Friday, May 27, 2011

Libya Roundup

It's been almost six weeks since I last blogged about Libya; it was a stalemate then and it's a stalemate now.

My focus in that post was to examine "just war" doctrine, one of the tenets of which is to make sure that intervention doesn't make matters worse. Veteran war correspondent Patrick Cockburn argues that this one has  – unsurprisingly, since "wars often widen and deepen existing fissures in a society."

Doug Bandow agrees, noting that we're trapped in a "foolish Goldilocks strategy" which is "just enough to save civilians, but not quite enough to oust dictator Muammar Qaddafi."

Viktor Kostev, like many others, compares this intervention to the Kosovo war. In that case, NATO sought to break the stalemate with ever-increasing pressure on the capital city and its inhabitants. But the difference in Libya? "Though nobody would admit it, their lives are almost certainly cheaper in the minds of Western politicians than are Serbian and Albanian lives." Thus we can expect a prolonged war of attrition lasting more than the 78 days of Kosovo sorties (we're 11 days away from that now).

David Dayen of FDL reports on Western reaction to Qadaffy's latest offer to negotiate. It doesn't meet the condition of having the Q-Ball removed from power, but it does open the door  a bit. Sarkozy, meanwhile, offers a bit of comparable squishiness on that crucial sticking point. Despite any ambiguity, though, it seems like it will take a lot more bombing before any meeting of the minds is possible.

For as Cockburn notes, the rebels have no credible scenario for gaining power without air strikes to back them up, which makes regime change their minimum demand. Col. Q, in this situation, is incentivized to hang on as long as possible.

If you're under your free-article quota at the NYT site, Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger review how war fatigue - of which there was plenty even before the latest installment was added - constrains the options of the intervenors, and has to be part of Q-man's calculations. That fatigue is reflected in Wednesday's House vote to bar funding for any ground troops in Libya: only 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans voted against it. Unfortunately, that just leaves air strikes as the only kinetic option, which is a recipe for higher civilian casualties, in a war ostensibly designed to prevent them. However, as Kostev reports in another piece, planning for a ground war may have already begun.

Schmitt and Sanger also helpfully quote President Obama's March position on regime change:
Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.
However, that seems to be a mistake we're increasingly willing to commit to.  For a comparable bit of cognitive dissonance, FDL's Attaturk points to the French foreign minister's tautological formulation on whether Qadaffy is a target of our airstrikes: "We don't want to kill him," he said. "Because we are not killers."

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