‘Hard Calls’ Required of Obama After UN Vote to Rein In Libya’s Qaddafi
President Barack Obama’s push for a United Nations resolution authorizing military action to stop Muammar Qaddafi leaves the president responsible for the outcome in Libya and the challenge of preparing Americans for U.S. involvement, analysts said.
Even if the U.S. and its allies stop Qaddafi’s forces from attacking rebels and civilians, the Libyan leader may remain in power for months and potentially weaken the international coalition, undercutting Obama’s position, said Peter Feaver, who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Qaddafi “is not without options, so this could go on for a while” and have a “pernicious effect on Obama’s position,” said Feaver, now a political science professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Qaddafi may halt advances on the rebels and instead “consolidate territory he has now” in the western parts of the country, Feaver said. He may “manipulate the refugee- humanitarian problem,” Feaver said, and in such situations “it will take months and months to really bring him to his knees.”
Obama said yesterday that Qaddafi “has a choice” of implementing a cease-fire or contending with an international coalition enforcing a no-fly zone. In a statement at the White House, he said the U.S. won’t deploy ground troops in Libya, which holds the largest proven oil reserves in Africa.
European and Arab nations would take the lead in the skies over Libya, Obama said.
Not ‘Acting Alone’
“American leadership is essential, but that does not mean acting alone, he said. The U.S. will provide its ‘‘unique capabilities’’ to the coalition, ‘‘including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no- fly zone.’’
‘‘Our British and French allies and members of the Arab League have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution,’’ the president said.
The goal of the international action is to protect Libyan civilians, Obama said.
‘‘Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people,’’ he said.
The president must win congressional backing for U.S. military intervention and also prepare for the possibility that the first round of military action to enforce a no-fly zone may fail to dislodge the Libyan leader, leaving Obama with an escalating crisis in yet another Islamic country, said Anthony Cordesman, a senior defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
‘‘You’re dealing with vast uncertainties,’’ Cordesman said. If the no-fly zone fails, he asked, ‘‘How far are you willing to escalate? At the end of it, the president’s going to have to make some extremely hard calls under very tight deadlines.’’
Before his remarks yesterday, Obama conferred with a bipartisan group of 18 lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, along with key members of Senate and House committees dealing with defense, intelligence and foreign policy.
‘‘We need to see results and not just rhetoric’’ from Qaddafi about a cease-fire, Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. ‘‘President Obama’s stern ultimatum to Qaddafi is the right message. There must be a full cessation of hostilities immediately.’’
If Qaddafi fails to stop the violence, ‘‘we must be prepared to take robust action with our NATO partners and the Arab League to enforce it,’’ said Kerry, who first called for a no-fly zone in a March 2 congressional hearing.
Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on his Facebook page that ‘‘it is imperative’’ the UN resolution calling for military action to stop the violence in Libya ‘‘be implemented immediately.’’
Obama didn’t explicitly call yesterday for Qaddafi to leave, as he did on March 3. That may be because ‘‘the administration wants to give the impression that the end goals of the U.S. policy are still unfolding and they’ve not been decided,” Cliff Kupchan, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group, a New York political-risk consulting firm, said in a phone interview.
The rosiest outcome would be if Qaddafi collapses and “if one of his own team decides to take him out,” Feaver said, calling this “the 9-millimeter solution,” in reference to a 9mm handgun. That may not happen, however, and “I expect it to be much messier,” he said.
Libya may end up in a stalemate with Qaddafi and his forces controlling some territory, and then Obama may have to engage in a “slow, agonizing diplomatic siege or encourage rebels to go on the offensive,” said Jeffrey White, a defense policy analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Then it becomes a “matter of resolve” on the part of people who pushed for Qaddafi to go, he said.
If Qaddafi remains for a long period of time, rebels and opposition leaders may face retribution, White said, and removing Qaddafi may require ground troops, which the UN resolution prohibits.
A day after the UN vote, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said the country’s forces had declared a cease-fire. European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the claim must be examined “very carefully.”
Libya’s cease-fire announcement led to gasoline prices slipping, and futures traded in a 7.5-cent-per-gallon range.
Though Obama was slow to back international cooperation to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, “he’s finally doing the right thing,” Kupchan said. “This intervention could have reduced Qaddafi’s control over the country if it were done weeks ago.”
Obama’s delay in favoring military action was because “he pondered this very thoroughly and was waiting for the moment when he could get something through the UN Security Council,” said Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former analyst at the NATO Defense College in Rome and the German Defense Ministry.
“Once Obama realized that the costs of not intervening would be higher than intervening, he came around very quickly,” Techau said.
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