UPDATED at 8:35 p.m.: I’m not sure we got answers to all, or any, of the questions I originally asked below:
What are our military objectives? — I think President Obama would have you believe the answer to this question is “achieved.” He said we had stepped in “to stop a massacre” at Benghazi. He said NATO was taking the lead, and was at pains to describe our role going forward as limited: “intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications.”
But the question is: Until when? Until when will we be performing these tasks in Libya? Obama said both that regime change could not be a military objective or else our coalition “would splinter,” and that we would pursue regime change through other means. Does that mean we’ll be providing a military role to complement those other efforts at regime change until regime change does occur?
Bottom line: This was a “mission accomplished” moment sans the banner and aircraft carrier. But we all know the Iraq war didn’t end on that carrier.
Who exactly are the rebels? — We got not a hint at this question, only talk about the need for the Libyan people to govern themselves. Well, OK. But are the rebels the group to provide that opportunity? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with the “Libyan opposition” — one assumes that means the same group that’s fighting Gadhafi militarily — in London Tuesday. Maybe more details will be forthcoming after that.
Can we really hand off this mission? — Obama certainly made every effort to say the answer to this is “yes.” But that list above, about intelligence, search-and-rescue, etc., suggests there is a limit to the limitedness of our involvement. Most of all, we’ll have to wait and see how well NATO can enforce a no-fly zone without U.S. pilots on patrol.
Is Libya distracting us from more pressing American interests? — Here again, Obama tried to make the case that a) because our involvement going forward will be so limited, we aren’t really tying up many resources in Libya, and b) he has no appetite for pursuing other “interests” in places like Syria and Bahrain. OTOH, what exactly did he mean by “I believe that this movement of change [in the region] cannot be turned back, and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms”? Will we “stand alongside” any of them the way we’re standing alongside the Libyan rebels? Seems to me he left the door open a bit there.
Are we in this thing until Gadhafi is no longer in power? — See answer to the first question.
Does NATO’s assumption of command of the operation mean our troops’ participation will actually decrease? — See the answer to the third question.
Are we going to recognize the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya? And does that mean we cannot live with a partitioned country? — We’ll have to wait and see. The answer seems to be that Obama chiefly hopes Gadhafi will go more quietly, or at least quickly, than that.
White House aides first suggested President Obama would not make a national address about the war armed conflict kinetic military action in Libya, but it turns out that policy didn’t last very long, either. The president will give a nationally televised speech tonight from the National Defense University in which he’ll try to explain what we’re doing in Libya and why.
I for one am glad that, contrary to what the above-linked Politico story indicated, Obama has not waited to give an “explanatory address to outline his elusive endgame to the nation until the path ahead becomes clearer.” It would be comforting to know there was an endgame, however elusive, envisioned before the air war was launched.
As for specific questions that Obama ought to answer tonight, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat has a pretty good short list: What are our military objectives? Who exactly are the rebels? Can we really hand off this mission? Is Libya distracting us from more pressing American interests?
If I could go a bit further, I’d ask to hear the answers to these questions:
Anyway, that’s a brief summary of what I’ll be listening for tonight. How about y’all?
– By Kyle Wingfield
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