After the Bombs

Rebels inspect a pro-Qaddafi military truck after its bombing. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Five weeks after the Arab protests spread to Libya, the United States has found itself tangled in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. The question on everyone’s mind is, will this be a Gulf War or Iraq 2.0? In other words, where will we be after the bombs stop falling?

I think it’s safe to say Obama’s situation now is quite different from George Bush’s back in 2003. On a military level, Obama has been keeping his distance by not involving ground forces, choosing to instead use missiles and airstrikes. Obama’s military plan at this point seems to be to hammer Qaddafi’s forces as hard as possible without touching down on Libyan soil.

The UN’s decision to hold back the tide of Qaddafi’s advances on the rebels was intended to do two things. First, it was meant to stop further humanitarian crisis in the form of military massacres by Qaddafi’s forces. Second, the declaration was a way of legitimizing the rebellion’s government and the movement that put it in place.

And yet, as with every military intervention, this answer to the rebels’ prayers opens an entire book of new questions, particularly for the United States and Barack Obama. The president has faced harsh criticism from the left and the right for what many feel was an impulsive dive into yet another Middle Eastern crap chute. Some have even gone so far as to say that Obama’s presidency is “Bush’s third term.”

Now, although I’m a fan of the man, President Obama has made some hefty mistakes in handling the crisis in Libya. His first foible, which has compounded into the criticism he now faces, was his hesitancy in taking the Libyan humanitarian crisis as seriously as he should have. Now, I realize that I don’t stand a chance of pretending to understand all of the complex minutia and details that factor into a decision like the one he made, and how difficult it must have been, considering all the pressures on the administration about this issue. But it seems to me that the president should’ve given more initial credence to the idea of military intervention in Libya. If the idea had been on the American table earlier, there would have been more time to have serious internal discussions about it (which would hopefully resolve Congress’s beef) before launching in after a chat with Nicolas Sarkozy.

Following from this mistake was the lack of clarity on the future of the situation in Libya. While I don’t think that this is likely to become another Iraq War, US military involvement always brings up questions. The most prominent one, as I suggested in the title of this post, is what’s next? Many, including prominent members of Congress and thinkers on both sides of the aisle, have pointed out that Obama doesn’t seem to have much of an endgame in Libya. Bombs will fall for a few more days (hopefully that’s all), and Qaddafi’s forces have been and will continue to be whittled down.

But what happens after that? Now that the international community has intervened (which, even after all my hemming and hawing, I think was a good thing), how involved should it be? US administration officials have made it pretty clear that they expect the burden of this coalition to fall of the shoulders of everyone, if not mainly Britain and France. And hopefully, other nations, particularly the Arab League, will prevent this attack on Qaddafi from taking on the aspect of another assault on a Muslim country. But there’s a bigger problem than America’s Arab street cred.

The coalition’s goal in striking against Qaddafi has been to protect the civilians and rebels of Libya from the senseless violence Qaddafi would love to inflict on them. But how far can a no-fly zone and bombs take the rebellion? There’s a whole host of possible situations that could rise after the dust settles in Libya. The country might fracture into two under the pressures of enemy governments in east and west. If not removed, a vengeful Qaddafi might revert to his past terrorism, lashing out against Europe, America, and his own people. The opposition is still nascent (at best), and it remains a relatively untested force.

There are many things still up in the air where Libya is concerned, and I’ll continue to write about the situation as it develops. But for now, we can only hope that things come to the swift conclusion that the coalition is hoping for. And so, in the spirit of this post, I’ll end with the biggest question of all: What’s next for Libya?

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Filed under Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

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