Consider me opposed to the United States’ latest military endeavors in Libya. As I’m already on record against our invasion of Iraq and have long thought our lingering stay in Afghanistan pointless at best, this should surprise no one. The establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya lacks proper justification, has no satisfactory exit strategy, is an unaffordable waste of money, and won’t achieve our presumptive goal of advancing democracy. As noble as our intentions might be, war against Libya is a terrible idea.

Much like Saddam Hussein was, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi is a genocidal madman intent on holding power in his country through any means necessary. This makes him not unlike any number of other tin-horned dictators in the world who rely on force of arms to keep their citizenry cowed. It’s despicable and often heartbreakingly unjust. It also has nothing to do with the United States in terms of security or national interest which should be the overriding principle for engaging our armed forces in any hostile action. If you’re going to ask soldiers to die for their country, it should at least be for their country. Tellingly, this principle is how history tends to judge wars as well. “Good” wars—the quotes are there for a reason—involve national security and immediate threats to the nation (the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, World War II) while “Bad” wars (the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq wars) are fought for more abstract principles. This latest conflict with Libya easily falls in the latter category.

That the Bush Doctrine of preemptive assault has not been invoked this time around, one can only be thankful for and hopeful that its brief day in the sun is over. If ever there were a flawed military justification “we had to hit them before they might have hit us” is it. But the pledge President Obama campaigned on was this:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

Those are his own words, and since Libya presents neither an actual nor imminent threat, one can rightly judge the president to have repudiated this stand. This is deeply disturbing to those of us who think peace, prosperity and freedom for the world is typically best achieved by not dropping bombs. I have never been more disappointed in this president.

Even without an actual or imminent threat, one must ask, “Why Libya?” We did not intervene in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Yemen, Bahrain, and so on. One is tempted to guess “oil”—Libya is the 10th largest petroleum producer in the world—and “because we can” (“with minimal casualties to ourselves” being the corollary). The reasoning put forth by the administration, that military intervention is driven by humanitarian concerns, seems spurious given that we’ve done nothing in similar instances. (See Andrew Sullivan’s Standing By As Massacres Occur for an elaboration of this point.) In light of this, that we’re choosing to engage Libya here and now borders on inexplicable.

A great country does not wage war by halves.

—Pierre Paul Cambon, French diplomat

Cambon was talking about securing a British naval presence for the French at the outset of World War I. He believed, rightly, that the British could not make war only on the seas but would be ultimately forced to commit their army on the side of the French. In Libyan conflict, I’m not sure that anyone believes that Gaddafi will be stopped with airpower alone. If that is so, how can we hope to topple him without committing American ground troops? And if we don’t ultimately remove him from power, how is he anything but emboldened to pursue additional terrorist acts like the Lockerbie airplane bombing? (Not to mention the reprisals he’s sure to undertake against the rebels in his country.)

If we make the shaky assumption that western forces “win”—even through airpower alone—who exactly is going to pick up and put back together the pieces of a broken Libya? If Gaddafi is removed as despot, a position he’s held since 1969, who takes over? What is the military exit strategy and what constitutes victory? Basic questions like these are meant to be asked before we start shooting. That they’ve gone unasked and unanswered seems to me to be a further abandonment of the Powell Doctrine and the Weinberger Doctrine and an enormous threat to the world. Creating doubt as to why and when the US military will be called into action does not make the world safer or the American public any less nervous.

Financially, this no-fly zone endeavor is estimated to cost the US $15 billion a year. That’s assuming we don’t send ground troops. This is on top of a $685 billion military budget that does not include our wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. By contrast, the local school district in Salem, Oregon will be laying off hundreds of teachers next year, closing schools, and upping class sizes for the want of $50 million. I can’t say this more plainly: We are literally bankrupting our communities and imperiling our future through unnecessary foreign entanglements and military expenditures.

As heartbreaking as doing nothing can be in the face of a bloody civil war, limited intervention can be the best response. Look at Iraq, Libya and Egypt and tell me who has the best shot at birthing a true democracy. Why might Egypt succeed where Iraq has failed and Libya probably will? The answer, interestingly, is also the US military: We trained many of the Egyptian officers here in US military colleges. When the Egyptian military wouldn’t attack its own citizenry, President Mubarak’s game was up. This is US military intervention of the best kind, and it requires no cruise missiles, UN mandates, or hundred billion dollar expenditures. It does require political engagement and a country receptive to democracy. It won’t work everywhere, but it’s also not meant to. Democratic reform can only spring from the people; as we’ve discovered in Iraq, it cannot be imposed. In short, the US can help create democracies but we should not be, and frankly cannot afford to be, policeman to the world.