I like to watch Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC. Usually he is funny, incisive and informative. But over the past several days, his coverage of the conflict in Libya has been anything but. In particular, he has incessantly informed us that each Tomahawk missile we fire costs $1 million. This seems to him, and his producers, to be a persuasive argument against the imposition of a “no-fly” zone. $140 million so far and counting, they suggest, is too much.
But Muammar Qaddafi has repeatedly said that he intends to show “no mercy” toward his opponents. And given his track record with Lockerbie, the German nightclub bombing, the Bulgarian nurse/AIDS fiasco, his murders of Somali prisoners in his jails and the bodies of unarmed protesters he has piled up so far, we just ought to believe him. There are more than a million people living in Benghazi alone. How many would be killed or imprisoned in one of his torture chambers but for the no-fly zone? Ten thousand? That would be $14,000 per life by O’Donnell’s calculations. Are the lives of Libyans really that cheap? Is humanitarianism really out of our price range? I would like to think not.
I am not one of those hawks who wants the objective of this mission to be the annihilation of Qaddafi’s opponents or his supporters, for that matter. I don’t approve of the “Qaddafi must go” declaration by Obama. That is for the Libyans to decide. I would like to see a stand-down of combat, a de facto partition in place and negotiations leading to a plebiscite, election, constitutional convention or something like it. I’d like to give the Libyan people a fair opportunity to make a decision about their own fate. I think that can happen with a circumspect no-fly zone and international mediation/monitoring. And I think that when it comes to saving lives, the price is cheap enough.