Now that we have entered into an undeclared war in Libya, we should probably determine our goals. After all, without knowing what we should be doing, we won’t know when we should stop doing it.
At this point, we seem to have the goal of enforcing the no-fly zone. This is, on the face of it, a clear goal: we just do what it takes to keep Libyan air assets from operating in the specified areas. So far this has involved attacking Libya’s anti-air capabilities and their command and control abilities. It also involve, obviously enough, engaging aircraft in the zone. We have also engaged and destroyed some of Libya’s armored units.
Of course, there is the question as to the purpose of the no-fly zone. The stated goal is to keep Qaddafi from slaughtering his own people, or at least those people who are rebelling against him. Preventing death is, in general, a laudable goal and hence it can be argued that this is something we should be doing.
If our primary goal is to prevent Qaddafi from killing his own people, then it would seem that we will have to expand our operations in the region. After all, while air power is a critical part of combined arms operations (and no sensible commander would operate without such an approach), Qaddafi can use land forces quite effectively against rebels and civilians. As noted above, we have already struck Libyan armor and would thus seem to already be on the way to a broader sort of operation in the area rather than simply maintaining a no fly zone.
Assuming that our goal is to prevent Qaddafi from killing his people, it would also seem that we are committed to stay for as long as Qaddafi is willing and able to engage in that activity. On this assumption, once the killing has stopped (and seems to have ceased on a permanent basis), then our goal would be achieved and we should depart. This would seem to be a rather open ended sort of goal in that we could be there a rather long time as the conflict drags on. As it now stands, the rebels do not seem capable of winning on their own anytime soon and as long as the United States (and her allies) remains involved, then it seems unlikely that Qaddafi will decisively defeat the rebels. As such, we are serving to prolong the combat rather than end it. This seems to be a somewhat undesirable side effect of our current approach to the stated goal. As such, perhaps there needs to be a change in goals or methodology.
One option is to aim at removing Qaddafi from power. Given Qaddafi’s long link to terrorist activities and the fact that he is an increasingly erratic dictator, it does make sense to see that he is no longer in power. Of course, this goal does have some problems.
First, this would involve the United States in another Iraq style adventure in regime change. Since we have yet to finish up our current adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, starting a third adventure might not be the wisest idea.
In reply, someone might argue that it will be different this time. Perhaps we could just kill him and depart, leaving the people of Libya to sort things out. No doubt this would result in a pro-America democracy in no time.
Second, there is the fact that we would be involving ourselves fully in a civil war. Qaddafi. While Qaddafi is being opposed by rebels, he still enjoys considerable support from a significant portion of the population and is, on the face of it, the legitimate ruler of the country who is facing what seems to be a rather disorganized collection of rebels. As such, we would not so much be liberating the people of Libya as taking sides in a civil war without really knowing much about the side we are backing.
In reply, some might be inclined to point out that it is hard to imagine a worse situation than having Qaddafi in power. As such, we should back the rebels and take out Qaddafi.
The obvious response to that is that the situation could be worse. For example, Qaddafi could be “replaced” with a situation of complete chaos in which the various rebel groups fall into fighting against each other for control. It seems well worth sorting out who replace Qaddafi. This is something we did not properly consider when we launched our war in Iraq and, at the very least, we should have learned to look before we depose.
No doubt it is because of these sorts of problems that Obama has been reluctant to commit to regime change. In any case, we are in a rather difficult situation. We should not simply sit aside and let Qaddafi kill the rebels. However, removing him from power does not seem to be an appealing option. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only effective solution to the problem.