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The Hague, Obama and the Libyan Stalemate

The arrest warrants issued this morning by the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, his son, as well as his regime’s chief of intelligence, are not what generally resolves conflicts. If there was any doubt the Qaddafi clan had no choice but to fight to the bitter end, the warrants make it clear they don’t have the option of fleeing to a safe retirement in a neutral country.

On the surface, that might mean the currently deadlocked Libyan war could go on forever. The Libyan rebels, with NATO assistance, are just strong enough to hold onto their strongholds in the eastern part of the country, and Qaddafi appears to have enough power at his disposal to hang on to the rest of Libya. The question now is whether these formal war crimes charges will convince NATO and/or the United States its participation in the struggle–which has been just enough to ensure the war is not won or lost by either side–ought to expand.

On the surface, the odds of that happening appear slim. After all, President Obama can’t or won’t make a compelling argument either to the American people or to Congress on behalf of the U.S. involvement in Libya. With Congress pressuring the president to invoke the War Powers Act and members of both parties openly criticizing both Obama’s decision to intervene and his refusal to call the fighting there “hostilities,” it is highly unlikely the president will choose this moment to step up American participation.

The Europeans, who are actually conducting air combat operations over Libya, are just as divided about this undeclared war as the Americans. Americans don’t give a hoot about international law or the court in The Hague. But, the warrants issued by the ICC are bound to be treated as a very big deal on the continent. Support for an effort to arrest Qaddafi or to provide the rebels with more help might now ensue.

Still, without direct U.S. participation in the fighting, it’s hard to imagine NATO forces having the ability to knock off Qaddafi or put a quick end to his regime. In the end, all these warrants may accomplish is to highlight the ineffectiveness of the half-hearted NATO/U.S. attitude to this war. Giving the rebels just enough help to keep them fighting but not enough to help them win, let alone capture Qaddafi, may be politically expedient, but the result is a bloody stalemate that does neither the West nor the people of Libya much good.




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