Muammar Gaddafi has consolidated his position in central and western Libya enough to maintain an indefinite standoff with rebels trying to end his four-decade rule, U.S. and European officials say.
“Gaddafi’s people are feeling quite confident,” said a European security official who closely follows Libyan events.
A “de facto partition for a long time to come” is the likely outcome, the official said, because of Gaddafi’s improving position and the weakness of the ill-equipped and largely untrained opposition forces. ~Reuters
Suffice it to say, if our real Libya policy had any merit, this wouldn’t be happening. As current Libya policy is failing, support for fighting in Libya to topple Gaddafi receives a whopping 32% of the American public’s support. I should add that this is not 32% support for escalating the U.S. role in the war: just one in four of Americans supporting the goal of regime change want U.S. involvement to increase. The poll shows just how uninterested Americans are in increasing the U.S. role in Libya:
Even among people who favor ousting Gaddafi as a goal, a relatively small group, 24 percent, says the level of U.S. military involvement in Libya should be increased.
Support for an increased U.S. role is lower still, 9 percent, among those who favor the current mission, protecting civilians. In both groups, sizable majorities say U.S. involvement should be kept about the same as it is now.
In short, American public opinion narrowly supports the war so long as Americans aren’t currently doing any of the fighting and as long as we aren’t call on to do more than we already are. It doesn’t really matter to supporters that protecting civilians and toppling Gaddafi both appear to be beyond the reach of non-U.S. allied forces. That should tell us something about how shallow “support” for the Libyan war really is. Even the “supporters” aren’t willing to endorse doing what is necessary. Escalating U.S. involvement is political folly here at home (supported by just 10% of all respondents), and the administration has implicated the U.S. in a war that seems likely to drag on for quite some time if things remain as they are now.
Update: Max Hastings reports on the dismay among allied military officers that greeted the triumvirate’s op-ed last week:
To the bewilderment of military chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic, last week Barack Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy asserted that the only acceptable outcome is for President Gaddafi to quit. But how this is to be achieved without sending in Nato ground troops – a ghastly idea – the Lord alone knows.
‘We are living a lie by pretending that we have the means to win this militarily,’ said a senior Nato officer this week.
Hastings also mentions that Paddy Ashdown, former overlord of Bosnia (and now merely Lord Ashdown), is very keen on sending ground forces to Misurata. I take it as a given that whatever the Paddy Ashdowns of the world recommend, we should do the opposite. If we needed any more confirmation that putting soldiers into Libya is a very bad idea, we just received it.
Second Update: I don’t really understand what Marc Lynch is complaining about here. If anyone should be concerned with weak public support for the military intervention in Libya, it should be the people who have been calling for that intervention from the beginning. Weak public support for an intervention obviously didn’t matter to policymakers in the administration, who plunged the U.S. into the Libyan war without making a sustained public case for it. Weak public support potentially imposes limits on what the administration is willing to do now that the U.S. and our allies are involved. To the extent that the administration has deliberately limited its involvement in a war in a way that makes success less likely because of a fear of domestic political consequences, that is relevant to a discussion of the failings of the administration’s handling of Libya.
The U.S. should make decisions on policy based on the merits, and not whether a particular course of action polls well or polls badly. Had the administration done that a month ago and opted not to attack Libya, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Even so, it doesn’t say much for the Libyan war that public support for the intervention depends on the U.S. not doing those things that appear to be necessary to give the intervention a reasonable chance of success now that the administration has made the mistake of intervening. I should be pleased that public opinion is strongly against deeper U.S. involvement, since I certainly don’t want the U.S. to become more involved, but I understand that the lack of public support for anything other than the half-hearted, stalemate campaign is a recipe for prolonged Libyan suffering and indefinite U.S. and allied commitment.