"We Can Get Rid of Qaddafi Without a Full-Blown Invasion."
Wrong. Many pundits and policymakers misread the rebels' initial advances toward Tripoli as an indication of sufficient military capability to bring down Qaddafi. My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams, for instance, asserted that only a "small amount of effort [is] needed from the United States to ensure that Qaddafi is defeated." Libya's rebels encouraged this notion; one purported spokesperson for the rebels' Transitional National Council claimed on March 13, "We are capable of controlling all of Libya, but only after the no-fly zone is imposed."
As veteran journalist David Wood reported this month, such hopeful thinking also infected the Obama administration during pre-intervention debates. Tension developed between the White House and the Pentagon over the former's insistence that the latter "come up with a low-cost regime-change plan for Libya," even as military leaders insisted that wasn't possible. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee just four days before the intervention, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told lawmakers that a no-fly zone "would not be sufficient" to reverse the momentum on the battlefield in favor of the rebels.
The massive disparity between a degraded but still well-armed military and an underequipped, voluntary rebel force means that what was true five weeks ago remains the case today: Substantial intervention of foreign forces is the only way to ensure that the NATO-led coalition achieves its ultimate strategic objective, which, despite the language of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, is clearly Qaddafi's removal from power. The rebels simply don't have enough firepower or training to do the job themselves, as their repeated retreats from Ras Lanuf and points east have all too painfully demonstrated.
Meanwhile, Western officials remain stuck in a contradictory position: The maximalist objective -- "Qaddafi must go" -- may only be pursued through the incremental application of minimalist tactics, i.e. "no boots on the ground." On April 26, the White House authorized the release of $25 million to draw down nonlethal aid from Pentagon stockpiles, which will reportedly include medical supplies, uniforms, boots, tents, radios, and halal meals. Will that rid us of Qaddafi? A recent op-ed by retired Gen. James Dubik highlighted the absurdity. He proposed that the United States "finish the job" simply by sending military advisers -- who are already there, according to allied governments -- and combat air controllers, who are assuredly there as well to direct close air support. Neither will bring about regime change, as we have seen.
Qaddafi is most assuredly a vicious tyrant, and his ouster is a worthy goal. But it will not be achieved through incremental aid to the rebels and intermittent decapitation attempts. Yet we are where we are. Given its current level of commitment, the United States should continue to use its military capabilities to support the no-fly zone, monitor and publicize killings of civilians by Qaddafi's forces or the rebels, and respond with direct force to prevent or mitigate any mass atrocities. More importantly, however, the administration should work toward a negotiated end to the civil war, while starting to plan for the U.S. military assets, humanitarian assistance, and financial aid required to keep any peace.