As I write this, the West is engaged in air and missile strikes against Libyan targets in support of the UN Resolution 1973 passed earlier this week. While I wish our aircrews safe returns and hope that civilian casualties are low, I'm concerned about the reasoning behind the operation and the intended destination.
Our record in the Middle East is hardly stellar of late (if it ever was) - aside from a record of backing dubious regimes, the invasion of Iraq was wrong-headed and hugely misguided and while our intentions in Afghanistan were in support of our NATO commitments and loyalty to our American cousins, we seem to be stuck in a morass with no apparent path visible to the exit. This is perhaps the precedent that worries me most.
Hillary Clinton has already laid down the aim of the operation - the removal of Gaddafi - but the question has to be asked, what happens if he isn't removed by his own people or decides that discretion is the better part of valour and takes a private jet out of the country? How long are we prepared to stay the course? Once we've flattened his air defences and obtained complete air supremacy - which will probably be completed in all practical purposes within a few hours - what happens then? We can assume that supply convoys or vessels heading for Benghazi or any other conurbations within the no-fly zone will be interdicted - French aircraft are reported to have carried this out already - but what else is on the table, given that we aren't allowed or are willing to deploy soldiers on the ground in what will be an asymetric conflict? Gaddafi has already shown a determination to hang on beyond the point where other dictators would have got the message, so it remains to be seen if the actuality of an air attack will have the required effect.
However humanitarian our intentions may be towards the Libyan people, who have demonstrated a desire to shape their own future and seen the first flowerings of that threatened, the law of unintended consequences will intervene. If successful, will the people's revolution be tarred by the involvement of the West? I note that Gaddafi's recent speech has referred to the 'crusaders' - perhaps a late conversion to Islamism, a path already trodden by Saddam in the decade after the Gulf War?
For the sake of our troops and the Libyan people, I hope that this is over rapidly and bloodlessly and that the Western countries will prove as swift and effective with their humanitarian relief as they have with their military intervention. I fear that we might be getting involved far more deeply and for longer than we currently realise or intend.