"Allies Will Pick Up the Slack."
Don't bet on it. When the United States and its allies went to war in Libya five and a half weeks ago, it wasn't supposed to be much of a war at all. U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to intervene was based on the assumption that nearby states more directly impacted by the state of affairs in Libya, such as Britain and France, would lead the charge. The United States, according to Obama, would lead with "days, not weeks" of military action, thus "shaping the conditions for the international community to act together." Many in Washington, though aware that the United States has unique capabilities essential to early stages of no-fly zone implementation, assumed it would be easy to pass the buck. As vocal intervention proponent Sen. Lindsay Graham would later concede, "When we call[ed] for a no-fly zone, we didn't mean our planes."
Much of this assumption had to do with the Arab League. On March 12, the regional organization threw its weight behind the Libyan revolution, denouncing "the fatal violations and serious crimes at the hands of Libyan authorities" and calling on the U.N. Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over the country. "The main priority right now is to stop the deadly situation," Secretary-General Amr Moussa said at the time. U.S. officials highlighted the league's March 12 resolution as an endorsement of action from the region; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to "a sense of urgency that was precipitated by the Arab League's courageous stand."
But when the bombs actually started to fall on Libya -- as they invariably do when enforcing a no-fly zone -- the league hastily pulled back, and Moussa harangued allied forces for allegedly causing "the deaths and injuries of many Libyan civilians." Some of the league's member states remain engaged in the campaign but even within this coalition of the barely willing, Arab military contributions have been meager. Only Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates are helping to enforce the no-fly zone, though they are stopping short of providing sorely needed close air support (which would entail using combat helicopters and aircraft against loyalists forces that are operating within close proximity to armed rebels or civilians). Most of the work has been done instead by Britain, France, Norway, and the United States.
These details are part of a worrying big picture, one in which there is lamentably little political will on the part of the allies to see the Libya campaign through to its conclusion. At some point, the combat stage of the civil war will end and the international community -- be it NATO, the Arab League, and/or the African Union -- will bear responsibility for deploying the stabilization forces required to keep the peace. This may prove a tall order. As Vice President Joe Biden pointed out last week, "It is bizarre to suggest that NATO and the rest of the world lacks the capacity to deal with Libya." Maybe so, but individually and collectively they clearly lack the will.