Friday: President Obama warned Libya to halt the violence. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton changed her mind and began to support intervention, claiming she “had the proof” of Arab League support.
Saturday: American and European forces officially began an incursion “to impose a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone and keep Colonel Qaddafi from using air power against beleaguered rebel forces.” Multiple administration officials assured the public that “the United States would step back within days and hand over command of the coalition to one of its European allies.”
Sunday: American officials again reiterated the limited scope of U.S. involvement:
White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said Libyan leader Gaddafi had “lost legitimacy” and was isolated but the focus of military action was on protecting Libyan civilians, not ousting the veteran ruler from power.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking as he flew to Russia, said the U.S. will not have a “preeminent role” in the coalition that will maintain a no-fly zone over Libya, and expected to turn over “primary responsibility” for the mission to others within days.
As the assault unfolded late Sunday, an explosion thundered from Colonel Qaddafi’s personal compound in Tripoli, and a column of smoke rose above it, suggesting that the allied forces may have struck either his residence there or the nearby barracks of his personal guards. Unnamed Western officials were quoted in various news reports as saying the building was a military command and control center.
Admiral Mullen did not help to make the no-fly zone mission any clearer (emphasis mine), while undisciplined messaging coordination among the Allies threw doubt over the entire objective:
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, spoke about how allied forces had grounded Colonel Qaddafi’s aircraft and worked to protect civilians — both objectives stated by the United Nations Security Council in approving the military mission. “We hit a lot of targets, focused on his command and control, focused on his air defense, and actually attacked some of his forces on the ground in the vicinity of Benghazi,” Admiral Mullen told Fox News.
But the campaign may be balancing multiple goals. President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British and French leaders have also talked of a broader policy objective — that Colonel Qaddafi must leave power. In his comments on Sunday, Admiral Mullen suggested that objective lay outside the bounds of the military campaign, saying on NBC that Colonel Qaddafi’s remaining in power after the United States military accomplished its mission was “potentially one outcome.”
Monday: A top French official conceded that the Libya mission, whatever it is, could take “a while.”
The rewording, prevarication, and general confusion surrounding all aspects of the Libya intervention could hardly be less reassuring.
And finally, one cartoonist perfectly captures the absurd inconsistencies here.