President Obama penned a joint op-ed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron about the situation in Libya. The President has been awfully quiet about the Libyan mission since announcing it would take “days, not weeks” four weeks ago. But this statement reaffirms the commitment, and actually goes further by all but announcing a policy of regime change.
Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Qaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power. The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law. It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government. The brave citizens of those towns that have held out against forces that have been mercilessly targeting them would face a fearful vengeance if the world accepted such an arrangement. It would be an unconscionable betrayal.
Furthermore, it would condemn Libya to being not only a pariah state, but a failed state too. Qaddafi has promised to carry out terrorist attacks against civilian ships and airliners. And because he has lost the consent of his people any deal that leaves him in power would lead to further chaos and lawlessness. We know from bitter experience what that would mean. Neither Europe, the region, or the world can afford a new safe haven for extremists.
The three leaders go on to say that the NATO mission will continue even if the Gadhafi regime pulls back from all Libyan cities and undertakes a cease-fire. This is to ensure “civilian protection,” they say, but also explicitly to build pressure on Gadhafi to step down.
This is absolutely an escalation from the UN mandate. Furthermore, based on what we’ve seen in the last four weeks, it’s not a realizable goal without an escalation of the military side of the conflict. This is certainly what the Libyan rebels seek, and increasingly that puts them in sync with NATO and the coalition. The NATO commander for the mission wants specialized fighter jets to engage in precision bombing that can minimize civilian casualties (you must believe in the concept of a “precision bomb” to understand this one). This generally means US military support – Bulgaria and Iceland don’t have precision bombers sitting around.
But despite Obama’s rhetoric of unity toward carrying out the mission, the US resisted efforts to publicly get sucked into more air sorties. I say “publicly” because we know that they’re still flying 35% of all missions and just not telling anyone.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a closed-door meeting Thursday whether the United States could contribute additional fighter planes to the effort but did not receive an encouraging response.
“I got the sense that the Americans will stick to their same line,” Juppe said. “That is, to maintain their current policy of intervening with forces as they are needed, depending on the situation and where the assets they have are particularly useful.”
This could be a situation where the Administration simply wants other member countries to actually make NATO something other than an appendage of the US military. But it’s pretty discordant, both with the official call for unity among NATO members, and with the actual bombing campaign the US is still involved with.
For his part, Gadhafi rode around in an SUV through Tripoli for an hour yesterday.
More precision fighter jets is just another step on the road to escalation. Italy yesterday called for arming the rebels, albeit with “defensive weapons.” Others in the coalition resisted this; but I don’t see how it’s possible to carry out regime change without arms shipments at the least and ground troops at most. Otherwise you will continue to have a low-level stalemate.