With all the pressure on the Obama administration to "do more" in Libya, despite the president's promises that U.S. involvement would be limited, will the United States reverse course, or will he stay the course? As I pointed out today in World Politics Review:
The Obama administration, in its approach to the Libya operation, has sketched out the broad outlines of what might be termed a "Just Enough" doctrine, taking only those steps that are likely to produce a satisfactory outcome, rather than guaranteeing an optimal one. In the case of Libya, an outside observer tallying up the results would conclude that Gadhafi and his regime have been dealt a fatal blow. Much of his forces' sophisticated military equipment has been destroyed or grounded. The country is under sanctions, with its formidable foreign assets now frozen -- with the possibility that some of those assets might be unfrozen and transferred for the use of the provisional national council in Benghazi. Furthermore, Gadhafi has no way of resupplying his forces, so as he expends military assets, he cannot replace them from abroad. The flow of mercenaries, too, has dried up. There have been some defections from the regime, notably former Foreign Minister Musa Kusa. And despite some apocalyptic pronouncements that Gadhafi will restart his nuclear program and once again engage in terrorism, the reality is that the damage he has sustained precludes him from being able to reconstitute any of these threats. As long as he is fighting for his political survival, he cannot divert resources -- which are in any event drying up rapidly -- to these other ends.
But Gadhafi is not falling as quickly as everyone hoped. Rebel groups are asking for more support; other NATO allies want the U.S. to be more involved. So:
How this debate is resolved in Washington may also give us clues as to the likely trajectory of America's Afghanistan policy, particularly as we draw closer to the July benchmark when the president must decide whether or not to start a drawdown of U.S. forces. A decision to "re-engage" in Libya may make it impossible postpone any major drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, even though the Afghan government is still unable to play the role envisioned for it when the decision was taken in 2009 to surge forces in the first place. Then, too, the thinking was that the U.S. must "do the job" if allies and partners cannot or will not. There are longer-term implications as well. The "Just Enough" doctrine was meant, in part, as a challenge to European governments, who over the past decade have allowed their military spending to decline: Combined, the 27 non-U.S. NATO members account for 25 percent of the total defense spending of the alliance. And if the U.S. "re-engages" in Libya along the lines envisioned by McCain and others, the short-term objective of succeeding in Libya might preclude one of Washington's more fundamental, longer-term aspirations: getting Europe to spend more on its own security.