As NATO officially took over operational control for enforcing the United Nations' Libyan no-fly zone, Americans have seen much hand-wringing over what the endgame in Libya might look like. Across the American political spectrum, there's been much anguish expressed over implementing the no-fly zone. From conservatives who've vowed to ruin Barack Obama's Presidency by opposing any action he takes, to earnest non-violence liberals appalled at any use of force, nervous talk has arisen over "quagmires" and Constitutional authority.
Libya has been, from the outset, unique. The universally-despised tyrant Moammar Khadafy had openly announced his intent to roll columns of tanks and troops into Benghazi with taunting threats that he would show "no mercy, no pity," and that his forces would go "house by house, room by room" and "find you in your closets." It was this taunt, more than anything else, that prompted the United Nations to action.
As the first week of airstrikes comes to a close, many are concerned when the Allied action would end. Would the Allies send in ground troops? Will there be a quagmire?
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Thursday that the international military intervention would last days or weeks, but not months, and that no ground troops would be deployed.
Again, Libya's unique situation makes Juppe's comments possible and practical. Khadafy's regime is isolated, and Libya is embargoed. There is no Ho Chi Minh trail of supplies and war materials sustaining Khadafy's forces. There are no spare parts coming in to rebuild battered tanks and armored vehicles. There are no truckloads of ammunition coming in to replenish the rounds he's fired into Zawiyah and Brega. Khadafy has no indigenous war industry to make spare turbines for his jet fighters, or spare gun barrels for his artillery.
Thus, Juppe knows that every tank his Rafale fighters destroys is destroyed for good. When news cameras reveal a desert littered with burned-out armored vehicles, those vehicles are lost to Khadafy for the duration. Likewise for every tank that mangles its treads, and every artillery piece that blows its breach.
Juppe can say the Allied campaign would be limited in duration because, by completely owning the airspace over Libya, Allied forces can pound Khadafy's air, armor and artillery assets with impunity, and, in relatively short order, deny the dictator the military supremacy those assets had given him.
It was Khadafy's airplanes, tanks and artillery that enabled him to oppress his people and slaughter those who dared to oppose him. Without his air force, his armor and his artillery, Khadafy is just another gang-banger with some thugs armed with Kalashnikovs. As the Allied air assault degrades Khadafy's military assets, they degrade the dictator's ability to impose his will over the land.
The Allied endgame is clear. Since Khadafy is an international pariah who isn't getting resupplied by America, or Europe, or China or Russia, and since he doesn't have a domestic arms industry that can keep his military operating on its own, Khadafy had a come-as-you-are military, with a finite number of the heavy weapons that had kept him in power. The Allied endgame comes when Khadafy's advantage in jet planes, tanks and artillery has been neutralized.
At that point, the rebels who have risen against him will have to take matters into their own hands to shape their nation's future for themselves. It is certainly possible that they will be unable to dislodge Khadafy, although the Allies' destruction of the dictator's armor and artillery will certainly cause those less committed to Khadafy to turn against him or to simply flee. Given a level playing field in terms of war materials, the rebels, as the popular movement, should gain the upper hand through sheer superiority of numbers.
It is certainly possible that Libya might descend into a protracted civil war between Ghadafy, the rebels, and/or factions among the rebels. That is something the Libyans must work out among themselves.
That is when the rest of the world must stand aside and let the Libyans work out what their new nation is going to look like, even if that new nation isn't what someone outside of Libya might want. Whether the process is neat and orderly with conferences and plebiscites, or bloody and messy with unspeakable violence by all sides, once the Allies have levelled the playing field for the Libyans, everyone will just have to step aside and let the Libyans play on that field.