March 25, 2011


[France has gone further, recognizing the Libyan rebels as the country’s legitimate representatives, but other allies, even those opposed to Colonel Qaddafi’s erratic and authoritarian rule, have balked. That has complicated the planning and execution of the military campaign and left its objective ill defined for now.]

By Steven Lee Myers And David D. Kirkpatrick
Rebel fighters take cover during a shelling near  Ajdabiyah,
Libya on Thursday 
WASHINGTON — Having largely succeeded in stopping a rout of Libya’s rebels, the inchoate coalition attacking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces remains divided over the ultimate goal — and exit strategy — of what officials acknowledged Thursday would be a military campaign that could last for weeks.
The United States has all but called for Colonel Qaddafi’s overthrow from within — with American commanders on Thursday openly calling on the Libyan military to stop following orders — even as administration officials insist that is not the explicit objective of the bombing, and that their immediate goal is more narrowly defined.
France has gone further, recognizing the Libyan rebels as the country’s legitimate representatives, but other allies, even those opposed to Colonel Qaddafi’s erratic and authoritarian rule, have balked. That has complicated the planning and execution of the military campaign and left its objective ill defined for now.
Only on Thursday, the sixth day of air and missile strikes, did the allies reach an agreement to give command of the “no-fly” operation toNATO after days of public quarreling that exposed the divisions among the alliance’s members.
“From the start, President Obama has stated that the role of the U.S. military would be limited in time and scope,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday evening in announcing the plan.
But even that agreement — brokered by Mrs. Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Turkey — frayed almost immediately over how far the military campaign should go in trying to erode the remaining pillars of Colonel Qaddafi’s power by striking his forces on the ground and those devoted to protecting him. It was salvaged, one diplomat said, only by papering over the differences concerning the crucial question of who actually controls military strikes on Libya’s ground forces.
“There were differences in the scope of what NATO would do and what would remain with the national militaries,” a senior administration official said, expressing hope that the agreement on NATO command would be a step toward resolving them.
The questions swirling around the operation’s command mirrored the larger strategic divisions over how exactly the coalition will bring it to an end — or even what the end might look like, and whether it might even conceivably include a Libya with Colonel Qaddafi remaining in some capacity. While few countries have openly sided with the Libyan leader, officials said on Thursday that most of the allies expected that the use of military force would lead to talks between the government and the rebels.
“I don’t think anyone is ruling out some kind of negotiated settlement,” the official said. Colonel Qaddafi has responded defiantly, making the likelihood of his negotiated departure seem exceedingly remote.
The allied bombardment remains in its early stages. It has already badly eroded Libya’s combat power — with scores of missile and airstrikes against Libya’s air defenses and armored columns — but not yet drastically reversed the military equation on the ground.
Mr. Obama, having returned from his trip to Latin America on Wednesday, met privately at the White House with his senior national security officials, but he made no public statements, even as reservations percolated in Congress and elsewhere about the conflict and its end game.
Asked about concerns raised the day before in a letter by the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said, “I think the president’s been very clear, and he has been asked and answered this question numerous times.”
In fact, Mr. Obama has not made clear what will happen if the international coalition succeeds in establishing control of the skies over Libya, but Colonel Qaddafi’s loyalists and rebels continue to attack and counterattack each other in a bloody, protracted stalemate.
