There is no doubt that Qaddafi is a ruthless, megalomaniacal dictator who will commit genocide on his own citizens without any qualms. In the past he has been a key player in supporting international terrorism, Jihadists who came to Iraq to fight the US, and insurgent anti-US movements. However the President's advisors should point out, in response to strong US pressure in the last decade we have muted that support, he's given up his nuclear weapons, and focused internally. Within the Administration there is a debate about whether US interests would be better served by his removal or allowing him to remain in power as a weakened autocrat.
We have no reason to believe that, like Egypt and Tunisia, the rebels here are motivated by democratic aspirations. Instead, they are conservative, strong Islamists with loyalty to their own tribes. Removing Qaddafi would require deep US intervention including ground forces to bring some semblance of stability to this important oil exporting nation. Given Libya’s lack of institutions, its tribal culture, and its small middle class, some form of international peace keeping force would be necessary. The President's advisors are concerned that the only well organized force in this region are radical Islamist groups who will be poised to take advantage of the chaos of transition. Many pundits will proclaim the necessity of removing Qaddafi and how simple it would be. In addition, they will paint a rosy picture of a post-Qaddafi Libya that would be a democratic beacon in this troubled region. But I'm sorry, their rosy picture is far from reality.
As an American citizen it appears that protecting our allies' (including Israel and Saudi Arabia) and securing the Gulf's energy resources loom large as reasons for our continued commitment to these conflicts. The President had probably thought through this as a matter of strategy when he prepared to take office. His approach - taking pragmatic steps to reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies, and trying to coerce Israel into coming to the table with Hamas - bore all the fresh optimism and smug intelligence of a college term paper. As always though, the map differs from the territory. Or, to put it in the more blunt terms of boxer Mike Tyson, "everybody's got a plan 'til they get hit."
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