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What Is the U.S. Plan for Libya? A Negotiated End to a Civil War

Author: Micah Zenko, Senior Fellow
March 22, 2011
New York Times


Micah Zenko is a Fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of "Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World." Follow him on twitter at @MicahZenko.

Military intervention in the Libyan civil war is not in the United States' national interest. Furthermore, failing to intervene would not have sent a signal to regional dictators that it is acceptable to put down peaceful protests with force.

Nevertheless, President Obama decided to use limited military force for “days, not weeks“ to attack Libya's military capabilities and its air defense systems so that other, as-yet-unnamed countries can enforce a no-fly zone. He has declared that “it is U.S. policy that Qaddafi needs to go,” and vowed to “help the Libyan people with humanitarian and economic assistance so that they can fulfill their aspirations peacefully.”

Given these statements, what should be Washington's next steps once it takes a back-seat in the military operation?

First, recognize that because this hastily-assembled coalition is unable to marshal the resources required to ensure Qadaffi's removal, the Libyan dictator might remain in power. A no-fly zone and rebel volunteers marching 1,000 kilometers from Benghazi to Tripoli is unlikely to topple Qaddafi. As the American experience in Iraq demonstrates, unseating a hostile regime requires a substantial commitment of military force. Yet, before the intervention ever began, all 13 nations in the allied forces agreed that they would not make this level of commitment.

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