France proposes "political steering committee" to take over Libya mission

Wait, wasn’t NATO supposed to take over operations once U.S. airstrikes had sufficiently disabled Qaddafi’s defenses to make air patrols a breeze? What happened?

The answer: Apparently NATO’s too “western.”

So is the Obama administration on board? White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to a request for comment on the French proposal. Obama spoke with Sarkozy Tuesday and “the two Presidents agreed on the means of using NATO’s command structures to support the coalition,” the French government said in a read out.

It’s not clear how the French steering committee would be in operational control of the war, but the proposal includes that the committee would be in charge of the “strategic decisions” involving military action, the diplomat said…

The French position is that the steering committee idea would allow NATO to bring its military capabilities to bear without putting an exclusively Western label on the military intervention. Qaddafi has called the campaign a “colonial crusade” by western nations.

“The only constraint is that we need to keep the Arabs involved,” the French diplomat said. “In order to do that we need to use NATO capabilities and we need to [provide so that] Arab countries stay involved.”

NATO will participate in the mission, according to a statement released earlier today. It just won’t be leading it. That’s where the steering committee comes in, the point of which, it seems, is to place Qatar and the UAE and whatever other Arab states are nominally contributing to this operation in a formal “leadership” position by giving them an equal voice on the committee. Think Obama will go for it? Based on this line from the Foreign Policy piece quoted above, I’m betting … yeah, he will:

Our sources also report that Washington has made it clear that they want to see the transfer of leadership for the Libya mission leave U.S. hands by the end of the week.

A krazy kwestion for you: Why weren’t the logistics of the handover nailed down before the UN resolution was approved? The possibility of western military action may not have crystallized until last Tuesday but U.S. and European officials obviously had been thinking about it for weeks. They knew they’d have to act quickly once the Security Council approved airstrikes, so in theory a plan for military operations should have been in place. If the French were so hot to bomb Qaddafi, why didn’t they float the “steering committee” idea early on instead of cobbling it together now as some half-assed face-saving measure to try to scrub NATO’s fingerprints from the mission? The understatement of the year thus far from a former U.S. ambassador to NATO: “I am surprised these things were not worked out beforehand.”

While you’re busy chewing on that, a second question for you. What happens if the rebels prove too militarily inept to overrun Qaddafi? That’s no idle hypothetical: The good news is that they’ve dislodged Qaddafi’s troops from the town of Zintan, but regime forces are still brutalizing Misrata despite rebel attempts to take the place back and they’re still in control of Ajdabiya. Quote:

Rebels in east Libya were stuck just outside Ajdabiyah on Tuesday, making no advance on the strategic town despite three nights of Western air strikes on the oil-producing state…

When asked why rebel units had not advanced toward their objective, which is the eventual taking of Tripoli, Ahmed al-Aroufi, a rebel fighter at the front line, told Reuters: “Gaddafi has tanks and trucks with missiles.”

The Christian Science Monitor wonders, “If Ajdabiya – lacking power and largely cut off from the rest of Libya for more than a week now – has been so difficult to retake, how much harder will it be for the untrained rebels to push west toward Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown filled with loyalists, and on to Tripoli?” So undisciplined are the rebel troops, in fact, that professional soldiers who defected from Qaddafi’s army and are now fighting alongside them have taken to complaining that they’re getting in the way. There’s no way The One will contribute any American boots on the ground to an international effort, if it ever came to that, so I assume his next move will be to start talking up the idea of a partition between a western Qaddafi-ruled Libya and an eastern-rebel controlled one to try to resolve the stalemate. Which, of course, will never work: Qaddafi will never abide by it long-term, and at this point, leaving him in power would be risky for the west in case he starts plotting revenge via terror operations. It would, however, provide Obama and Sarkozy with a political escape hatch, which will soon be the paramount concern if it isn’t already. So look for that next. Compromise solution, partition, “peace.”

Here’s John Bolton marveling at the fact that we really might be about to hand over control of a major international military operation to some sort of nebulous ad hoc committee. Exit question: What happens when the losing side in this war inevitably mounts an insurgency? Will the coalition lend a hand there too, or are we done once one side declares “mission accomplished”?

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David Strom 5:21 PM on December 09, 2022