President Obama’s weekly address touts success in the military mission in Libya. A humanitarian disaster was averted, the President said, and Gadhafi is now under pressure to exit the scene.
The situation on the ground, meanwhile, has broken through from what seemed a stalemate in the first week of fighting with coalition support. Rebels have taken the strategic city of Ajdabiya. The town sits on the road to Benghazi, and is the gateway to the east. The rebel force can now push west from there. Gadhafi’s forces pulled back to Brega, the next town over to the west.
But the taking of one city does not put the coalition/rebel alliance any closer to the overthrow of Gadhafi, as the director of the joint chiefs of staff at the Pentagon acknowledged.
As the air campaign entered its seventh day, allied warplanes and Tomahawk cruise missiles pounded Libyan air defenses, communications posts and troops. At the Pentagon, Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, the director of the joint staff, said that the airstrikes were making it harder for Colonel Qaddafi to supply and communicate with his troops, but that they had not yet seriously weakened the Libyan military forces or pushed them to heed the Americans’ call to defy their leader.
Gadhafi is both defiant and dug in at the capital of Tripoli, while the rebels are a small, ragtag bunch that even with superior air support cannot really expect to win a conventional war. And that leads us to the next drip in the mission creep here, as the US mulls over arming the rebels.
The U.S. is considering providing arms to Libyan rebels who are trying to topple Col. Moammar Gadhafi, but hasn’t yet made a final decision, a senior American diplomat said Friday.
“The full gamut of potential assistance that we might offer, both on the non-lethal and the lethal side, is a subject of discussion within the U.S. government,” Gene Cretz, the U.S. ambassador to Tripoli, told reporters in Washington.
Mr. Cretz said, however, that the administration has made “no final decisions… on any aspect of that.”
Before arming them, it would again be nice to know who these rebels are. It’s not like there has never been blowback from arming a rebel force in an internal conflict who then come back to haunt us. I would expect that some of them are merely ordinary citizens radicalized by an uprising to fight against oppression and for their country. But the full picture is unclear. US officials call their reaction to the rebels “generally positive” thus far. However, Gene Cretz added, “we are not at a point where we can make a 100% judgment that this is a ‘kosher,’ so to speak, group.”
This is the worst fear of many members of the coalition, especially the Turks, that a no-fly zone will turn into a tactical air support campaign, and then an armament depot for rebel soldiers to kill Libyan government forces, and then when that doesn’t work, a ground operation with troops supplied to help the rebels. There have been reports of British special forces already on the ground.
The African Union claims that the government in Libya has agreed to a cease-fire and to implement political reforms through negotiations with the rebels. But I think the government has claimed a cease-fire for the last week. It’s not totally credible, though it should be looked into. Of course, the rebels and much of the international community wants only an exit for Gadhafi. The range of African Union opinion on the operation is very interesting, as you’ll see at the link.
The President will speak to the nation on the situation in Libya on Monday night at 7:30 pm ET. A sampling of his argument today shows his justification for the military operation:
The United States should not and cannot intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world. But I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized, when someone like Gadhafi threatens a bloodbath that can destabilize an entire region, and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives, then it’s in our national interest to act, and it’s our responsibility.
In another country where innocent people are being brutalized, where a leader has threatened a bloodbath that can destabilize an entire region, where a million people have been turned into refugees so far, and where the international community has recognized the opponent of the leader as the true head of state – in Ivory Coast – the President made a YouTube video.