Judging from his press conference yesterday, it seems President Obama is unaware of the oldest maxim in war -- "The enemy gets a vote."
Hours earlier, for example, Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa declared to journalists in Tripoli that the regime had declared a ceasefire -- so there was (supposedly) no threat to civilians and thus no justification for bombing his troops.
The UN declaration is open-ended, allowing for "all necessary measures" for countries that want to intervene. So they're still pretty much free to use the UN's license to kill to do whatever they want, short of occupying the country.
Some may want to attack anyway. Others may want to pat themselves on the back for (supposedly) stopping Moammar Khadafy without firing a shot. Neither ought to be handing out the high-fives, though.
In practice, "emplacing" a no-fly zone could mean anything
from shooting down planes that are attacking civilians to bombing Khadafy's military back into the stone age.
Problem is, no airpower-only option is likely to prove decisive. At some point, a final battle that can give victory to one side or the other will have to be a street-to-street affair in the streets of Tripoli or Benghazi, where the effects of airpower would be greatly limited.
In reality, a no-fly zone prolongs the conflict. It doesn't end it either one way or the other. (We flew a no-fly zone over Iraq for over a decade, and Saddam Hussein was still securely in power.)
On the other hand, if the United States or its friends and allies don't have to drop a bomb or shoot down a plane, don't believe for a second they've achieved anything -- other than to be played for a rope-a-dope by Khadafy. There are still many bad outcomes that can come out of all of this.
Suppose the ceasefire holds, and we're left with a rump state around Benghazi: That "free" area might become a magnet for holy war against Tripoli, attracting foreign fighters who in turn may decide to branch out, turning on other nearby countries or joining the ranks of al Qaeda and attacking us. The place, that is, could turn into something that looks like the Taliban's Afghanistan or al Shabab's Somalia. Will the United States and others be anxious to enforce a UN mandate to protect a terrorist sanctuary?
Or Khadafy may continue to circle like a vulture, waiting for the UN club to turn its back, so he can finish off the opposition before anyone can do anything. Are we going to leave a military force sitting around to keep an eye on Tripoli?
Studying past operations, one think tank estimated that such an operation could cost up to $9 billion. Who is going to foot the bill for that? Or maintain the forces? Even if US pilots are not flight leaders in the first wave, it is hard to conceive of a sustained operation without at least some US support.
The fact is, the UN resolution gets us no closer to resolving the conflict.
So what does the administration think it's doing? Last week, it rushed through a resolution in the Security Council that pretty much prohibited anyone from doing anything. Now it's cheerleading for a decree that allows anyone to do anything.
And the administration still hasn't told us what it's going to do.
While the president may not need a declaration of war to support a UN operation (President Harry Truman didn't have one for the Korean War), it certainly makes sense for the White House to request a congressional resolution on the matter. That would at least require a conversation with the Congress.
Obama could explain, for example, why he's now a big supporter for an operation that his secretary of defense dismissed a few days ago. He could also explain his 180-degree turn at the UN.
Most important, he can explain how he'll get rid of Khadafy, protect the innocents, prevent Libya from falling to the Islamists and not break an over-stretched military with more missions.
It would be a conversation well worth listening to.
James Jay Carafano is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The New York Post