For the third time since 2001, the United States is using military force against a country in the Middle East. But unlike our decision to invade Iraq, which was condemned by the international community, the Libyan intervention has the support of the United Nations and is being led by a coalition of nations, not all of whom are traditional allies of the U.S. Most importantly, this operation is a limited one. Though there’s a lot of uncertainty moving forward, there’s already been a victory for freedom and the international community.

On March 17, the United Nations Security Council authorized member states to “take all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians under attack by forces loyal to Libya’s leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi. Libya has been rocked by conflict since February, when Gaddafi ordered his military to attack pro-democracy demonstrators, killing hundreds and sparking armed revolts across the country. On March 19, a multinational coalition began airstrikes against targets in Libya. This was the first step in enforcing a no-fly zone intended to protect Libyan civilians from the dictator, whose son has threatened “rivers of blood” if the rebellion isn’t quelled. France, Britain, Italy, Canada, Denmark, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have all contributed to the military response currently being led by the U.S.

Intervention in Libya was the right choice. Gaddafi is a violent dictator who has used his military — largely composed of foreign mercenaries — to kill hundreds of civilians. As pro-democracy protests have swept the Middle East, only Gaddafi has responded with extreme violence. The choice of the United Nations to allow intervention will save thousands of lives and give international support for the right of people everywhere to choose their own government. Too often, the international community stands idly by while dictators like Gaddafi massacre the people they rule. The international response in Libya sets a precedent of not tolerating extreme violence against civilians.

The military action in Libya is a victory for international law. France, Britain and the U.S. admirably resisted calls to act unilaterally by waiting for U.N. approval before beginning strikes. The events of the past month prove that the international community is able and willing to protect civilians. After Libya, it will be harder for those who doubt international resolve to demand that the U.S., or any other country, act alone. This military operation proves wrong those who believe that combined international solutions never work.

War is unpredictable. The crash of a U.S. fighter jet in Libya last week underscores just how easily the situation could change. President Barack Obama has repeatedly stated that the U.S. will not conduct a land invasion of Libya. Hopefully the president is committed to that policy, but unforeseen circumstances might lead him to widen the war, a choice that could prove costly for the country. The intervention in Libya is justified as long as it is limited in scope and has the support of the international community.

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