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If you've been tracking what U.S. officials are saying about whether Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi must step down as part of the international community's military intervention in Libya, you may be a little confused.

During a speech in Chile on Monday, for example, President Obama declared that “it is U.S. policy that Qaddafi needs to go."

Only one day later, however, Navy Admiral Samuel Locklear explained that if Qaddafi complies with a ceasefire and withdraws his troops from opposition-controlled cities, "then the fighting would stop. Our job would be over."

What's going on? The U.S. is actually in the process of defining its mission more clearly, but it's a bit complicated.
 
Essentially, as Obama explained in Chile, the U.S. is participating in a United Nations-authorized humanitarian mission in Libya, and America doesn't plan on straying from that limited goal. The U.S. might try to realize its goal of regime change through non-military measures like economic sanctions and asset freezes.
 
But Hot Air's Allahpundit isn't sold on Obama's distinction. "The entire unspoken strategy of this mission, such as it is, is to knock Qaddafi out quickly so that the rebels can overrun Tripoli and we can go home lickety split," he writes. "What you’re seeing here, I think, is The One paying lip service to the alleged authority of international 'collective action' even while he and his western partners quietly look to skirt that authority by taking out the Mad Dog with a quick strike."
 
CNN's Gloria Borger, meanwhile, sees some circular logic in Obama's explanation. "How can we judge a humanitarian crisis averted? Sure, we can tell when the danger to innocent civilians has abated (because we have destroyed or dismantled Gadhafi's air capability). But if the core of that danger is a murderous thug who still reigns, can you only abate it by removing him? That's where the strategy gets a tad circular: How can you ensure the end of the killing unless you get rid of the hideous man ordering it?"
 
British Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey didn't help clear up confusion about the coalition's exit strategy on Tuesday when, in responding to a question about how long the mission would last, he retorted, "How long is a piece of string?".

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