Operation Odyssey Dawn

OPERATION ODYSSEY DAWN…. With Friday’s reported cease-fire ending quickly, if it ever really started, international military efforts in Libya began yesterday. The Pentagon labeled the mission “Operation Odyssey Dawn.”

U.S. firepower in the area include 11 warships, five of which fired cruise missiles into Libya yesterday. Three American B-2 stealth bombers, reportedly having flown nonstop from U.S. soil, also bombed a major Libyan airfield. The plan, Pentagon officials told reporters yesterday, is for American forces to be the “leading edge” as the offensive begins, but then “step back within days and hand over command of the coalition to one of its European allies.”

President Obama reemphasized yesterday, “[W]e will not — I repeat — we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground.”

Marc Ambinder had a very good piece yesterday afternoon, noting that the administration is “trying to strike an incredibly delicate balance between a strong disinclination to invade a Muslim country and their determined desire to avoid looking like they’re walking away from the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents.”

An hour before bombing began Saturday, [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] spoke to the press in Paris. Asked why military action was in America’s interest, she gave three reasons and implied a fourth. A destabilizing force would jeopardize progress in Tunisia and Egypt; a humanitarian disaster was imminent unless prevented; Qaddafi could not flout international law without consequences. The fourth: there’s a line now, and one that others countries had better not cross.

The development of a new doctrine in the Middle East is taking form, and it could become a paradigm for how the international community deals with unrest across the region from now on. The new elements include the direct participation of the Arab world, the visible participation of U.S. allies, as well as a very specific set of military targets designed to forestall needless human suffering. Though the Libyan situation is quite unique — its military is nowhere near as strong as Iran’s is, for one thing — Obama hopes that a short, surgical, non-US-led campaign with no ground troops will satisfy Americans skeptical about military intervention and will not arouse the suspicions of Arabs and Muslims that the U.S. is attempting to influence indigenously growing democracies.

The process the White House followed is the right one. The Arab League requested intervention, the West went through the U.N. Security Council, and a legitimate coalition was formed. There’s been no American grandstanding, no bullying, and no visions of an imposition of democracy.

But there’s still no end-game to any of this. It’s unclear whether the coalition intends to allow Qaddafi to stay in power, what might be necessary to force his ouster, what kind of agreement would (or could) be reached between the existing Libyan regime and the rest of the country that no longer intends to live under its rule, and what kind of responsibilities the coalition will have if/when Libya is left with no clear governing authority.