Tonight, the president gave a long series of remarks that might have been appropriate last week when the administration kicked-off Operation Odyssey Dawn—explaining why US forces directly intervened in the Libyan civil war. Yet the questions asked at the outset of the intervention were still left largely unanswered. That airpower could turn back the advance of Gadaffi’s forces was never in doubt. The issue always was—what comes after that? Tonight, the President tried to answer the question—sort of. He stated finishing the job in Libya and rebuilding the country would be the responsibility of the “international community.” That’s an answer that gives cold comfort and merely reaffirms the belief that the administration undertook intervention without a clear plan on the way forward.
From the outset the best option was always “to minimize the commitment of the U.S. military, look after the best interests of Libya’s civilian population, and limit the spread of terrorism and instability throughout the region.” While the president promised tonight to pursue such a course—the real challenge now begins—and there are still far too few details of how the White House will deliver on these promises.
It is unlikely that Gaddafi can be quickly and easily rooted from his stronghold in Tripoli. It will be no small task to build a coalition that can (1) keep Gaddafi isolated until he is brought to justice; (2) maintain a military presence to keep Gaddafi’s forces from going back on the offensive; (3) identify support and sustain a legitimate opposition that brings democracy to Libya, fights the spread of terrorism, and looks after the humanitarian needs and the human rights of the peoples under its control. The president promised much in his remarks tonight—it will take real leadership rather than a single speech to deliver on these promises.