American officials have deemed the initial airstrikes launched by French, British, and U.S. forces on Muammar Qaddafi's ground troops and air defenses a success, but they've been harder to pin down when it comes to defining the extent of U.S. involvement in the Libyan crisis and the goals of the military campaign they've joined.
On Sunday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen emphasized that the mission's primary goal was to protect civilians. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon added that while the U.S. military played a substantial role in the initial assault on Libya--seemingly contradicting President Obama's call for limited involvement--America would cede control of the operation to the French, British, or NATO in a matter of days, having achieved its aims of thwarting an attack on rebel headquarters in Benghazi and imposing a no-fly zone.
But Mullen wouldn't speculate on the future length or shape of the intervention and added that "it’s very uncertain how this ends.” He said the coalition could conceivably realize its objectives without Qaddafi relinquishing power, even as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that, in the wake of U.N.-authorized military intervention, it is "certainly to be wished for that there will be even more such defections, that people will put the future of Libya and the interests of the Libyan people above their service" to Qaddafi.
As the administration tries to explain its plans, some members of Congress--including Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Speaker of the House John Boehner--are now demanding more clarity on U.S. objectives in Libya. How do foreign policy wonks perceive America's goals?
Humanitarian Intervention President Obama has "unambiguously" stated that he's intervening to protect civilians, nothing more, says Robert Danin at the Council on Foreign Relations, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy appears more bent on regime change. "All this then begs the question: what happens should the no-fly zone's main objective--protection of Libya's civilians--actually be met? ... How will Obama respond if France and Britain push on against" Qaddafi? If Obama doesn't clarify U.S. goals, Danin continues, the U.S. risks "running afoul of our coalition partners, a slide into an open-ended military engagement, or an unintended expansion of the mission."
'Shock and Awe' The coalition hopes that the "'shock and awe' effect of their air campaign prompts the regime's collapse amid mass defections," explains Tony Karon at The National. "But optimism is the opiate of the interventionists, and western leaders would do well to prepare for some nastier contingencies. It's almost inevitable that mistakes by coalition pilots result in civilian casualties--a scenario Col Qaddafi will work hard to engineer by the placement of his military resources ... More importantly, even when in an aggressive fashion, air power rarely succeeds on its own in dislodging an enemy."
Qaddafi's Overthrow Make no mistake, says Niall Ferguson at Newsweek, the U.S. is now at war with the Libyan government. For evidence he points to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declaration that 'if you don’t get [Qaddafi] out and if you don’t support the opposition and he stays in power, there’s no telling what he will do.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.