“We should never begin an operation without knowing how we stand down,” said Joseph W. Ralston, a retired general who served as NATO commander and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We did a no-fly zone over Iraq for 12 years and it did nothing to get rid of Saddam. So why do we think it will get rid of Qaddafi?”
In Paris, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, expressed confidence in the success of the operation so far, even as he urged patience. “The destruction of Qaddafi’s military capacity is a matter of days or weeks, certainly not months,” he told reporters, adding: “You can’t achieve our objective in just five days.”
But any exit strategy will depend on the climate on the ground, and whether rebel forces can be effective in defending themselves without international support. So far, the rebels in the east have failed to punch through the line of Qaddafi forces at the strategic city of Ajdabiya, even with foreign forces battering Libya’s air and ground forces. In one potentially significant shift in momentum, the rebels were negotiating the surrender or withdrawal of one unit of Qaddafi troops in Ajdabiya. “We are trying to lead them to peace,” said a rebel spokesman, Col. Ahmed Omar Bani.
In the western commercial center of Misrata, though, rebels say that airstrikes from international forces will enable them to fight off the Qaddafi siege but not to march to Tripoli, which remains a Qaddafi stronghold. Still, a rebel spokesman who has identified himself by only his first name, Mohammed, predicted that residents of Tripoli would rise up soon. “I know the situation there is really simmering,” he said by telephone. “They have seen the dictator’s murderous ways, and they feel his days are numbered.”
In Tripoli, a few residents critical of the Qaddafi government — all speaking covertly, for fear of reprisals — said that coalition attacks had emboldened people there, who plan new protests after midday prayers on Friday.
But others said the intervention might have arrived too late to set off a popular uprising. “I do not think Tripolitanians will rise,” one Libyan opposition figure with ties around Tripoli said, also speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear, citing the reprisals that the city’s neighborhoods had already endured.
From the start, the administration insisted that it was acting to avert the imminent slaughter of civilians in Benghazi and other rebel-held cities, and that the goal of the military operations was clearly spelled out in the United Nations Security Council resolution.
Mr. Obama’s administration, however, has clearly tried to avoid the debate over a strategy beyond that by shifting the burden of enforcing the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing force on to France, Britain and other allies, including Arab nations like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which on Thursday said that it would contribute warplanes to the effort. In other words, the American exit strategy is not necessarily the coalition’s exit strategy.
“We didn’t want to get sucked into an operation with uncertainty at the end,” the senior administration official said. “In some ways, how it turns out is not on our shoulders.”
Even so, no matter who is in charge American aircraft and warships will continue to support the campaigns for weeks or months, conducting surveillance, refueling and search and rescue operations that the United States is better able to do. And in the event that the allied mission goes badly awry, there would be little doubt that the American forces would return to the fight.
Steven Lee Myers reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Tripoli, Libya. Eric Schmitt and Mark Landler contributed reporting from Washington.
@ The New York Times
[And his supporters, draped in Gaddafi green and clutching pictures of their beloved leader, noisily and passionately assert their presence in near round-the-clock displays of devotion. Hurtling through the streets in pickups or gathering in Tripoli’s central Green Square, they bellow the rhythmic chant that encapsulates the omnipotence of Gaddafi’s self-ascribed role: “God, Moammar, Libya: Enough!”]

