While watching the reports coming out of Libya last night and this morning I still have this question – “what next?” As the expanded no-fly zone advances to include a no-drive, no mortar, no heavy artillery zone (entirely legal under the wording of the Security Council resolution) what is the coalition going to do if the Colonel decides to back-off and cease military operations? Although highly improbably given his recent bellicose and defiant statements, it is not impossible.
At a press conference last night, Hillary Clinton said that the purpose of the UN resolution was to protect civilians, not regime change. Really? Although it was the politically correct answer, this is not the goal. It is certainly not the goal of the Arab coalition partners and the frequent statements from virtually every European leader as well as President Obama, is that the regime must stand down and leave. This leaves the thorny issue of who is going to effectuate the regime change. Fortunately, the US has taken the position that it will not be the pointiest stick in the bundle for once and will leave the air assault to the French and British. But, unless the regime is decapitated by an air-to-ground missile or an assassination or rebel bullet, who is going to pull Qadaffi and his sons off the thrown?
If a European ground force enters the fray it will surely win but would not look good on TV. Egypt, of course, has an effective, professional army that could, with probably one or two tank brigades, slice through to Tripoli. Given the past enmity between the two countries, that might not be the best of plans. Hillary Clinton also hinted at defections within the Qadaffi camp – a not so subtle reminder that his vaunted, all- female bodyguards may not be particularly effective when the chips are down.
But, aside from the stray missile or bullet (or not so stray), what will happen if he says he wants to talk? The first splits will come with a call by Russia, China and their all too frequent ally, Germany, to stop the air assault and sit and talk. Again, then what? With whom does one talk? The leader that everyone said had to go? His (now) equally barbaric son, Saif? The most absurd statement comes from Sarkozy who said today that once the fighting stops, France was ready to talk. France has already recognized the rebels in Benghazi as the legitimate government of Libya – why would they talk with Qadaffi? The UK does not need to talk to anyone and one wonders what deals they made when their S.A.S. were in Benghazi a few weeks ago.
From the European standpoint – and this is their war until the Arabs come in with something – the best outcome would be continued defiance. France is busily turning the regime’s tanks into scrap and their retreat from the outskirts of Benghazi to Sirte takes them across the desert with nowhere to hide. Expect to see officers and men abandon vehicles, join the rebellion or melt away rather than be target practice for a French Rafale or Mirage. The rebels could be armed and trained a little, and sent off to the west to take Tripoli. France and England could continue to pulverize the tanks and artillery from the air with a few cruise missiles thrown in. But, at this point, aside from the immediate tactical goals, I don’t see a strategy.
One hopes, of course, that the Libyan military will simply say “enough” and quit, thus ending the 42 year old regime and handing the government over to the rebel leaders in Benghazi.
One last question: Is there a bigger buffoon leading a country these days than Hugo Chavez who just came out against the UN authorized attack?