Obama’s military coalition for regime change in Libya

Taking a huge risk, the U.S. has joined a coalition at the U.N. Security Council that has voted for military action short of boots on the ground to end the bloodstained rule of Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

Make no mistake: Whatever the U.K. and U.S. governments say about this being humanitarian in nature, the resolution adopted last night was all about regime change and provides “all necessary measures” to do so. It’s an impressive achievement, avoiding a veto by Russia and China, which along with three other countries decided to abstain. But Germany — which abstained — invoked the “great risks” that could lead to immense loss of life, as well as a protracted military conflict that would affect the wider region.

It remains to be seen how Gadhafi will react, although his foreign minister is now pledging an “immediate cease-fire.” Will the threat of a military escalation in the coming hours be sufficient to sway the colonel? Crucially, the U.S., France and Britain have the Arabs on board. Not only did they co-sponsor the resolution, but they are cooperating in its implementation. With an eye on the last U.S.-led intervention in an Arab country (which was not authorized by the U.N.), the resolution specifically rules out a “foreign occupation force.”

President Obama, who took a much more cautious line until now, might have been swayed by the Arab League, which declared Gadhafi to have lost legitimacy as a ruler and urged a no-fly zone, while holding back support for foreign military intervention. Hillary Clinton met with the main Libyan rebel leader, Mahmoud Jibril, in Paris earlier this week. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) have, of course, been demanding a no-fly zone for weeks.

So welcome to Obama’s third war — or his first, depending on which way you look at it. In line with his rhetoric, he has built a coalition to secure international cover and a legal basis. This U.N. decision could also send a powerful message to other states that have cracked down on their civilian populations in an attempt to quell popular uprisings — such as Bahrain, which called in Saudi troops. It’s a bold move, but boy, what a risk.

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