An academic specialist in Libyan history has sketched out four scenarios for how the current stalemate might be resolved. None of them sound good.
The first involves a more intense support for the ability of the rebels, aided by NATO power, to steadily move westward and unify the country by overpowering the province of Tripolitania and replacing the Gaddafi regime. In light of the checkered history (of very long standing) between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (where the rebel movement is now located), this scenario would open old wounds. When the Kingdom of Libya was created in 1951, Tripolitania resentfully agreed to be pushed together by the Great Powers into a single political entity ruled by a monarchy with its roots in Cyrenaica. The resentment within Tripolitania, where support for Gaddafi has traditionally been the strongest, would be enormous if once more a government were foisted upon it either by a Cyrenaican-led rebel movement or through the support of the international community—a likely possibility under this scenario.
A second scenario would be to simply allow Libya to separate into two smaller states, focused around Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east. This would, however, leave Gaddafi in control of part of the country—obviously not an ideal solution in light of the possibilities it would afford him to attempt the subversion and destabilization of Cyrenaica, or to engage in a number of similarly destabilizing ventures in the region and beyond. In addition, this scenario would require a commitment from the international coalition to protect Cyrenaica—certainly not a prospect either the United States or the European Union would be enamored of.
A third possible scenario involves a somewhat patient process of gradually undermining the credibility and prospects of the Gaddafi regime over time. This means systematically undercutting the regime’s traditional methods of using patronage for its survival as international sanctions take hold and Gaddafi’s financial resources are depleted, and hoping that eventually internal desertions and perhaps a palace coup would take place within the inner circles of the regime.
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The final scenario is one that may prove the least attractive for many Libyans, but more attractive to the many parties now involved in the conflict. It is perhaps also the most promising for the future of the country, and would certainly minimize the dislocations and potential infighting some of the other scenarios entail. It consists essentially of a diplomatic compromise whereby Gaddafi (and his family and closest confidants) would depart into exile. The range of countries willing to accept this sordid entourage would be tiny, made even smaller by the fact that the Libyan leader would undoubtedly try to find asylum in a country that does not recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court.
The two most likely scenarios - i.e., the rebels win and bring on a Cyrenaican rule over the Tripolitanian vanquished, or the two parts of Libya stay divided with the international community inevitably seen as backing the Cyrenaican half - both lead to long-term conflict.
The last scenario - Qaddafi chooses to go into graceful retirement and everyone lets him - is impossible to imagine.
That leaves us hoping the international community can increase pressure on the regime until the next Colonel or Captain launches a coup, and Qaddafi is removed from office via the 9mm referendum. It is a dismal situation when that is the best outcome we can expect.
Nevertheless, that appears to be what NATO and US officials are trying to bring about, directly or indirectly. According to Defense Secretary Gates this week, "we are not targeting him specifically, but" we are bombing all the structures and bunkers where Qaddafi might be present, and obviously we would be very relieved if he happened to be inside one of them when it is destroyed. A bonus, as it were. Or, an ambitious character within his trusted circle could whack him out. Either way, Qaddafi is removed but the rebels didn't do it, leaving the possibility of a political reconciliation between the eastern and western halves of Libya.
NATO Officials Acknowledge Frustration in Libya Campaign:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates stood on the steps of the Pentagon late Tuesday alongside Liam Fox, his counterpart from Britain, America’s closest ally. Questions swirled here, in Europe and across North Africa whether NATO was specifically trying to find and kill Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, with airstrikes.
Mr. Gates patiently repeated the alliance’s longstanding policy that it was attacking only legitimate military targets in Libya in order to degrade the ability of the government’s forces to threaten its civilian population. There was no targeted assassination effort under way.
“We have considered all along command-and-control centers to be a legitimate target, and we have taken those out elsewhere,” Mr. Gates said.
“Those centers are the ones that are commanding the forces that are committing some of these violations of humanitarian rights, such as in Misurata,” he added. “We are not targeting him specifically, but we do consider command-and-control targets legitimate targets wherever we find them.”
That careful, diplomatic language from the defense secretary came as administration officials and NATO officers in Europe confirmed that the alliance plans to step up attacks on the palaces, headquarters and communications centers that Colonel Qaddafi uses to maintain his grip on power.
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“Now we are going after his rear echelon,” the NATO officer said. “We are going after his ability to command and control his forces — his headquarters, and command posts, his communications – all those things that allow him to coordinate his attacks at the front.”
Let's be blunt and just state that we are going after him, and not just his palaces, HQs and command posts. By not saying that in so many words, we are in the insincere position of a modern day King Henry II, wondering aloud "who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" and then playing innocent when someone takes us up on that.
Fun historical fact: Although Henry II is usually quoted as saying "who will rid me" etc., his contemporary biographer Edward Grim, who was so close to the event that he was wounded when that turbulent priest, Thomas Becket, was killed, recorded the King's words as:
"What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"
Of course, by "drones" he wasn't referring to unmanned aerial vehicles. Still, that's a nice coincidence. We are depending on exactly those same things today to rid us of Qaddafi.