The UN resolution on Libya appears to generate more questions than answers:
“The goal is to protect civilians first of all, and not to invade or occupy,” [WIlliam Hague, UK Foreign Secretary] said. “The resolution is clear on that point … we don’t want any side to go too far, including Libya, by attacking the civilian population.”
It’s plain that whichever way the stated aims of the intervention are defined, achieving them will be highly problematic. The least of them – a genuine ceasefire – would effectively freeze the current confrontation in place, with rival camps entrenched in the east and west. The conflict could degenerate into a prolonged stalemate, as in the Korean peninsula or Georgia. Meaningful negotiation would be impossible while Gaddafi remained in power.
Interventionists cannot achieve Gaddafi’s removal, another key aim, by force of arms, bar a ground invasion or a lucky shot. (The same goes for democratic governance.) The west is relying instead on more mass defections, an army mutiny or a palace coup – what analyst Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute has called “regime breakdown”.
The countries who supported the resolution already look uneasy and squeamish about military action to begin with (with the exception of the French, who suddenly have taken the mantle of world’s cowboy from the United States for the time being). They waited until the last possible moment, when Gaddafi had come roaring back against the rebels, and appeared on the verge of retaking Benghazi. All while the rebels had been begging for assistance from the West. This is standard fare coming from the United Nations.
But what’s the endgame? The military action would have to pound Gaddafi’s defenses to the point where they will no longer be a threat, but that would risk casualties, as the world watches.
And a cease-fire would mean what exactly? The resolution-supporting nations have condemned Gaddafi for the violence against the rebels and civilians. Does a cease-fire absolve him of all that?
The Obama administration has painted itself into a bit of a corner:
[T]he State Department and the Pentagon have been adopting positions that would make intervention to change that military balance difficult, if not virtually impossible. On Monday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said an arms embargo included in the U.N. resolution meant that “it’s a violation for any country to provide arms to anyone in Libya,” including the rebels. On Tuesday Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that “it’s very important that there be a U.N. decision on whatever might be done,” including imposing a no-fly zone. [...]
It’s beginning to look as if what Mr. Obama has “engineered” is a situation in which the United States and its closest allies have declared that a dictator must go “as quickly as possible” – and have not only constrained themselves from ensuring that outcome but are actively hindering it by refusing to provide arms to the opposition. So far the United States has not even recognized the opposition administration set up in Benghazi – even though the White House has said repeatedly that Mr. Gaddafi’s regime is no longer legitimate.
Mr. Obama, who skipped a meeting of his top aides on Libya Wednesday, may hope that the Libyan rebels will defeat the Gaddafi forces without outside help – or that other Western governments will provide the leadership that he is shunning. Meetings of NATO, the European Union and the Arab League in the next several days may produce decisions that loosen the straitjacket the administration has applied to itself. If not, the world will watch as Mr. Gaddafi continues to massacre his people, while an American president who said that he must go fails to implement any strategy for making that happen.
I’m not sure that the United States has any reason to interfere in a Libyan civil war, especially one that would warrant military intervention, unilaterally or otherwise. The problem is that as soon as the President made it the position of the United States that Qaddafi needed to go, he needs to back that up. The Libyan revolt began while the Mubarak regime closed up shop in Egypt, and I can only assume that team Obama felt that Qaddafi would leave just as easily, as the protests grew.
If that’s the case, the Obama administration is just as inept and clueless as previously feared, and probably even more so.