What now in Libya?

Before Obama’s speech on Libya last Monday, the main question was “why?”

President Obama seems have answered that question satisfactorily, judging by this week’s continuing debate on Libyan policy. Overall, Obama received much praise for his speech. “About as shrewd and sensible as any such address could have been,” wrote Fred Kaplan in Slate. Tom Friedman of The New York Times was proud of his president, but also worried: “Dear Lord, please make President Obama is lucky.”

Now, at the end of the week, the main question is another – what now?

On this, there is confusion. Amy Davidson of the New Yorker thought Obama should clearly state what it really is going on in Libya: war! And although Obama on Monday said that “broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake,” Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain called for regime change in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the military leadership, who have continually expressed their skepticism about a military action against Libya, could not be lured into a discussion on regime change at yesterday’s appearances before Congressional committees, other than saying that Gaddafi will probably be removed from power through economic and political pressures or by the Libyan people. Gates did not agree with the idea of the United States supplying
arms to and train the Libyan rebels. And on a matter of U.S. ground forces in Libya, he replied, according to the New York Times, “not as long as I have this job.”

Indeed, the military does not seem pleased about developments in Libya and it finds itself constantly having to raise objections as pressure increases for wider military efforts, wrote Leslie Gelb, former foreign affairs columnist of New York Times and president of Council on Foreign Relations, in today’s Daily Beast.

What we have here is a military intervention to save civilian lives at the same time as we hear President Obama say that Gaddafi must resign without specifying how it will happen. How are these two tasks and objectives reconciled?  The confusion also stems from the fact that the United States is not accustomed to multilateral operations where the U.S. is not playing the lead role – which is currently the case in Libya. No president, prior to Obama, has placed so much faith in the international community. What does this mean for the efforts to reach the end goal, Tom Friedman asked:

”My gut tells me that any kind of decent outcome there will require boots on the ground — either as military help for the rebels to oust Qaddafi as we want, or as post-Qaddafi peacekeepers and referees between tribes and factions to help with any transition to democracy. Those boots cannot be ours. We absolutely cannot afford it — whether in terms of money, manpower, energy or attention. But I am deeply dubious that our allies can or will handle it without us, either. And if the fight there turns ugly, or stalemates, people will be calling for our humanitarian help again. You bomb it, you own it.”

On a broader perspective, wrote Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, we are now beginning to see the outlines of a new Obama Doctrine in foreign policy, and the president
will over the next few weeks talk more explicitly about his hopes for and the future of the Arab world.


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