What’s our aim in Libya? Are we taking sides with the rebels against Qaddifi in what may turn out to be a civil war? Who, exactly, are the rebels? Who takes over if (when?) Qaddifi steps down? What does the end look like? How will we know when we get there?
There were a couple of interesting pieces on this today. First, in today’s Washington Post:
“There have been lots of options which have been discussed, but I think it’s very uncertain how this ends,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Mullen, who appeared on five television talk shows, was pressed repeatedly to define the mission and its objectives. “I think circumstances will drive where this goes in the future,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
In a briefing for reporters traveling with Obama in South America, National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon said that command would be transferred, possibly to NATO, in “days, not weeks,” and described the goal of the first phase of the mission as “crystal clear.”
“The focus right now was on a direct threat to citizens” of Libya, he said, “in response to requests” from Arab governments and under last week’s U.N. resolution authorizing member states to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. The result of the first phase has been establishment of a no-fly zone that Pentagon officials said now extended from Tripoli in the west to Benghazi in the east, and, as Donilon said, to “prevent what could have been a catastrophe in Benghazi” as Gaddafi’s military forces began a major attack on the city Saturday.
This doesn’t really seem so “crystal clear” to me. We’re transferring command to some group in “days” and we don’t know who those people will be? The same article continues:
Lawmakers commenting on the weekend’s events were divided. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said that Obama should seek a declaration of war from Congress and questioned who would emerge in control of Libya. “We really have not discovered who it is in Libya that we are trying to support,” Lugar said said on “Face the Nation.” “Obviously, the people that are against Gaddafi, but who?”
Donilon responded that the administration had made direct contact Sunday with leaders of the Libyan National Transitional Council, the opposition governing body in Benghazi. The opposition leaders said that “actions we have taken have prevented catastrophe there,” he noted.
Okay. Sounds great. Are any of these guys that we’ve made contact with any better than Qaddifi?
No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.
And this doesn’t even get us to this being the third concurrent war in a Muslim nation and the second in an Arab one. Or the fact that the controversial baggage from those two wars we carry into this one, taking ownership of it, introducing a layer of ‘The West versus lands of Islam’ drama to this basically domestic situation and giving Qaddafi himself or perhaps one of his sons the ability to actually start mobilization some public or international opinion against us.
I can imagine many of the criticisms of the points I’ve made. And listening to them I think I’d find myself agreeing in general with a lot of it. But it strikes me as a mess, poorly conceived, ginned up by folks with their own weird agendas, carried out at a point well past the point that it was going to accomplish anything. Just all really bad.
There’s no doubt that Qaddifi is delusional and is a menace to his own people. To me he’s worse than Saddam Hussein was. I don’t think there’s much debate on whether Qaddifi is a bad guy. He is. But so what? What is in our national interest to intervene here when we don’t intervene in other places in the world (Darfur comes immediately to mind)?