The policy the administration publicly describes is constricted and implausible. The multilateral force would try to prevent a humanitarian disaster from the air, but then it remains maddeningly ambiguous about what would happen next: what our goals are; what our attitude toward the Qaddafi regime is; what an exit strategy might be.
Fortunately, the policy the Obama administration is actually implementing is more flexible and thought-through. ~David Brooks
This is the “clever hypocrisy” defense: Obama’s stated policy is nonsense, which is how we know that the stated policy can’t possibly be the real policy of regime change, because no one could possibly buy into the stated policy. No one, that is, except for all of the defenders of “limited war” and the “responsibility to protect” that have bought into it. Oh, and the officials in charge of NATO, and several NATO member governments. And the Arab states participating in the mission. Other than that, nobody could possibly believe it. All right, so what is the real policy? As Spencer Ackerman put it yesterday, hope is the military’s plan. Specifically, the hope is that Gaddafi’s supporters will just give up and turn on Gaddafi:
While defining the military mission as “limited,” he expressed confidence that “political and economic measures” can lead to Gadhafi’s downfall. Under pressure, Gates conceded that a “stalemate” wasn’t an acceptable solution for U.S. policy in Libya. So for good measure, he contended that continued allied airstrikes — not conducted by U.S. pilots — can batter Gadhafi loyalists until they face “a very different set of choices and behaviors in the future.” In other words: hoping the commanders quit and kill Gadhafi.
As you can gather from Ackerman’s reporting and the expressions of disbelief that greeted Gates’ testimony in the Senate yesterday, this isn’t actually a very convincing approach if the goal is to remove Gaddafi from power. Gates doesn’t believe that the rebels have any chance of winning, but he believes stalemate is unacceptable, which rules out the cease-fire that the authorizing U.N. resolution demands, and it doesn’t seem to include the negotiated solution that the Turks have been floating since before this began. That’s what makes Brooks’ credulous defense of the real policy so painful to read. Brooks writes:
There are three plausible ways he might go, which inside the administration are sometimes known as the Three Ds. They are, in ascending order of likelihood: Defeat — the ragtag rebel army vanquishes his army on the battlefield; Departure — Qaddafi is persuaded to flee the country and move to a villa somewhere; and Defection — the people around Qaddafi decide there is no future hitching their wagon to his, and, as a result, the regime falls apart or is overthrown.
Strictly speaking, the U.S. and allied forces have no authorization to try to topple Gaddafi, and attempting to do so remains illegal as far as most of the world is concerned. Inducing a soft coup by means of non-American bombing is still regime change forced from the outside, no matter who it is that removes Gaddafi. All of the talk of international consensus, regional support, and enforcing the norms of humanitarian intervention will be badly discredited, and you can pretty much forget ever getting other major states to acquiesce in an ostensibly humanitarian intervention in the future. The Libyan civil war did not qualify for the conditions of the “responsibility to protect,” but because the intervention was done in its name the “responsibility to protect” will become synonymous with the cynical exploitation of a foreign political crisis to install a new government. Good luck getting support to stop genuine humanitarian catastrophes after abusing the principle to meddle in a civil war. The legitimacy and international legality that war supporters have been celebrating for the last two weeks will begin to vanish as it becomes clear that the U.S. and our allies have exploited the resolution’s authorization of force to try to force regime change.
In the end, Brooks doesn’t have much confidence that the “three D” plan will work:
It may turn out in the months ahead that we simply do not have the capacity, short of an actual invasion (which no one wants), to dislodge Qaddafi. But, at worst, the Libyan people will be no worse off than they were when government forces were bearing down on Benghazi and preparing for slaughter [bold mine-DL]. At best, we may help liberate part of Libya or even, if the regime falls, the whole thing.
This claim in the middle is obviously not true. The Libyan people as a whole are going to be worse off than they were when this began almost two weeks ago. A large percentage of the Libyan population remains in areas firmly under Gaddafi’s control, and they will bear the brunt of food, medicine, and fuel shortages that prolonged conflict will cause. If their country continues to be under aerial assault, fragmented by civil war, and suffering from supply shortages, the Libyan people (especially those outside rebel-controlled areas) will certainly be worse off. The disorder and violence during and after an invasion would only add to this.
Brooks ends with an anecdote from an article in which an American reporter is told that ” everyone wants Qaddafi to go.” If if were true that “everyone” wanted him to go, we wouldn’t be discussing any of this right now. He would already be gone. Clearly, quite a few Libyans for various reasons seem willing to let Gaddafi stay, and for whatever reason more than a few of them seem willing to fight on his behalf.