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What is the end game in Libya?


Many commentators are urging President Obama to spell out how America's role in Libya's civil war will end. The trouble is, there's no reason we should take the president seriously.

It's not that the president is going to lie about his intentions in Libya, it's simply that the administration has set itself on a course of managing Libya's internal politics that may not be so easy to steer away from. I mentioned Somalia below as one possible end-state for Libya, but the Somalia example is relevant not simply because Libya may become a failed state. Somalia was an example of a U.S. intervention that was rather quickly (though not instantly) unwound after it became obvious that the costs were not worth the benefits. It took a fire fight in the streets of Mogadishu to drive that cost/benefit calculus home, but it did occur and the U.S. has avoided intervening in the country ever since (of course, not intervening is not the same as not interfering, which the U.S. continues to do).

Unlike the first Gulf War, which morphed into a decades-long containtment regime that entailed policing Iraq's skies, occasionally bombing and eventually invading, the country, the U.S. was able to more or less "wash its hands" of the mess in Somalia.

So the question with respect to Libya is whether we're facing a situation akin to Somalia in 1993 (minus, let's hope, any U.S. casualties), where the U.S. can walk away following a military intervention and not get dragged back in, or whether the U.S. has set itself up for a second Iraq, where we are left policing and containing Gaddafi until regime change by military force becomes American policy. It may take a subsequent administration or two to reap what this administration has sown.

(AP Photo)