Connect to share and comment

Obama might need to escalate war in Libya, experts say

Analysis: Wolfowitz, O’Hanlon and other foreign policy elites foresee a longer Libya struggle.

“The administration has some difficult choices to make,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a security expert at the Brookings Institute. Unless the rebels make rapid progress, “Chances are in the next one to two weeks, they are going to have to figure out if they are going to escalate. And that escalation could cover a wide range of possibilities. Some of which could raise legal issues, such as arms transfers to the rebels. Others could involve putting American Special Forces on the ground or other people to try to figure out what’s going on, to get better battlefield intelligence and help the rebels coordinate more effectively.”

If the conflict drags on, another possibility would be to use the CIA to “start building up the Libyan opposition, although that’s going to take years,” Pollack said.

In the 2001 Afghanistan invasion, O’Hanlon points out, “The use of American airpower, plus some Special Forces on the ground did remarkable things in conjunction with the Northern Alliance,” succeeding in toppling the Taliban regime. “The administration is going to have to think hard about whether it would contemplate such options.”

Whichever strategy Obama chooses, the experts agreed that speed is critical.

“One of my great concerns about Libya is that when American troops are in combat, that’s where our attention goes,” Pollack, the Middle East expert, said.

He argued that the United States has higher priorities. One is Egypt, the regional giant and most critical country, which Pollack fears Obama is starting to neglect. Another is Iraq, “where we’ve had this democratic experiment going on, and I think the administration has done a pretty poor job of pursuing it.”

Wolfowitz added that a Gaddafi victory or a protracted conflict would complicate America’s ability to help shepherd a positive outcome elsewhere as the “Arab Spring” unfolds.

“Arabs are suddenly discovering that there’s no reason why they can’t have freedom,” he said. “The Western world has a chance to embrace the idea of freedom for the Arab world, and that’s something that Al Qaeda and Iran are in no position to do. If we fail to take advantage of that common interest than we have really lost a historic opportunity.”

Follow David Case on Twitter: @DavidCaseReport