What would stalemate in Libya look like?
Libyan rebels pray while preparing for battle against government forces near the city of Ajdabiya.
March 25th, 2011
03:08 PM ET

What would stalemate in Libya look like?

As emphasized this morning by Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, the stated purpose of international intervention in Libya was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Benghazi. It was not expressly to oust Moammar Gadhafi. The president has ruled out committing ground troops to achieve that end.

So what if violence subsidies and Gadhafi remains in power? I called Michael O'Hanlon (who wrote a Politico op-ed yesterday on the topic) to talk through three possible scenarios. Hanlon lays them out as follows:

1. “One of them would be some kind of a power sharing where Gadhafi is not allowed to control the military. You probably have to fire some of his top generals under this scenario so that he can't try to reconsolidate dominance the way that [President Robert] Mugabe did in Zimbabwe. Gadhafi could be some kind of titular, symbolic president as opposed to an operational leader.”

2. “Another model is that you just negotiate a cease-fire. You don’t try to work out a long-term political arrangement yet.

“The first step would simply be to acknowledge that Gadhafi is going to still control Tripoli. The rebels are going to control Benghazi. Everyone lives with that for an extended period of time.

“We allow the rebels to export oil. We keep some sanctions on Gadhafi, but maybe we at least allow him some degree of trade. You don’t codify his position; you just live with the cease-fire. And then you have a monitoring force, in between the places where rebels and the Libyan army have their positions, so you can enforce this cease-fire.

3. “And then the last idea I had is where there is a cohesive, unified country recreated even in the short-term, but where there’s strong regional autonomy. You then envision national elections in two or three or four years that would reunify the country again at that point, set up a political system where parties have to follow certain rules on reaching across tribal lines, and so on.

“In the interim period, Gadhafi can still govern one autonomous part of the country and then the rebels govern another. But they all will have agreed that by 2014, Gadhafi will be gone and won’t run for president at that point. Then you’ll have full elections with parties that will have been created in the meantime.”

Steve Clemons, the founder of the American Strategy program at the New America Foundation, offers a fourth, gloomier option:

“If Gadhafi is able to hunker down and control a significant portion of his territory and at least Tripoli, the economic and population center of the country, the real issue that I see is that other nations in the region - Syria, Algeria, Tunisia - and then another wave of countries - Brazil, India, and Turkey - begin dealing with Gadhafi just as we did with China after Tiananmen,” Clemons said.

“While [the U.S.] might have very little exposure to Libya in oil or as a strategic issue, that is not true for other nations. Our ability to maintain this emotionally charged sanctions regime against Gadhafi and build a solid wall against Gadhafi’s interests begins to erode the moment it becomes clear that there’s a stalemate.”

This is the scenario that former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith expressed great fear of yesterday on Global Public Square.  Feith argued that the humanitarian crisis cannot end if Gadhafi remains in power. And Eugene Robinson picked up the argument over at The Washington Post writing today that "the goal must be to prevent the bloodbath, not just reschedule it."

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Topics: Libya • Military

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Audrey Papke

    Sanctions either way – if either party interferes with the other party . . . We know this: Gaddafi is the king of sneaky terrorist acts . . .

    March 25, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Reply
  2. Audrey Papke

    This is assuming what? That Gaddafi abides by rules set by others? By anyone? Lives by rules at all . . . His rules?

    March 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    It is tempting to predict the outcome of this crisis and speculate on the future of Libya. There are so many players involved and things don't always turn out the way we foresee. The rebels want to build a new nation and get legitimacy from other Libyans, fair enough. The Gaddafi regime is defending their legitimacy to govern, let them do it. It is their custom to show how brave they are, let's respect it. We are in for surprises.

    March 25, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  4. morris wise

    Paintball guns are being used by talented snitches in Libya, they can distinguish the difference between friend or foe. One snitch with a paintball gun is more valuable than a team of intelligence officers, their powerful guns are capable of spraying a group of 25 dissidents with its telltale colors. But the job is extremely dangerous, many snitches have been killed while attempting to spray a foe or infidel.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:19 am | Reply
  5. Bailey

    How do you guys get jobs, or on CNN even? Stalemate, power-sharing or negotiations do not exist in the world of Gadaffi. Even worse for him is that it does not exist in the world of more than 5 million Libyan people now who are either directly (or indirectly) touched by Gadaffi's mishandling of events. The outcome is inevitable... there is no in-between.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  6. Randy Ericson

    This is not a serious article but simple babble made up to fill inches on a page. #1 Looking from the outside at this is like looking at an iceberg from a boat, you only see whats above water which is often a fraction of the real action taking place. #2 President Obama is a well educated, well thought out man who never would of taken the task if he thought Gadaffi may survive it. #3 Gadhafi has proven his cowardice in the past and I bet he will cut a deal with the UN and run within 4 to 6 weeks leaving his followers to go on trial in the world courts. Watch and and see that I am correct. Every inch the rebels get closer to Tripoli, the sooner this will fold up like a cheap card table.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Reply

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