Libya: What Is Our End Game?

I have been a proponent for some kind of intervention in Libya since the earliest days of the revolution.  I certainly would have favored arming the rebels and giving them tactical assistance.  I thought the costs of such intervention were worth it, with minimal downside.

I, like everyone else with a brain, is against ground troop involvement.

But the UN sanctioned No Fly Zone, along with the American strategy in this mission, makes utterly no sense.

Let us step back a minute and look at the entire picture.  Libya was the last of the North African countries to tip over from the domino effect of the recent revolution craze spreading through out the Middle East.  Ironically, it was one of the more violent and oppressive regimes as well.  Even so, the rapid movement of the rebels toward toppling Qaddafi was surprising to virtually everyone.

But that early success may doom them to long term failure.

The quick changes on the ground have lead Obama to largely be paralyzed by indecision.  Obama has been all over the map on this issue.  In the early days, he called for Qaddafi’s ouster.  Then, when the rebel movement stalled, he called for some kind of stalemate.  When the tide turned, Obama looked indecisive, and inaction ruled the day.  Once it looked like Qaddafi would crush the rebel forces, and possibly annihilate the civilians in Benghazi, it was the French and British that stepped in to prevent carnage.  Now the President is calling for quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from the theater.  However, even with that declaration, ambiguity remains; Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has implied that U.S. involvement will be longer than expected.

Obama’s nuanced foreign policy has given us a plethora of choices, all of which have set us up for a No-Win scenario.  Because of the alliances with the Arab League and promises to other world powers that the mission would be limited to humanitarian assistance, the Allies cannot achieve their initial stated goal:  regime change with the removal of Qaddafi.  Even killing him would not be enough, because one of his sons would simply take over.  And with billions of dollars of gold and cash horded into bunkers through out Tripoli, Qaddafi has immense staying power; something the Allies don’t have.

The second stated goal, the one stated by the United Nations, is to protect civilians.  That is all well and good, and certainly a laudable goal.  But how long will we do that, and more importantly, will we be successful?  Right now, Qaddafi’s forces have stalled because of the air assault.  But Qaddafi has many weapons and forces remaining.  For us to establish some kind of stalemate in which the rebel forces would be able to protect themselves, we would have to do something Obama, the Brits and French have promised not to do:  nation build.  The rebels are in chaos, have no leader, have no military authority.  This would be a ground-up mission on the level of Afghanistan.  No one has either the will or money to do anything of the sort.

So eventually, as the United States leaves, as Obama puts it, “…in days, not weeks…”, and the Europeans get bored and sick of the costs, what will largely remain is what was found on the ground the day before the No-Fly Zone started:  Qaddafi with overwhelming forces that ultimately will crush the rebels.

So even the humanitarian goals cannot be achieved easily.

And the obvious question:  when Qaddafi marches on Benghazi the next time, what happens?

Many people are discussing the hypocrisy of intervening in Libya and ignoring other hot humanitarian crises, the ridiculousness of intervening in this civil war when others have killed many more, Obama’s lack of Congressional approval, etc.  This does not even begin to mention what America will do if NATO refuses to take charge of the mission, as they did today because of the opposition from Turkey and Germany.  These are all valid discussions to have.

But ultimately, the biggest question in Libya, or any military action, is what are the goals, and can they be met with reasonable costs?

President Obama has to be held to account.  The President should simply be asked what our goals are, and if they are achievable.  I think all of us, Democrat and Republican alike, know the answer.  And no matter how nuanced his response is, we all know that the answer comes to the same conclusion.  There is no way to achieve our goals.  So why are we there?