In Libya, watch out for 'mission creep'

March 23, 2011

My fingers and toes are crossed in the hope that President Obama will be able to withdraw the main U.S. forces from the current no-fly zone over Libya, and on cue. The U.S. military is not exactly famed for subtlety and delicacy of touch in its operations, and mission creep hangs over this latest chapter of foreign intervention as the generals and politicians wrestle for control. Handing over the shebang to the countries north and east of the Mediterranean Sea seems the wiser course

Of the loose conglomeration of countries signing on to patrol the no-fly operation, Britain needs to continue dabbling its fingers in the Libyan oil wells, French President Nicolas Sarkozy to work off the latest round of personal insults from the Gadhafi family and the need of both France and Italy to close the Libyan conduit of northward moving, illegal, migrants to the underbelly of Europe. The Arab League has been embarrassed for some years by the meddling behavior of Gadhafi in its affairs and his later behavior meddling in the African affairs to his south. In the exclusion of the U.S., this unlikely coterie will mount a cut-price operation, which will resemble the original intent of the United Nations resolution and will excuse the politicians and media from doing their best to parse it to their advantage.

Whither the Libyan rebels? In the near term, the current stalemate means they have some little time to retrench, reform and stimulate a relatively non-violent populist movement throughout Libya. An inward collapse of the Gadhafi family, his assassination or a coup by senior officers is an added bonus. In the middle term, the no-fly zone patrols will end because of financial, logistical and personnel shortages combined with disparate goals of the coalition members.

The onus will then fall to the rebels to pursue a military course, for which they will need strong injections of discipline, training and supply of adequate and heavier weaponry. I doubt that the European element will involve themselves much in this and will leave it to the Arab League. In such a situation, one can only hope the Arab League will come forth, establish training camps in Egypt and close to the rebel-held Libyan territory.

In the far term, I see a much larger Gaza Strip-like sector, close to Egypt's western border and under the same operating limitations of the inhabitants of Gaza, requiring protection and support from the UN organizations.

Donald T. Hart, Baltimore

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