What is success in Libya?

As the allies drop bombs on pro-Qaddafi troops in Libya, little – or perhaps no thought has been given to an exit plan nor what happens if the Libyan despot survives?

President Obama’s speeches are regularly peppered with two similar phrases…”let me be clear” and “let there be no mistake”. So why is clarity so elusive in the ‘mini war’ now going on in Libya?

There was precious little clarity surrounding the US stance which opaquely moved from reluctance to boots ‘n all, and there was little clarity over what a no-fly-zone actually meant (although now we see it requires a fairly ruthless beginning as Defence Secretary Gates warned).

Perhaps the areas most in need of clarity now the bombs are falling and missiles striking include what is to be the fate of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi? What constitutes victory? When will it be time to pull out? What happens if pro-Qaddafi forces retreat…and hold? What happens to Libya if Qaddafi stays?

We necessarily view this allied action through an Afghanistan and an Iraq lens – especially when the Arab League now says the current goings on were not what Arab states had in mind when they asked for a no-fly zone, or supported UNSC 1973. What happened to the consensus which supposedly went way past Western liberal ideals? That fire-alarm sound you hear is a rude reminder we never seem to learn from history so why change the habit now?

What is a given is Qaddafi will not surrender. The unbalanced, murderous despot is cornered like a wild animal and he would rather die than give in. The fate of Saddam Hussein will be a crystal clear, reoccurring nightmare for him that will take precedence over all else. No trial and no public execution for the Colonel thank-you and to heck with who pays the price.

Obama has said it is United States policy that Qaddafi has to go, and the US has a wide range of tools to make that happen.

Yet UNSCR 1973 does not provide for taking out the ever-defiant Evil One.

In fact 1973 is presented as the evolution of the world’s responsibility to protect innocent civilians – a doctrine which grew from the hideous mistakes the world made with regards to Rwanda, and coming to the party way to late for so many in Bosnia.

Bosnia, and Iraq (between Bush 1 and 2) had no fly zones – yet massacres took place under them. The Srebrenica massacre, and Hussein’s massacre of the Marsh Arabs whom the Americans had encouraged to stand up to the Iraqi dictator and then abandoned them. You could be forgiven for having little faith in the use of no-fly zones.

But this one is presented as being different, although it would also be good to have clarification as to who exactly is leading it. America is so bogged down in two other wars that it understandably did not want to be seen at the forefront of the charge in an open-ended assault to stop Qaddafi in his tracks. Smart move from Obama to allow himself to be ‘persuaded’, although it had all the signs of dithering (a.k.a. intellectual deliberation) at a critical time in terms of the momentum of the rebels.

Yet for a superpower which wants to be seen as not driving the onslaught it appears as if the Americans are at the helm, even if the French were first to fire. Sarkozy has been chomping at the bit to get into this, considering he has hideous domestic poll issues and the spectre of not being ballsy enough to stave off a presidential challenge from the far right Front National’s Marine LePen. Interesting the role of domestic imperatives. For Obama it is the political rack with war-wary Democrats hand-wringing over meddling in another foreign country and Republicans trying to have it both ways - he is not going far enough and is going too far without an end game. The latter was never a concern with respect to a certain former President.

At least the UNSCR prohibits troops on the ground, and the allies will have to stick to that – won’t they?

So here is quite possibly a joint action for regime change by another name, and it has all the potential for mission creep because there are so many unanswered questions, including how to cope with a split Libya and a protracted civil war.

Add to that the disgusting use of civilians as human shields. For sure some of them are so devoted to Qaddafi for leading Libya out of colonial oppression and a despised monarchy that they will put their lives at risk for him. Others will have no such option.

And in the end when you are being blown up does it really matter if the firepower is pro or anti Qaddafi?

This whole exercise is supposed to be aimed at protecting civilians, but any such military action can never protect all citizens. Burning the village to save the village and all that, which only adds to the argument that the time between consensus for a no-fly zone and actual intervention, was too long, allowing Qaddafi’s troops to reach heavily populated areas and dare anyone to obliterate them.

But this is the past. Recent past, but still it has happened and the time for deep analysis of the decisions – which were opaque and devoid of even parliamentary scrutiny let alone public – will hopefully be soon. I say hopefully because this mini war can not be allowed to turn into another protracted fiasco.

It is time for a definitive plan to be made public answering the key question…what happens if Qaddafi survives? If the theory is for regime change but the rules prevent assassination to dislodge him, then this has all the hallmarks of an open-ended commitment that NATO cannot afford.

And then there’s the question of applying the doctrine to protect elsewhere in the region. The governments of Yemen and Bahrainare killing their own who dare to defy them. Why no UNSCR to back their rebels?

The answer calculated to exonerate the West from inaction here is that the Arab League has not asked for intervention. The counter to that must be this UNSCR 1973 is therefore an anti-Qaddafi resolution rather than a protection of civilians deal. Arab nations hate Qaddafi but seemingly don’t feel like that about their Yemeni and Bahranian counterparts. Their rebels are on their own, even if, as is the case in Bahrain, Saudi troops have been called in to do the shooting.

As the Chinese found in Tiananmen Sq, it is easier if those you employ to shoot your nationals don’t come from the same families or neighbourhoods.