Is that an acceptable outcome? Not from what the administration has said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month, "This is a man who has no conscience. If he stays, we can't predict what he will do."
But it looks like he will stay. If so, Obama will have two unwelcome options: He can slink away after failing to achieve the goal he proclaimed, or expand the U.S. military mission in hopes of getting our way.
The new status quo could be worse than the old one. In recent years, Gadhafi had given up his militant stance toward the West, going to great lengths to rehabilitate his regime.
He stopped his nuclear weapons program, agreed to compensate the relatives of those killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and cooperated so closely with the United States that Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., called him "an important ally in the war on terrorism." President George W. Bush took Libya off the U.S. government list of terrorist supporters.
Now, however, Gadhafi could resume his old troublemaking ways. And if Libya falls into disorder, parts of it may become a lawless haven for violent Islamists. Does "Afghanistan" mean anything to you?
Faced with the prospect of Gadhafi hanging on to power, Obama may find himself reconsidering his pledge not to use American ground troops. The only thing presidents dislike more than escalating wars is losing wars.
Obama can take no solace in the complaint of President Lyndon Johnson as he pondered Vietnam in March of 1965, before the big U.S. buildup: "I can't get out. I can't finish it with what I've got. So what the hell can I do?"
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