By Liz Sly

TRIPOLI — To all outward appearances, this is a city deeply enamored of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. His portrait hangs from lampposts, adorns shopping centers and sprouts from the gleaming new office blocks rising from the seafront. Sayings from his Green Book, required reading for all schoolchildren, are posted in government buildings, including public restrooms.

And his supporters, draped in Gaddafi green and clutching pictures of their beloved leader, noisily and passionately assert their presence in near round-the-clock displays of devotion. Hurtling through the streets in pickups or gathering in Tripoli’s central Green Square, they bellow the rhythmic chant that encapsulates the omnipotence of Gaddafi’s self-ascribed role: “God, Moammar, Libya: Enough!”

How deep that support runs in a populace that has been governed by fear for decades is impossible to tell. But six days into the allied bombardment of Libyan military targets, it is clear that Gaddafi can count on the fierce loyalties of at least a significant segment of the population in the vast stretches that lie beyond the enclave of rebel-held territory in the east.

“We don’t want anyone except him,” gushed Fatima al-Mishai, 20, who joined the crowds assembled at Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziyah compound to offer their services as voluntary human shields against the bombs. “He gave us freedom and everything we need.”

Indeed, the Libyan government has kept average incomes relatively high, while doling out generous social benefits, including health care and education. Even Gaddafi’s opponents, who dare murmur their dissent only out of earshot of regime loyalists, concede that the man who has governed Libya for nearly 42 years does command genuine support.

“Seventy-five percent of the people are against him,” said one dissident, who was in the vanguard of the protest movement that was crushed in Tripoli last month and who agreed to a furtive meeting with journalists in a downtown cafe. “But there are some people who really do love him. They’ve known no one else all their lives. They think he’s in their blood.”

That a man who boasts he lives in a tent and whom Ronald Reagan once dubbed “the mad dog of the Middle East” still commands devotion four decades into his rule is one of the enduring mysteries of this idiosyncratic country.

To enter the world of the Gaddafi believers is to enter an “Alice in Wonderland” realm in which the regime’s supporters are the real revolutionaries, not the rebels seeking to topple the government, because Libya is in a state of perpetual revolution.

The Libyan people can’t overthrow their government because they are the government, in accordance with the country’s definition of itself as the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, which loosely translates as “state of the masses.”

Gaddafi can’t be toppled because he holds no formal position; he is the Brother Leader, a guide and a mentor, a patriarch and an uncle who advises his people but does not rule them.

“Brother Leader Moammar Gaddafi and his colleagues are out of the executive completely,” explained Col. Milad Hussein, who is in charge of ideological education for the Libyan military, in a news briefing. “The Libyan people are the ones who do the deciding and the executing . . . because the revolution is the starting point for everything.”

In reality, said Dirk Vandewalle, a Libya expert and associate professor at Dartmouth College, Gaddafi is the state, the wellspring from whom all decisions and policies spring. Gaddafi is backed by a network of police enforcers and so-called Revolutionary Committees, effectively local vigilantes who keep a close watch on citizens’ activities.

“The man on the street has no real conviction, but there are nefarious consequences if you don’t support Gaddafi,” Vandewalle said.

Yet some appear to believe fervently in the government’s pronouncements. In Green Square, small crowds of Gaddafi supporters sustain what is supposed to be a permanent vigil of chanting, dancing and singing in celebration of the so-called perpetual revolution. They are watched over by matronly female guards dressed in camouflage and armed with shiny new AK-47s.

“He made me feel like a free man. If I don’t hurt anyone, I’m free in my own environment,” said Majdi Daba, a 42-year-old dentist who was born the year Gaddafi wrested power from Libya’s monarchy. Majdi said he goes to the square every day. “Gaddafi gives us advice, that’s all, and when he dies, 7 million people will rule themselves.”

The regime’s opponents, he said, are interested only in making more money, while most Libyan people are satisfied that the government adequately supports their needs.

“It’s not complicated,” he said. “This place is different from Egypt. There, a lot of people are poor, a lot of people are hungry, but here there are no poor people, no hungry people.”

Libya’s role as a sparsely populated, oil-rich state may go some way toward explaining why Gaddafi has been able to retain the support he has. Libya is nearly twice as big as Egypt, yet contains less than one-tenth as many people. Per capita incomes are more than double those in Egypt, where a successful revolt last month inspired Libyans to take to the streets.

The government funds generous social welfare programs that include free education and health care, helping keep at bay the poverty that has fueled discontent elsewhere.

“He has done a lot for the country and no one can deny it,” said Mustafa Fetouri, director of the MBA program at the Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli. “He’s built hospitals, schools, roads, lots of things.”

Moreover, he said, the powerful tribal structure that forms the backbone of the government has remained behind Gaddafi, despite initial reports in the early days of the uprising that powerful tribal leaders had defected. Gaddafi has apparently been helped in this regard by making good on a pledge to distribute weapons.

“There are two kinds of people: those who believe in the regime itself and just don’t care too much about freedom, and then there is the tribal structure, which is behind him,” he said. “The support of the tribes goes beyond Gaddafi to his tribe, and to their relationship with his tribe, which predates Gaddafi. It’s nothing to do with Gaddafi.”

@ The Washington Post