question of the weekend: Should we arm the Libyan rebels?

It was supposed to be a no-fly zone, but almost immediately it became fighter sorties bombing Gaddafi’s military — and accidentally, oops! killing rebels and civilians — and talk of boots on the ground: the CIA already has operatives there.

And another option to bring an end to the fighting in Libya has been raised: supplying arms to the rebels. But as Steve Coll in The New Yorker points out:

As the defection of Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa today indicates, there are many political avenues still opening to force Qaddafi out. Even if there weren’t, it looks impractical to arm the rebels as a way to overthrow him quickly. Jon Lee Anderson reports that the number of rebels who are trained fighters is perhaps a thousand; their performance so far, his front line reporting makes clear, suggests that they will not be ready anytime soon to defeat Libyan security forces head on. Perhaps in six months or a year, with substantial training, they could march on Tripoli. But conducting such training and supply, covertly or overtly, would turn the Obama Administration’s intervention from a humanitarian action designed to protect civilians into the promotion of proxy war devoted to regime change, with civilians as prospective collateral damage.

There’s also the pesky matter of what happened in Afghanistan after the U.S. armed the anti-Soviet rebels there (hint: they became the Taliban).

Should we arm the Libyan rebels? And by “we” I mean the coalition allies, not just the United States. And if we’re getting involved in internal Libyan affairs because of, ostensibly, humanitarian reasons, aren’t we obligated to do the same in other hotspots around the world, such as Ivory Coast?

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