to protests in Libya. The scope of "protection" of the citizenry through a no fly zone is intended to be very limited. To the military establishment and the media, the military action is depicted as both confusing and in danger of scope creep, but if the Resolution is followed and its use of the R2P approach then much is clarified and the limited scope is protected. My advise is that the administration be clear and uses the threat of a Rwandan type situation as the reason that we are willing use force and also to use very limited force in implementing the no-fly zone. The scope is limited yet we may stay "in the area" so that we are available if the Libyan regime attempts again to slaughter its citizens.
2. We need to beware of supporting protestors who do not appear to have much democracy credentials. Of course, none of us know the make up of the Libyan opposition. Talk is of tribalism more than ideological credibility. It is precisely the backing revolutions and opposition groups who do not have a strong resume with respect to democracy that has resulted in so many long term problems for both American interests and our reputation. This is the reason we cannot give wholesale support of the protestors. Without strong pro-democracy credentials, we have no idea how the end game will play out.
3. We need to explain this approach in the context of the other rebellions in the Middle East. Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, etc. We must balance each situation with respect to the prospects for humanitarian catastrophe and the long run promotion of indigenous democracy in the Middle East.