Recently, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed resolution 1973 that authorized the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya (Full text from the Guardian “>here). As of this weekend, planes from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France have targeted Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi’s ground forces near the coastal city Benghazi, currently one of the remaining rebel strongholds. US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen told CNN on 20 March, “I would say the no-fly zone is effectively in place” and added that the current strategy is to cut off logistical support for Qaddafi’s forces.
However, reaction has been mixed, and the overall end goal of the operations remains unclear. Not surprisingly, US proponents of the use of force as a foreign policy strategy (such as Senator John McCain), complain that the passing of resolution 1973 is too little too late and that it would have been more useful back when the rebels controlled a larger part of the country. Likewise, Republican senator Lindsey Graham commented, “I don’t know what finally got the president to act, but I’m very worried that we’re taking the back seat rather than a leadership role.”
At the same time, war critics have spoken out against any military involvement in Libya. long-time critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Michael Moore expressed disappointment over the decision and poked fun at Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. And the New York Times pointed to the realities of the United States’ current overseas commitments: “The airstrikes against the Libyan government crystallized the complexities and risks of addressing the multifaceted uprisings in the Arab world and could leave the administration stretched thin as its heads toward a budget showdown with Republicans in Congress and a decision by summer about how quickly to reduce the American military presence in Afghanistan.”
Without dwelling on the retrospective (whether or not we should have authorized military force against Qaddafi in the first place), we need to solidify our objectives going forward and determine what end results would qualify as “success.” In a separate article, the New York Times lays out the problem as: “Is it merely to protect the Libyan population from the government, or is it intended to fulfill President Obama’s objective declared two weeks ago that Colonel Qaddafi ‘must leave’?” If Qaddafi cannot be dislodged with airpower alone, will the allied powers be willing to commit ground forces?
The bombing campaign against Qaddafi, appears to be drawing criticism from regional actors such as the Arab League, and I can’t help but wonder if we’re now sliding that slippery slope toward using force against other unsatisfactory leaders in the region.