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What If Gadhafi Hangs On?

Author: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair
March 17, 2011


Editor's Note: Dr. James Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he blogs), co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy" and a former director for global issues and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.

The Libyan rebels' once bright prospects for ousting Moammar Gadhafi now appear grim. Pro-Gadhafi forces have the momentum, and one of Col. Gadhafi's sons boasted that the revolt will be crushed “in 48 hours.”

With a battle for the rebel stronghold of Benghazi looming, President Obama must now confront a question that was unthinkable two weeks ago: How should he deal with a post-rebellion Gadhafi?

The answer is complicated by the fact that no one knows how the Libyan crisis will play out. Rebel forces may hold Benghazi and other critical towns in eastern Libya.

The Obama administration, looking at a rout of the rebels and spurred by the Arab League's call for imposing a no-fly zone, now intends to ask the U.N. Security Council to authorize international military efforts to halt pro-Gadhafi forces.

The Security Council may not grant the administration its wish. Russia and China have resisted imposing a no-fly zone. They presumably will oppose authorizing air strikes against Libyan tanks and artillery.

Yet even if Russia and China stand aside at the Security Council, and outside military intervention occurs and succeeds in preserving the rebels' position, the challenge of how to deal with a post-revolt Gadhafi will remain. He will control much of the country, including major oil production and exporting facilities. The Obama administration may have changed its mind about a no-fly zone, but it hasn't given any indication that it is ready to roll back Gadhafi's forces.

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