There seems to be a lot of public mealy-mouthing going on about the goal of the anti-Libya coalition in the new war. I can certainly understand the need for some diplomatic flexibility. But other than a near-unimaginable decision by US, Britain and France to immediately end hostilities and retire from the war, I can't see how regime change, the ousting of Muammar Qaddafi, is not a goal of the war.
Paul Pillar, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington who spent nearly three decades as a senior U.S. intelligence analyst, said on its face, the U.N. resolution offers no formula for ending the West's military obligations. "If the mission is to protect Libyans, this is a mission that inherently has no end," he said, as long as Gadhafi remains in power.
That could certainly happen, Pillar said. "A central fact is the disunity of Libya, which is stitched together from three parts," he said. "It is plausible that (Gadhafi) would hold out in the west even if the eastern part of the country remains" in rebel hands.
The specter of an Iraq-like commitment that lasts years and leaves the West ultimately setting up a post-Gadhafi government hovers over the entire operation. Former British Army commander Gen. Sir Michael Jackson unintentionally made that point during an interview with the BBC Sunday morning.
"The political goal has got to be a stable Iraq," Jackson said in response to a question about how the conflict might end. The interviewer immediately interrupted — "you mean Libya," she said.
"What did I say?" Jackson asked. Told he'd said Iraq, the retired general — who led the British army when the Iraq war began — chuckled. "Forgive me, a Freudian slip." [my emphasis]
The first days of foreign intervention mirror the experience of the US and its allies in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, by going extremely well. Air attacks shattered a column of tanks and infantry south of Benghazi. Survivors have fled. The rout may soon resemble the rapid dissolutions of the Taliban and the Iraqi army.
In Iraq and Afghanistan most people were glad to get rid of their rulers, and most Libyans will be glad to see the back of Gaddafi. His regime may well fall more quickly than is currently expected. Pundits have been wagging their fingers in the last few days, saying Gaddafi may be mad but he is not stupid, but this is to underestimate the opéra bouffe quality of his regime.
It is the next stage in Libya – after the fall of Gaddafi – which has the potential to produce a disaster similar to Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases successful war left the US as the predominant power in the country. In Iraq this rapidly turned into an old-fashioned imperial occupation. "The occupation was the mother of all mistakes," as one Iraqi leader is fond of repeating. In Afghanistan the US always called the shots, even if Hamid Karzai headed the government.
The same problem is going to arise in Libya. There will be a lack of a credible local partner. The rebels have shown that they are politically and militarily weak. Indeed, if this had not been so, there would have been no need for a last-minute foreign intervention to save them. [my empahsis]
Cockburn believes that Qaddafi's fall is likely to come soon. I don't know if that's the good news or the bad news. Either way, the US and the coalition have involved ourselves in a civil war. And given the "logic" applied by governments to such matters, the coalition will insist on having a large role in setting up a new government. After all, Libya is an important oil state. And the US, Britain and France all take our international responsibilities very seriously for such countries.
Juan Cole is optimistic about the US-British-French war in Libya, as he explains in How the No Fly Zone Can Succeed 03/21/2011. In his comments the last few days, he has been generally supportive of the intervention. But he's also cautious, as we all should be. It seems to me that Cole is applying a rosy view of the Kosovo War. He also doesn't seem to realize that regime change is the goal of this action, however reluctant the Obama Administration has been to state that clearly. Cole: "It should be a no-fly zone, not a war on the Qaddafi regime. Qaddafi tank columns should be interdicted from moving on Benghazi or Tobruk. But tanks just sitting around in Tripoli should not be targeted." That's not what we're seeing play out in just the first 2-3 days of the war.
Despite the insistence that their aims are limited, neither the intervening powers nor galvanised rebels are likely to accept a partition of Libya. The West has no appetite for policing this indefinitely, and the spectre of a Gaddafi victory has concentrated minds.
... He [Gaddafi] spent most of the past four decades hollowing out [Libya's] political institutions and civil society meaning that, as in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, even a military rout might be followed by a protracted struggle to re-establish a functioning state.
Western leaders may have learnt their lesson and might push for a constitutional settlement. But they could be held hostage to the ambitions of re-energised rebels, who might push for a siege of Tripoli or take their own bloody revenge on loyalists.
The intervening powers face a terrible choice between prolonged containment of a reckless and teetering despot on the one hand, and a hazardous push for regime change on the other. Each option brings grave humanitarian and strategic risks. As Arab support melts away and Washington hesitates, this coalition of the ambivalent may find itself caught in between.
Issandr El Amrani reinforces the point, and the risks involved, in 5 questions few are asking about Libya The Arabist 03/20/2011: "Even if Qadhafi were to produce a real ceasefire, which is unlikely, the rebels would not observe it: they would keep trying to topple the regime. This [UN] resolution, under the guise of obtaining a ceasefire, seeks to carry out regime change."
Germany abstained from the Security Council vote on Friday authorizing war. But they have made it clear that they oppose the military action.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, though, endorsed the goal of regime change, as reported in this interview with Der Spiegel Online (03/21/2011):
SPIEGEL: For the time being, we are only talking about a no-fly zone. Nobody wants to send ground troops to Libya, after all.
Westerwelle: The UN resolution authorized air strikes. And a no-fly zone is not a traffic regulation but a military intervention, because it involves, for example, destroying air defense positions. When it comes to military operations, I see myself as part of a tradition of restraint. The most important thing now is to protect people and provide humanitarian aid. We have to give the rebels an opportunity to live in safety. Gadhafi must go, there's no question about that. And I wish that my concerns with regard to the military mission were unfounded.
SPIEGEL: How do you intend to achieve this goal of toppling Gadhafi? The Libyan leader just laughs at sanctions.
Westerwelle: The options relating to sanctions have not yet been exhausted. Sanctions can and must be intensified even more. Indeed, we were the first to propose such initiatives. I remember very well that there were also reservations among a number of allies in the beginning. But an incredible amount has been achieved in the meantime: The International Criminal Court is investigating the dictator, there is a travel ban on him and his clan, there is an arms embargo and cash flows have been stopped. Everything must be done to prevent Gadhafi from acquiring fresh sources of revenue to hire new mercenary forces -- including no cash flows from additional sales of oil. [my emphasis]
Regime change is the game here. And it's highly unlikely to be an intervention that is either cheap, easy or short.