This venture was a typically botched Wilsonian war from the start but to launch a gratuitous war and then lose it is about as pure a show of fecklessness as can be imagined. President Obama needs to finish the job. Fast. ~Walter Russell Mead
The rebels now say that the offer for Gaddafi to remain in Libya after stepping down has “expired,” which raises the question why it was ever made at all. It’s an odd bit of timing for them to extend the offer, wait until both Britain and France have endorsed the idea, and then withdraw it after Britain and France exposed themselves to no end of ridicule for having entertained the idea. It’s also a bit late to start worrying about losing the Libyan war. As a matter of protecting the civilian population, the Libyan war was already lost shortly after it went from being a defensive operation to protect rebel-held areas to a campaign to topple Gaddafi, so it’s not clear what “finishing the job” could mean under the circumstances. Obviously, driving out Gaddafi has always been the real goal, but there has been no plan for how this would happen except to keep bombing and hope for luck. Saying “finish the job” is as vague and unhelpful as repeating the mantra that “Gaddafi must go.” We are no closer to finding a means by which Gaddafi would be forced to “go” than we were four months ago.
The administration has put itself in a bit of a bind. It claims to respect the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, and it claims that it does not believe that the executive can launch wars without Congressional approval, and so it has attempted to define its involvement in the Libyan war as something else. This is ridiculous and insults the intelligence of everyone who hears it, but it may be politically tenable so long as the Senate majority leadership remains supportive. If the U.S. were to “finish the job” by escalating U.S. involvement in the war back to what it was in March, the administration would be under significant pressure to get Congressional approval. Based on what we have seen so far this year, there is not much support for the war in Congress, and there is even less public support. There is virtually no support for escalating U.S. involvement beyond what it is now.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said it would also enable the UK and its allies to offer greater practical assistance to the NTC on the ground. But it is the underlying symbolism of the measure that matters most.
This looks like the start of a process that the Nato alliance has been desperate to avoid – the effective partition of the country.
As Mezran explained, U.S. recognition of the TNC had the effect of making a negotiated settlement less likely:
Recognizing the rebel’s government has outraged Qaddafi and his supporters, while at the same time depriving the United States of a powerful tool to pressure the TNC into accepting a possibly unpopular negotiated solution.