Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron: We'll Be in Libya for a While

An op-ed from the NATO leaders reads like a multi-year contract

This article is from the archive of our partner .

This morning's International Herald Tribune contains a heck of a by-line. Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy joined journalistic forces to pen an editorial for the International Herald Tribune that addresses the mounting tension of NATO's role in Libya. The military intervention that President Obama said would last "days, not weeks" is now looking like it might much much longer based on the leaders' language:

There is a pathway to peace that promises new hope for the people of Libya — a future without Qaddafi that preserves Libya’s integrity and sovereignty, and restores her economy and the prosperity and security of her people. This needs to begin with a genuine end to violence, marked by deeds not words... [After Qaddafi's removal] a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders.

Sound familiar?

Almost eight years ago to the day, another president gave a speech on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and delivered the line, "The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. And then we will leave — and we will leave behind a free Iraq." Barack Obama is no George W. Bush, the same as Libya is no Iraq. But we've learned from history that when a coalition of the willing commits to building a democracy, it's a commitment of not days, not weeks, not months but years. Bush's famous "Mission Accomplished" speech will remain one of the more notorious gaffes of his presidency not because of the ridiculous flight suit but moreover for his attempt at the illusion that Iraq was a quick war.

While we're on the topic of broken promises, though, it's worth pointing out that the Obama administration is quickly developing a tally of his own. Salon's Justin Elliott pointed out yesterday how after Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that American air strikes had ended on March 31st—within that original "days, not weeks" timeline—fighter jets launched repeated attacks for weeks to follow. Similarly, President Obama vowed not to use America planes to maintain the no-fly zone after completion of the transition to NATO. But the military confirmed this week that the opposite is true. Regarding Obama's statement, a senior official said, "We didn't explain that very well.

Meanwhile, reports of strains within NATO are ubiquitous these days, and journalists are scurrying to figure out who's blaming whom. The BBC reported earlier this week on Britain and France's efforts to squeeze more support out of the their NATO allies as fighting between rebels lose more ground to Qaddafi's army by the day. The Washington Post suggested that the absence of American forces—which now seems like it may or may not be true—has neutered NATO's efforts. And referencing the Obama/Cameron/Sarkozy editorial, a report in today's Times bemoans the fact that only 14 out of the 24 members of the alliance are actively participating and reminds readers that NATO also "remains deeply involved in the war in Afghanistan."

So what happens now? A good ol' PR campaign to help convince the world that everything being done is noble and despite what you may have heard elsewhere, it's going really pretty well. Today's editorial comes just a few days after NATO began an effort to broadcast their success and progress with some familiar looking videos of things blowing up:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.