As of this writing, the Obama administration's Libya policy appears to have been successful. The combination of targeted airpower, a gradual tightening of the economic and legal nooses around the necks of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and his cohorts, diplomatic engagement with the Libyan opposition, and quiet efforts (mostly by Europeans) to work militarily with that opposition ultimately paid off.
This is, of course, a provisional judgment. If fighting rages on in Tripoli for an extended time, the basic humanitarian objectives of the original mission could be compromised. So could the prospects for reconciliation once the dust settles. Prolonged violence will make it harder for the former antagonists to form a workable and stable coalition to build a new Libya. In the end, this could be a victory -- but an ugly one, as I wrote in March ("Winning Ugly in Libya").
In that article, I compared the Libya case to another ugly win more than a decade ago: NATO's in Kosovo. In that conflict, the postwar challenge was in many ways easier than what the West faces in Libya. The Serbian leadership remained intact, and Kosovo's liberation force was generally cohesive. There was also no particular need for the two sides to reconcile; Kosovo became a haven for ethnic Albanians, Serbia remained one for Serbs. Meanwhile, NATO and the United States were presumably prepared to resume operations there if Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic attacked Kosovo again.
In contrast, many of Libya's tribes are still friendly to Qaddafi yet will
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series