What Are We Doing in Libya?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 20, 2011

When the Obama Administration finally decided that military action was needed in Libya, multiple high-ranking officials stated that the goal was to remove Qaddafi from power. This has been pointed out by Micah Zenko (“The final objective is the maximalist one: regime change. Nearly every Western leader has said it: Qaddafi must go; he’s not fit to lead. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even called him a ‘creature’”). But apparently, someone failed to give the we-need-regime-change memo to Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

The U.S.-led international military assault on Libya could achieve its stated goals without forcing Moammar Gadhafi from power, the top U.S. military officer said Sunday as the bombing campaign continued.

After a barrage of attacks by sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles Saturday, an array of U.S. warplanes — including several Air force B-2 stealth bombers — followed in the pre-dawn hours Sunday with a coordinated assault using precision-guided bombs, according to a U.S. military official.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military missions, said the planes included Air Force F-15s and F-16s, Navy EA-18G electronic warfare planes and Marine attack jets.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, described the campaign’s aims as “limited,” saying it “isn’t about seeing him (Gadhafi) go.” Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mullen was asked whether it was possible that the mission’s goals could be achieved while leaving Gadhafi in power.

“That’s certainly potentially one outcome,” he replied.

Pressed on this point later in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mullen was more vague. “How this
ends from the political standpoint, I just can’t say,” Mullen said. He said it was too early to speculate.

Well, would someone care to give us an answer on this point? Are we in the business of removing Qaddafi? Or are we in the business of merely ensuring that he cannot attack the rebels in his country? If the former, why did Admiral Mullen stray off the reservation with comments indicating that the removal of Qaddafi is not a sine qua non of Operation Odyssey Dawn? If the latter, then doesn’t this raise the concern that we will be engaged in military actions indefinitely, with the Qaddafi regime continually seeking to attack and wipe out the rebels, and with the Western coalition continually forced to work to stop him?

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