POTUS spells out U.S. intervention in Libya

POTUS SPELLS OUT U.S. INTERVENTION IN LIBYA…. President Obama announced this afternoon that the U.S. role in Libya would expand, following calls from the Arab League and a resolution endorsed yesterday by United Nations Security Council, force against Colonel Qadaffi.

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Obama argued today, “Here’s why this matters to us: Left unchecked we have every reason to believe that Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people, many thousands could die, a humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.”

So, what’s the policy? In keeping with the U.N. resolution, the United States and its allies intend to prevent the Libyan government from slaughtering its civilian population, enforce a no-fly zone, and maintain sanctions and an arms embargo against the Gadhafi regime.

President Obama offered fairly explicit instructions to the Libyan government, explaining that a cease-fire must begin immediately, Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi, troops must be pulled back from several key areas, water, gas, and electricity must be made available to the Libyan people, and humanitarian assistance much be allowed to reach civilians.

“Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable,” Obama said. “These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences. The resolution will be enforced through military action.”

The president emphasized the cooperative nature of the effort, with the U.S. playing a role in a larger international campaign, though he soon after added that he “is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal [of protecting civilians].”

Perhaps hoping to preempt concerns about the Bush/Cheney model, Obama explained, “It is not an action that we will pursue alone. Indeed, our British and French allies and members of the Arab League have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it…. And this is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law…. But I want to be clear: The change will not and cannot be imposed by the United States or any foreign power. Ultimately, it will be driven by the people of the Arab world. It is their right, and their responsibility, to determine their own destiny.”

Earlier today, Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, his hands literally trembling, read a statement saying that the Qaddafi government had agreed to a cease-fire, though there have already been reports of ongoing violence since that announcement.

As for the near future, there are obviously far more questions than answers. Even if a cease-fire holds, for example, it’s unclear what kind of agreement would (or could) be reached between Qaddafi and the rest of the country that no longer intends to live under his rule. Does the West intend to allow Qaddafi to stay in power after the massacres end? And what happens if/when he resists? And if he’s forced out, what kind of responsibility will we have to keep Libya together?

I can see the administration’s rationale here. Qaddafi is a monster and preventing the slaughter of thousands of civilians is a noble endeavor.

But in his conclusion this afternoon, Obama said, “Our goal is focused.” I’m not at all sure that’s actually the case.

Update: One more thing. I do give Obama a lot of credit for at least pursuing this the right way, and taking each step methodically. This is the opposite of the process leading up to Iraq — the Arab League asked for assistance; the U.N. endorsed intervention, and allies want to shoulder a larger international burden. Reckless unilateralism this isn’t.