Farmaajo: We Have No One Else to Blame
The first strikes, by air and sea, reflected the overwhelming military mismatch, as an international coalition appeared to dominate the skies over Libya’s Mediterranean coast. French and British planes are expected to take the lead in enforcing a no-fly zone and other measures, even as Qadhafi’s forces attempt to crush an opposition that had – before the United Nations-sanctioned intervention – been hard-pressed.
But the first shots fired didn’t appear to produce an immediate collapse in the rule of Qadhafi, who has surprised his enemies with his resilience. Qadhafi’s tenacity, both in his present circumstance and as evidenced over decades of survival in a very tough neighborhood, begs the question of what happens if this self-consciously limited allied response does not succeed in chasing him from power.
Allied leaders so far haven’t provided defining answers; in fact, quite the contrary. In a series of comments and communiques over the weekend, American, British, and French officials stressed that they aren’t attacking Qadhafi’s forces to achieve “regime change” – while at the same time maintaining, as British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted, that Qadhafi “needs to go.”
In interviews on Sunday morning, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen stressed that the U.S. military mission in Libya is “limited,” but he also indicated that based on his orders from President Obama, the mission can be considered “accomplished,” even while Qadhafi remains in power.
“That’s certainly, potentially, one outcome,” Mullen said in an interview on “Meet the Press.
“Certainly the goals of this campaign right now are limited and it isn’t about seeing him go,” Mullen continued. “It’s about supporting the U.N. resolution, which talked about eliminating or limiting Qadhafi’s ability to harm his own people.
Obama’s remarks Saturday seemed carefully calibrated.
“I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on it,” he said. “But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up their assaults on cities like Benghazi and Misurata, where innocent men and women face brutality and death at the hands of their own government.”
Analysts said the overwhelming military superiority enjoyed by allied forces makes Qadhafi’s ouster reasonably likely, but they also voiced concern about the Libyan leader’s proven ability to hang on.
“There are expectations about how quickly this moves that are out of line with reality,” said Heather Hurlburt, who heads the National Security Network, a group allied with the White House, and who said she expects that “this is going to be more like Kosovo than like Baghdad in 2003.”
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon has had his staff review the history of American intervention in civil conflicts, and while American’s memory of the Balkans may be hazy, the White House is full of Democrats with painful recollections of the excruciating months of bombing, and then the year between the end of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s massacres and the moment his domestic rivals finally forced him aside.
“The endgame is not any time soon,” Hurlburt said, adding that Western leaders have a good reason not to telegraph that expectation. “The problem is if Obama goes out and says to the public this may take months and months, you’re also saying to Qadhafi that we know we can’t come get you. You don’t want to convey to the target that we think this is difficult and may take a while.”
And yet Obama, if only by implication, does appear to be committed to whatever it takes to push Qadhafi aside.
“Given what the president has said in recent weeks – I don’t see how we can get ourselves out of this without Qadhafi going,” said Jamie Fly, the executive director of the right-leaning Foreign Policy Initiative, which lobbied for American action. “The one concern I have about [Obama’s] statement yesterday is that his endgame or his goal seems to be more limited than his rhetoric.”
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