In the lead up to the intervention in Libya, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates was one of the lone voices cautioning against American military action among a crowd of pro-interventionists in the Obama administration. For Gates, intervention needed to be decisive enough to end the American effort quickly – a no fly zone, in other words, would not get the job done. Gates worried that the implementation of a NFZ would simply be the first step: a NFZ would quickly move to target Qaddafi’s land forces, evolve into a full-scale regime change operation and eventually require sending in American ground forces. As it turns out, Gates could not have been more correct. America has quickly moved from enforcement of a NFZ to engaging in regime change activities. While there are no American troops on the ground (yet) there are CIA operatives in Libya who have apparently been working with Libyan rebels since before the UNSC resolution authorizing intervention. Now that the United States has locked itself in Libya, one must ask will Gates survive this war?
On Thursday, Gates testified in front of Congress and (once again) expressed his concerns about the Libyan war. For Gates, it is important that the United States be as uninvolved as possible; while the Secretary agreed that the rebels needed training to combat the more efficient and better equipped loyalist forces, he said that the United States should not be the one to be responsible. Moreover, Gates stressed that he was “preoccupied with avoiding mission creep” and that, in a post-Qaddafi world, the United States should not commit itself to another round of nation building. Perhaps most importantly, Gates told Congress that there would not be American troops in Libya “as long as [he is] in this job.” To me, that sounds like Gates is making a stand.
The presence of the CIA in Libya may be pushing Gates out the door. From the beginning, Gates warned against intervention and the possibility to mission creep and now, as Obama is pushing American further into the Libyan civil war, Gates is perhaps telling the president that the decision to bring American troops to Libya will soon be followed by his resignation. As of now, it seems unlikely that military troops will enter Libya, but if the war effort is prolonged from days to weeks to months (which it certainly might), it is not a big step from a limited role of the CIA to the deployment of ground troops. Of course, Obama will do all that is possible to avoid being entangled in another ground war – with debate currently surrounding the possibility of arming the rebels (which may or may not involve arming Al Qaeda).
Perhaps revealing the determination of the administration (and, could it be, the end of the Gates era), Clinton has said that the White House would push forward with the mission even if Congress passed resolutions to constrain American involvement. For better or worse, Obama has made Libya – and the fall of Qaddafi – completely his and it doesn’t seem as though he will end the role of the United States in Libya until the mission is accomplished. Whatever that means.
Unfortunately, as the war drags on and Gates, the one person who looked at intervention through the appropriate lens, is proved correct, it is increasingly likely that success for Obama means losing the one person who he should have listened to.
Photo from CTV