It seems like every time you read, say, Morning Defense, you get a new optimistic suggestion that the Libyan rebels are thisclose from finally ousting Gadhafi. But it looks like the rebellion has reached Tripoli and Gadhafi is looking at an endgame. Events look so fluid that anything I link to is going to be outdated. (Still, check out this fascinating Renesys overview of what's up with the Libyan internet.)
So consider this a premature guidepost for expectations. Getting rid of Gadhafi is the easy part. The last 10-15 years are a testimony to the hubris of considering an internal conflict concluded once a belligerent government has lost power. I'm not going to insult your intelligence by playing fake Libya expert. But the rebel coalition is united by the singular purpose of defeating Gadhafi, so its cohesive strength as a governing force is about to face its greatest test. Purge the government of Gadhafi loyalists and risk a backlash; let them remain under amnesty and risk fracturing the coalition. What will the military do? What are the prospects for a revanchist insurgency in Gadhafi's name -- or, if he survives ouster, his command? How does NATO avoid post-Gadhafi intervention?
Rob Farley offers many insightful comments here. I'd add one thing that's vexed me from the start about the Libya war. If the international community is really going balls to the wall on the Responsibility to Protect -- an idea that I'm emotionally drawn to and intellectually skeptical of -- it's got to reconcile it with the basics of military strategy. Strategy 101 is about destroying your adversary's capability to fight in order to destroy his will to fight. But the R2P is about separating combatants. It's agnostic on the endgame, except to say, "violence must stop." That implies an endgame of some form of partition. Pretty much everywhere the international community has embraced or enforced a partition, a geopolitical fault line has emerged, with combatants feeling like their wars are merely paused and further bloodshed will resume at an opportune moment. (Run through the list: the Koreas, the Balkans, India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine, etc. etc.)
In fairness to the R2P, if Gadhafi does in fact leave power, then the R2P will have a military success to its credit. But it will also have deferred an intellectual reckoning with strategy. No two interventions are going to look precisely alike, and the R2P can't bank on implicitly supporting a rebel force. (Darfur, anyone?) Maybe I spend too much time in the online warrens of the military nerd, but some enterprising officers would do well to write some doctrinal guides on R2P; and defense intellectuals would do well toward exploring if they can't reconcile the yawning strategy gap at its heart.
Photo: Evan Hill, for al-Jazeera English, via Flickr CC