What is the Libya endgame?

French jets and American missiles began the international war on Col. Muammar Qadhafi Saturday with a pinpoint allied fusillade against Libyan air defense targets, but the mission’s explosive initial salvo did little to make clearer its actual goal - or how it ends.
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What is the Libya endgame?

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.”

What the Western powers and other Arab leaders hope for is clear: A show of force, followed by a swift collapse in Qadhafi’s inner circle.

“The best case scenario [is that] you see the forces loyal to Qadhafi continue to abandon him and eventually give him up,” said Stephen McInerney, the executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy in Washington.

And analysts said that best-case outcome could still be in the cards. Other Middle Eastern regimes have proven shockingly brittle in the “Arab Spring,” with military leaders in Egypt and Tunisia abruptly turning away from their longtime dictators. But Libya’s inner leadership, far more than those regimes, has been a black box to its Western enemies, and who could lead a coup against Qadhafi remains unclear.

“Nobody believes – at least among the people who planned it – that it’s going to be a prolonged affair,” said Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official now at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “They intend shock and awe in an effort to strike so persistently and in such a sustained fashion that the regime cracks.”

Miller said the limited language of official communiques likely masked an informal understanding among the powers leading the mission.

“It’s hard for me to believe that the French or the Brits would have signed up for something that could end up being a prolonged, sustained stalemate with the coalition of the willing having to enforce, for a long period of time, military sanctions,” he said.

The White House flatly rejects any suggestion of a tension between a limited mission of protecting civilians and demands that Qadhafi step aside.

“We still believe that Qaddafi has lost his legitimacy to lead and must go,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told POLITICO. “However the goal of this resolution is not regime change. Rather it authorizes the use of force with an explicit commitment to pursue all necessary measures to stop the killing.”

“These two things aren’t contradictory,” he said.

Obama has also been at great pains to avoid the appearance of American leadership, which could limit American exposure to a stalemate, but also limits American control of a mission whose face is primarily French President Nicolas Sarkozy - a Gallic image that has done little to quiet nerves within the Pentagon and State Department, where many veterans remember France’s lack of constancy in previous conflicts.

Other observers worry about something else: that the U.S. – which faced broad domestic and international pressure to intervene – could find itself with no obvious exit.

“I don’t suspect that there is an easy way out of it – unless you get a miracle in which part of Qadhafi’s command staff turns on him further,” said Steve Clemons, a fellow at the New America Foundation. “We’re in a situation now where I see a lot of downside risk, and the chances of it going badly are high.”

By BEN SMITH & BYRON TAU - politico

Article 21 May 2021 10:14

I read your article on Foreign Policy with keen eyes and interest. While whining from public officials does not deserve response from any sensible citizen of the Republic of Somalia, I felt compelled to counter false narrative with more objective analysis.