On CNN, they are interviewing a reporter on the ground, one of the most respected war correspondents around, who says that there are less than 1,000 rebel fighters in Libya fighting against the government. If that’s true, it would certainly underscore how unwise it was to start firing missiles at the military there.
Look, let’s state the obvious: If Gadhafi remains in power, none of this matters a bit. Not one of the justifications for the military assault makes any sense whatsoever if he is not deposed. And I think it’s clear now that Obama ordered the strikes with the notion that it would provide enough breathing room for the rebels to be successful in removing him from power. If there’s only a small number of rebels? Not a chance in hell.
Even if the figure of a thousand fighters is off by a huge margin, it still isn’t going to work. In order to have any chance of toppling Gadhafi, a few things need to be there. First, you need a sizable force of fighters. 1,000 isn’t enough. 10,000 isn’t enough. Second, you need things to start to turn to the point where significant numbers of military people refuse to attack or change sides.
That is what turned the tide in Egypt, the fact that the army, which was far more independent of Mubarak than the Libyan military is from Gadhafi, not only didn’t attack the protesters but protected them from Mubarak’s thugs. If that doesn’t happen in a significant way in Libya, the sheer numbers make defeat of the rebels inevitable.
If what is being reported is true, there are only two ways out of this: We either end the attacks and leave Gadhafi in power, which means we’ve wasted the entire effort. You’ll then see a massive crackdown on anyone associated with the rebels, as you saw in Iraq in the early 90s after we encouraged insurgents there to go after Hussein and then left them high and dry. Or we have to escalate massively, arming the rebels and putting boots on the ground. Either option is far worse than had we left the situation as it was.