The administration’s incoherence about the Libyan intervention is the logical culmination of Obama’s naive reset-button diplomacy and his skepticism about the role and history of the U.S. abroad — a sort of capstone to, for instance, surging while setting troop withdrawal deadlines in Afghanistan, loudly promising to close Guantanamo within a year then failing to do so, and praising the U.N. and apologizing for the U.S. In a sense, all that hubris earned this present nemesis.
That said, the administration will have to, at some point, ignore all its past and present rhetoric, and accept that its imperiled mission now hinges on destroying from the air as many of Qaddafi’s assets as possible to ensure that the rebels take Tripoli and slay the monster — given that Qaddafi could easily still defeat the insurgency without using his airspace. Obama no doubt realizes that he can do this pivot, and still offer his trademark ‘make no mistake about it,’ ‘let me be perfectly clear’ Guantanamo-like hedging, claiming that he really is still sticking to a no-fly-zone-only intervention, which so far he most certainly has not.
In other words, I think the dilemma now for the administration is to stop the public rhetoric about toning down the war, and as soon as possible so damage Qaddafi’s resources through air attacks that the rebels might be able to take the country, and to use what little leverage we have with the insurgency to find out who they — and what their aims and objectives — really are.
In the days ahead, I would suppose we will hear less of these conflicting public dramatics and assume a far more quiet position of “no-fly zone” and “patrolling” attacks on armor, artillery, and troop concentrations, many of them outsourced to our allies. There is no other way to stop the slaughter — which is not to say that it is a sure way to stop the slaughter, given that Qaddafi’s troops are far better equipped and trained, and are still fully capable of themselves becoming insurgents and dead-enders like the Baathists in Iraq, should the rebels prove inept and weak at governance. Still, at this point, there is little other choice — unless one would tolerate a divided East Libya/West Libya, a multi-year no-fly zone, a Somalia, or a ‘tamed’ Qaddafi still in power. I assume all the latter are unacceptable scenarios, given the sure-to-come unending bloodshed, as well as the raising of the ante and the degree of American prestige, competency, and resolve that is now out on the table — and yet under real doubt.