What if Gadhafi hangs on?
Gadhafi's army at the gate of the rebel-held town of Ajdabiya.
March 17th, 2011
01:40 PM ET

What if Gadhafi hangs on?

Editor's Note: Dr. James Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he blogs), co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy" and a former director for global issues and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.

By Dr. James Lindsay – Special to CNN

The Libyan rebels’ once bright prospects for ousting Moammar Gadhafi now appear grim. Pro-Gadhafi forces have the momentum, and one of Col. Gadhafi’s sons boasted that the revolt will be crushed “in 48 hours.”

With a battle for the rebel stronghold of Benghazi looming, President Obama must now confront a question that was unthinkable two weeks ago: How should he deal with a post-rebellion Gadhafi?

The answer is complicated by the fact that no one knows how the Libyan crisis will play out. Rebel forces may hold Benghazi and other critical towns in eastern Libya.

The Obama administration, looking at a rout of the rebels and spurred by the Arab League’s call for imposing a no-fly zone, now intends to ask the U.N. Security Council to authorize international military efforts to halt pro-Gadhafi forces.

The Security Council may not grant the administration its wish. Russia and China have resisted imposing a no-fly zone. They presumably will oppose authorizing air strikes against Libyan tanks and artillery.

Yet even if Russia and China stand aside at the Security Council, and outside military intervention occurs and succeeds in preserving the rebels’ position, the challenge of how to deal with a post-revolt Gadhafi will remain. He will control much of the country, including major oil production and exporting facilities. The Obama administration may have changed its mind about a no-fly zone, but it hasn’t given any indication that it is ready to roll back Gadhafi’s forces.

Instead, the administration’s response to Gadhafi’s rule will almost certainly focus on trying to further isolate his regime. Libya already faces an array of diplomatic, trade and financial sanctions. Washington will seek to maintain these measures and add others. However, the administration will likely shy away from sanctions that target the broader Libyan economy, because that would mean punishing ordinary Libyans.

What the administration does beyond trying to isolate Libya will be shaped by how Gadhafi behaves going forward. Many no-fly proponents paint a nightmarish picture of an embittered and emboldened Gadhafi returning to his old ways, financing terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction.

That could happen. After all, Gadhafi has a track record of such behavior. He responded to the 1986 U.S. airstrikes on Libya by orchestrating the 1988 bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

But what is possible is not necessarily likely. Gadhafi is cruel, but he is also calculating. He knows that in a post-9/11 world, getting caught financing terrorism or acquiring weapons of mass destruction invites a U.S. attack and the possible end of his rule. An American president can respond slowly to a foreign dictator quashing a revolt. He can’t do the same when American lives are at risk. Expect the White House to privately – and perhaps publicly – warn Gadhafi not to cross that red line.

Gadhafi’s willingness and ability to engage in foreign adventures will also be tempered by the fact that he will have his hands full domestically rooting out real and perceived threats to his rule. But news of mass executions and torture will put pressure on the administration to do more to isolate Gadhafi. At the same time, the potential for a humanitarian crisis, especially in the next few weeks, could be substantial. The administration will need to find ways to meet humanitarian needs without strengthening Gadhafi. That may be difficult to do.

If the rebels hold on to Benghazi, the Obama administration might shift to a policy of overt or covert support for the rebel government. This could mean recognizing the rebels as Libya’s legitimate government (something France has already done), and lead to the U.S. arming and training them to hold off pro-Gadhafi forces. It may even go as far as to entail covert efforts to undermine Gadhafi’s rule.

The administration will face a different set of choices if the rebel movement collapses and some elements become radicalized and align with the likes of al Qaeda. A variant of this problem is if parts of Libya end up becoming lawless – under the control of neither Gadhafi nor the rebels. That could push the administration back in the direction of a policy that today seems distasteful – working with Gadhafi against jihadists. Until the recent rebellion, counterterrorism was one thing that brought Washington and Tripoli together.

The Obama administration’s likely strategy of isolation will leave many people dissatisfied, especially when, for a time, Gadhafi’s ouster seemed imminent. Isolation works slowly if at all, as the history of U.S. policy toward Cuba and North Korea attests.

Libya’s isolation will also be difficult to sustain. Many countries, over time, will lose their enthusiasm for shunning Libya. Gadhafi will almost certainly play the oil card, promising access to Libyan oil fields as a way to crack the coalition arranged against him. Regrettably, some countries will take him up on his offer.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James Lindsay.

Post by:
Topics: Libya • Revolution • Security • Terrorism • United States

soundoff (426 Responses)
  1. article writing

    I've been exploring for a little bit for any high quality articles or weblog posts in this kind of area . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this website. Reading this info So i am satisfied to convey that I have a very just right uncanny feeling I found out just what I needed. I such a lot for sure will make certain to don?t put out of your mind this website and give it a look regularly.

    February 23, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  2. Crown Oaks Betting

    Hiya very nice website!! Man .. Beautiful .. Wonderful .. I will bookmark your website and take the feeds additionally?I am glad to find so many useful information right here within the submit, we need develop extra techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

    March 5, 2013 at 9:04 am | Reply
  3. what monitor should i buy

    Wonderful items from you, man. I have take into accout your stuff previous to and you are simply too fantastic. I really like what you've acquired here, certainly like what you're saying and the best way in which you assert it. You are making it entertaining and you continue to care for to stay it wise. I can't wait to learn far more from you. This is actually a wonderful web site.

    March 31, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  4. hanoi guide, hanoi travel, hanoi, hanoi free tour guide, hanoi city tour, hanoi tour bookings, hanoi information, hanoi

    A person essentially lend a hand to make significantly articles I might state. That is the very first time I frequented your website page and so far? I surprised with the research you made to make this actual publish extraordinary. Magnificent job!

    April 24, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  5. notes

    My brother suggested I would possibly like this web site. He was once entirely right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine just how so much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

    April 28, 2013 at 8:38 am | Reply
  6. Scoala de soferi Drive School

    naturally like your web site however you have to test the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very troublesome to tell the reality then again I'll surely come again again.

    May 29, 2013 at 8:55 am | Reply
  7. djasjfua

    awesomee, easy post

    June 11, 2013 at 7:07 am | Reply
  8. 10weight loss experts

    Thanks for every other informative website. The place else could I am getting that kind of information written in such an ideal manner? I have a mission that I'm simply now running on, and I've been at the glance out for such info.

    June 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  9. Vanzari de carti online

    I am now not certain where you're getting your information, but good topic. I needs to spend a while finding out much more or working out more. Thanks for excellent information I was in search of this information for my mission.

    June 29, 2013 at 8:24 am | Reply
  10. Vanzari online de cd-uri cu povesti

    Simply desire to say your article is as surprising. The clarity for your submit is just great and that i could think you are a professional on this subject. Fine along with your permission allow me to clutch your feed to keep updated with drawing close post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.

    July 5, 2013 at 7:11 am | Reply
  11. na

    Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I to find It truly useful & it helped me out much. I hope to provide one thing back and aid others like you helped me.

    July 15, 2013 at 5:41 am | Reply
  12. za

    I don't even understand how I ended up here, however I believed this post was great. I don't understand who you are however certainly you're going to a famous blogger in the event you are not already. Cheers!

    August 5, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  13. Bryon Vancampen

    I know this if off topic but I'm looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all is needed to get setup? I'm assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I'm not very internet savvy so I'm not 100 sure. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    October 13, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.