The Western democracies are finally facing up to the reality of the mission in Libya: Containment is impossible and Moammar Gaddafi must go. But American leadership is still missing, and it is unclear if some NATO countries have the necessary willpower to take this excursion to its logical end. And, even if they do, there is still no clear plan for how to get there.
The original purpose of the Libyan mission – to protect civilians from the murderous tyrant's bombs – has failed. It was bound to. It had no clear endgame and, it appears, no contingency planning was done. The result has been a case study in confusion. Retired Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie, who led the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, has called it a "dog's breakfast." This is what happens when America outsources foreign policy leadership to the U.N., as it did in this case: nothing bold gets done. The scope of the mandate to move forward is the result of a compromise to keep diverging interests happy.
However, all is not lost – and the newly assertive tone seen from some NATO members is encouraging. Yesterday, Canada joined Australia and Germany in announcing that it would formally recognize the National Transitional Council as the true government of Libya. The Obama administration remains on the relative sidelines. In Africa yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "urged" African states "to call for Gaddafi to step aside."
But making policy on the fly is never desirable. This is a desperate situation in need of desperate measures. Much more can, and should, be done. First, America ought to work harder to get all NATO members committed to the same end goal: removing Gaddafi from power and legitimizing the National Transitional Council, the rebel-led government controlling the eastern part of the country.
All NATO allies need to actively participate in the operation. At present, too many are playing too passive a role. Last week, NATO intensified its airstrikes on Tripoli, a result of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' frustration with the slow progress of the campaign. He also put the spotlight on five countries – Spain, the Netherlands, Turkey, Germany and Poland – that he wished would help more. Gates called on the first three to commit to striking ground targets and not simply participate in the no-fly zone. He called for the latter two to commit military forces. (Most air strikes are being carried out by Canada, France, Britain, Denmark, Norway and Belgium.)
But military operations are not enough. The rebels need further encouragement, protection and support, which translate to military, financial and moral assistance. For example, all of Gaddafi's frozen assets (estimated at about $30 billion) should be freed and given to the National Transitional Council. This money is desperately needed for supplies and to pay the costs of running a government, for instance, paying police forces. The Senate Banking Committee will vote on Thursday to free up $4 billion in Gaddafi assets (with possibly another $4 billion later) but the money will only be used for humanitarian relief. It is not enough.
The situation is moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done. The focal point of the mission has to be Gaddafi's ouster. America needs to unequivocally state this and quit using weasel words. The Libyan dictator has made it clear on multiple occasions that he will never surrender and that martyrdom is his preferred fate. Whenever he is pushed, he pushes back harder. After last week's aerial bombardment, Gaddafi's troops unleashed a barrage of rockets and mortars against eastern rebels, killing ten and injuring 26. Another two dozen were killed Monday. These are the biggest attacks on Libyan rebels since April.
The American public, including Congress, is divided on the mission. So are the populations and governments of other NATO countries. But nations like Canada – which has also now pledged more money in humanitarian aid, on top of recognizing the new government – are showing what a difference political leadership can make. If the Obama administration were to do the same, we would be much closer to ridding the world of Gaddafi for good.